Though Black faculty members have been part of the Penn State community for over 60 years, “the challenges facing Black faculty are no less formidable” in 2021, according to the second “More Rivers To Cross” report.
As a follow-up to the first report published in January 2020, biobehavioral health professor Gary King and an independent group of Black faculty members published part two of “More Rivers To Cross” on March 25.
The 2020 report, which was 93 pages long, examined issues of representation at Penn State and the “racially biased” responses from students on Student Rating of Teacher Effectiveness surveys.
Part two of “More Rivers To Cross” is a 108-page report that outlines survey results of Black faculty members’ experiences with racism from students, administrators and colleagues at University Park and commonwealth campuses.
“There is serious turmoil in the household,” the report reads.
Some key findings of the survey, according to the report, include:
- 82.1% of Black faculty members reported experiencing racism at University Park and commonwealth campuses.
- More than two-thirds, or 67.7%, of university-wide Black faculty members reported they experienced racism within the last three years from students — with commonwealth faculty reporting this at about three times the rate as University Park faculty (44% compared to 15%). Almost two-thirds of Black faculty members, or 63.5%, also experienced racism from SRTEs within the last three years.
- 53.1% of all Black faculty members reported they experienced racism from administrators or supervisors, and 56.2% reported they experienced racism from colleagues within the last three years.
- 70% of Black professors did not believe Penn State “would become an equitable environment for the pursuit of learning, teaching and scholarship for Black Americans” in the next 10 years.
- 73.1% of respondents who experienced racism did not report it to the administration. “I would not expect anything to be done about it,” a Black University Park professor said, according to the report.
“It’s something that the university has to address, but also the community at large and beyond the university, because institutionally, there are mechanisms that are less willing to change and there needs to be some external forces to address these key points,” King said in an interview with The Daily Collegian.
In a statement about the second report, the university said it embraced the “spirit” of the report, but said it did not embrace the “pessimism” of it. The university then pointed to university-wide initiatives that attempt to improve diversity and inclusion. A few initiatives the university noted include support for marginalized faculty members, a community survey on diversity and inclusion, and the Millennium Scholars Program.
In a response to the university, the authors of the report said they believed the university’s statement was “contradictory” and “defensive.”
“It truly makes us wonder whether the administration’s staff actually read the report or understood the data, interpretations or our recommended transitions to systemic equity and justice,” the authors said.
The university said it encourages people to report instances of discrimation and biases, though the authors of the report said “More Rivers to Cross” is an example of Black faculty reporting their experiences.
Ultimately, the authors encouraged the university to reread the report.
Hiring of Black Faculty
According to the report, University Park employed a total of 100 Black professors in 2020, making up 3.11% of full-time teaching faculty.
The report reviewed rates of Black faculty members over the past five years, and the College of Arts & Architecture had the number one proportional ranking each year. On the other hand, the College of Nursing has not employed an African American or Black full-time faculty member as part of its official listing during the same five years, according to the report.
The report broke down the total number of Black faculty members at each University Park college proportional to its overall faculty in 2020:
Top five ranking colleges:
- College of Arts & Architecture: 15 Black faculty members, 7.43% of college
- College of Education: 13 Black faculty members members, 6.57% of college
- College of the Liberal Arts: 36 Black faculty members, 4.65% of college
- Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications: 3 Black faculty members, 4.29% of college
- College of Health and Human Development: 11 Black faculty members, 4.18% of college
Bottom seven ranking colleges:
- College of Nursing: 0 Black faculty members, 0.00% of college
- College of Agricultural Sciences: 2 Black faculty members, 0.68% of college
- Smeal College of Business: 2 Black faculty members, 1.20% of college
- College of Earth and Mineral Sciences: 3 Black faculty members, 1.23% of college
- College of Information Sciences and Technology: 1 Black faculty member, 1.43% of college
- Eberly College of Science: 7 Black faculty members, 1.48% of college
- College of Engineering: 3 Black faculty members, 1.69% of college
“More Rivers to Cross” reported that 27.3% of Black professors at University Park and commonwealth campuses combined said they “sometimes” regret their decision to work at Penn State, while 9.1% of Black faculty members said they “often” regret it.
Review of the Commission on Racism, Bias and Community Safety
Although Penn State President Eric Barron issued statements of “support” and “compassion” for the Black community at Penn State, and formed a Commission on Racism, Bias and Community Safety, the report said Barron excluded “priorities and specific implementation plans.”
“There are individuals who serve a certain position who have simply not fulfilled their obligation to bring about the change that’s necessary,” King said to the Collegian. “When you ask what President Barron has done, he hasn't done nearly enough.”
The commission was created in fall 2020 to address issues of “structural racism” and “anti-Black violence” at Penn State.
The commission made four recommendations for the university, according to the report:
- Develop, promote and support an open truth and reconciliation process
- Develop, promote and support research, teaching and learning that advanced antiracial scholarship, pedagogy and culture.
- Develop, promote and support university-wide onboarding, mentorship, auditing and continuing development of students, staff, faculty and administrative leadership in equitable and inclusive practice and procedures;
- Develop, promote and support accountability in implementing and sustaining an equitable and inclusive campus environment.
While the report said Black faculty members support the third recommendation and are in “general support” of the fourth recommendation, the first recommendation could use more “explicit” language regarding the purposes and functions of the truth and reconciliation process. Additionally, the report said the commission could have included specific means and strategies to “make antiracism central to Penn State education.”
The commission also left out “a campus-wide plan of implementation and timetables to increase the underrepresentation of Black faculty in the academy,” according to the report.
The report then listed initiatives Penn State could pursue to address the issues that Black faculty members face at Penn State campuses. The initiatives are as followed:
- Recruitment and hiring plans to increase Black faculty in the next five years
- Implementation of an antiracism and social justice agenda by/for the Board of Trustees, university administration, deans, departmental heads, and program and center directors and faculty at all ranks
- Attention given to transformations needed at commonwealth campuses with regard to Black faculty and students, colleagues and administrators
- Creation of an antiracism progress and accountability committees with internal and external stakeholders
- Implementation of an external study to examine salaries and equity over the last 15 years
- Disuse of racially biased system of SRTEs
- Restructuring organizations such as the Office of Affirmative Action and the Office of Educational Equity, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion functions to follow an antiracism agenda
Black faculty experiences
Along with the data, the report included comments from Black faculty members’ experiences with racism. Some of which are listed:
- “Someone wrote [the N-word] in the dirt on my car and other hate speech.”
- “Denied administrative position although more qualified than the colleague I competed against.”
- “student[s] complain every time I teach about enslavement”
- “told by students that I must be a genius because how else could I do what I do and be Black”
- “Historically, PSU fosters a conservative climate and culture; therefore, it is difficult to feel included when institutional leaders do not champion diversity, equity and inclusion.”
- “I was afraid to report to the entities because Penn State does not give us the orientation we need as new faculty about our rights, and the only entities I knew of were my supervisor, my university head, the Associate Dean.”
- “Promote us, include us and reduce all the data collection and actually take action.”
- “I would not expect anything to be done about it. Further, racism is deeply ingrained into the Penn State system. It is part of the culture and climate. One complaint will not address institutionalized racism.”
- “PSU has enough suggestions of what to do, it needs to take action and stop asking Black folx how to handle racial violence.”
Part two of “More Rivers To Cross” said there is a possibility of a part three to the report.
The second report was created to identify the experiences Black faculty members have at Penn State, and the progress that needs to be made at the university.
“Our respondents had a story to tell,” King said. “We believe that Penn State does have the capacity to change.”