On Friday morning, President Eric Barron spoke at the Quality Advocates Session, where he outlined initiatives for Penn State's ‘All In’ campaign, and addressed how to respond to controversial campus speakers and President Donald Trump’s immigration order.
The Quality Advocates Network is a group that convenes throughout the semester to “share ideas and examples of improvement and innovation” at Penn State, according to the Office of Planning and Assessment’s website.
About 35 professors and administrators attended, and 15 from the commonwealth campuses of Hershey and Harrisburg viewed via live stream.
Barron kicked off the conversation with a contentious topic: addressing controversial speakers while promoting free speech.
Speaking about the recent outbreak of violence at the University of California Berkeley in response to controversial speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, Barron said Penn State “dodged a serious bullet” when Yiannopoulos — who was slated to speak at Penn State in November — canceled.
“He’s creating his own anti-free speech movement wherever he goes because his message really is, tear down the university, they’re just a bunch of liberals that don’t want to listen to anybody,” Barron said about Yiannopoulos.
Barron said the protesters are not always students, but members of “an anti-fascist anarchist group” that follows “white supremacists speakers and the Milos of the world.”
Nevertheless, Barron repeatedly said the only way to counter hate speech was with more speech.
Moving to the ‘All In’ campaign — an initiative created in October 2016 to promote diversity and inclusion on campus — Barron cited the successes of the initiative and outlined areas for improvement.
Some ideas included adding a dining option for Muslim and Jewish students to meet the standards of Halal and Kashrut, which outline what foods observant Muslim and Jewish students can eat.
Barron also said education was important and advocated the addition of “specially-designated diversity related courses” meant to increase “understanding of social justice and equity in the U.S.”
Greater diversity training within the police force is another area Barron emphasized.
“Penn State police went through a daylong training … on policing and communities of color,” Barron said. “Our police force is getting regular training on diversity.”
To increase awareness of ‘All In,’ Barron said there will be an annual award for faculty and students who exemplify the goals of the initiative. The award will be $1,500 and a plaque, Barron said.
Noting concerns Penn State may lose federal funding if it takes a stance on becoming a sanctuary campus, or speaking against President Trump’s actions, Barron said the university is in a “tricky space.”
“When I talk about immigration, I talk about everybody being our students, but you don’t hear me saying the word Trump in the midst of any of those conversations,” Barron said.
Laura Miller, a member of the Commission for Women who works at the Office of Physical Plant, said the purpose of increasing diversity and inclusion is to improve understanding of differences among people.
Another in attendance, Ginger Breon, assistant dean for administration and chief information officer for the College of Business said the initiative is crucial.
“It’s so important that people are treated fairly … we don’t have to agree but at least we have to listen and understand that people are different,” Breon said.