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and Alex Weininger

About 400 members of the Penn State community packed into Heritage Hall at the HUB-Robeson Center last night to show their support for the Penn State Black Caucus, which is still reeling from a racist death threat directed to one of its members Friday.

"We have to understand that it's not about one hateful person at all, but about the system in which we live that breeds this hateful mentality," Chenits Pettigrew (senior-media studies) told the crowd.

Threats timeline

November 1999: Sixty-eight Penn State students receive racist e-mail messages signed by "The Patriot." Police later track the messages to a computer lab at Temple University in Philadelphia. Nov. 7, 1999: Two dozen Penn State students receive a second batch of hate mail. October 2000: Three Penn State students and one member of the Penn State Board of Trustees receive threatening letters in the mail over a period of several days. Oct. 20, 2000: Penn State President Graham Spanier announces the university will reward people who report acts of hate at the university. The reward was later set at $5,000. December 2000: Undergraduate Student Government President Matt Roan receives several pieces of anti-black and anti-Jewish hate literature in the mail. February: Black students visit state lawmakers in Harrisburg and deliver a one-inch thick binder of documents showing how racism crops up repeatedly at Penn State. April 2: Police ask members of the Penn State Black Caucus to be watchful in case they receive more racist threats in the mail. Friday: A black Penn State student leader receives a typed death threat that not only threatened the black community at Penn State, but also claimed that a young black man had been killed and his body left in a wooded area in Centre County.

At least two more events were planned for later this week — a university-sponsored unity march tomorrow at 4 p.m. at Old Main, and a joint session of the Undergraduate Student Government to address racism Thursday evening.

Last night, black student leaders gave a slide presentation called "Nittany Lies, Failing the Black Community," which emphasized the importance to incorporate diversity in the classroom and necessity of having a plan of accountability.

The presentation — the same one the students presented to legislators earlier this month — outlined problems and solutions with regard to the racial environment at Penn State.

Black Caucus President Lakeisha Wolf said the first challenge is to develop a collective acceptance and understanding of diversity.

"It's not about numbers, quotas or quantities, it's about attitudes. It's about respect," Wolf said.

Wolf said that understanding needs to begin in the classroom, however, in many instances the ignorance dwells within the classroom.

"We need a multi-oriented perspective in curriculum. People's lives depend on diversity initiatives. It's our quality of life, we can't mess around with this," Wolf said.

About 30 audience members posed questions to the group after the presentation. Some asked about the students' protest Saturday before the Blue-White football scrimmage that resulted in 26 arrests.

"You want to know why I got arrested?" asked Pettigrew. "I got arrested for you." He received a standing ovation.

Outgoing Commonwealth Campus Student Government President Gabriel Bryant discussed the years of racism on campus that persisted even while the diversity initiatives were in place and were officially recognized by the university.

Bryant pointed out that in 1999, 60 black students received hate e-mail messages, while in the year 2000 and 2001, black students, athletes, a trustee board member and the parents of athletes have received death threats. The threats were similar to the one received by a black student leader Friday.

"These are racially motivated incidents that should not be happening at an institution of higher education," Bryant said.

Bryant said threatened students met with the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the first time Friday.

He added that only a few weeks ago, the campus police dropped off white gloves to students in the Black Caucus office because authorities feared more death threats could arrive in the mail and wanted to prevent students from getting fingerprints on the letters.

Takkeem Morgan, incoming Black Caucus vice president, noted the rapid depletion of the African and African American Studies Program, something he said worked against the diversity initiatives.

According to the presentation, other Big Ten Universities have larger African and African American Studies Programs. Penn State has three core faculty members and 15 affiliates, while Michigan State University, for example, has more than 75 core faculty members and 38 affiliates.

The presentation also focused not only on the problems with the current diversity program at Penn State, but the caucus's effort to fix them.

Black Caucus Vice President Sharleen Morris discussed a committee designed by Black Caucus to establish a 'how' to overcoming diversity problems within the university.

The committee was established last semester and included students from each college to be representatives and look into each college's diversity steps.

Among the supporters were students and university leaders of many races.

Fred Cannon, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, said the recent threats are "against all of us." Cannon said he would personally support the students, especially the minority students in his department.

"If somebody comes at one of those students with a gun, they better be a pretty good shot, because I'll be standing between that student and that gun," Cannon said.

Racism at Penn State coverage