Penn State’s Student Minority Advisory and Recruitment Team (SMART) held its annual involvement fair from 11 to 2 p.m. on Thursday in Heritage Hall.
The event included more than 35 clubs and organizations with various focuses, but each group shared a similar goal of providing opportunities to students of underrepresented groups on campus.
Brooke Natley, the membership director for SMART, helped plan the event and said these organizations provide an outlet for students to find belonging at such a massive university.
“I think it’s so important to get involved on campus, and when you have people who look like you it can help make you feel comfortable,” Natley (senior-biobehavioral health) said. “Going to class and just coming home isn’t always that great, so having a good time getting involved in an organization, doing community service, making new friends, having something to do on the weekends and just having someone to talk to totally changes your experience in a great way.”
Natley is involved in both SMART and Penn State’s chapter of the historically black Zeta Phi Beta sorority, and she has seen first-hand how being a part of these kinds of organizations can shape a student’s Penn State experience.
“These two organizations have changed my perspective at Penn State. I can now say this place is my home away from home,” Natley said. “I feel at home with people that have such a welcoming vibe. Each organization has its own focus so if it aligns with you, you are really able to dive in and feel so comfortable at Penn State, which is harder for minority students when coming to a predominately white institution.”
Fraternities and sororities for students of color drew large crowds of students at the fair. The Multicultural Greek Council (MGC) has nine chapters of greek life at Penn State that cater specifically to diversity.
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Fuzzy Williams-McKenzie has experienced numerous benefits from his involvement in the historically black fraternity Omega Psi Phi.
“The organization has done tremendous things and taught me lots of values,” Williams-McKenzie (graduate – leadership and community engagement) said. “Our partner principles are manhood, scholar, perseverance and uplift. We live by those target principles and those are the things that make us who we are today. The core values of the organization influence us to be better in life.”
There was also a variety of academic organizations at the fair with the goal of representing students of color in various majors and helping to further them in their fields of study. These organizations were Colyer Johnson’s main interest when browsing the groups at the involvement fair.
“I’m looking for things that can prepare me for the future,” Johnson (freshman-computer engineering) said. “There are lots of events these organizations can help you get involved with that connect you with businesses and alumni, help you with your resume and develop professionally.”
As an engineering major, Johnson was interested in joining the National Society of Black Engineers. Other academic organizations at the fair included The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, The National Council of Negro Women and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Penn State’s campus isn’t what many would consider diverse. According to data published by Penn State, 65.6 percent of students of students at the university’s 20 campuses are white. African American, Asian American and Hispanic or Latino students make up only 19.08 percent of the student body. The remaining 15.32 percent of students identify as international students, multiple races, Native American or Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, or an undeclared race.
Because of the lack of diversity at Penn State, marginalized students often seek out clubs and organizations that are catered to them, which they are able to do through the SMART involvement fair.
“There are lots of opportunities on this campus and a lot of minorities don’t know about the opportunities they have,” McKenzie-Williams said. “There are so many things that students of color can get involved with that are needed such as UPAC, UPUA, SPA, the list goes on and on. This event really helps students of color to get a broader sense of what they can accomplish here.”