You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit

EDITORIAL | Penn State must create, release housing demographics data and acknowledge marginalized student experiences

Pollock Halls

Wolf and Ritner dorms in Pollock on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2018.

The Penn State admissions site offers a plethora of statistics showcasing the university’s demographics from varying perspectives, including educational and the student body as a whole.

Whether it be the composite ACT academic scale or the total number of undergraduates at University Park, those curious about the backdrop of Penn State can find these specific numbers at ease.

The site also features the racial and ethnic diversity of Penn State. According to the undergraduate enrollment from 2018-2019, 64.95% of students were white. This classifies the university as a predominantly white institution, an institution of higher education that is made up of 50% or more white students enrolled.

International students make up the second most percentage with 9.36%, followed by Hispanics/Latinos, Asian Americans and African Americans. All of these numbers are present for the public to view.

With this in mind, Penn State does not display the demographics of on-campus residence halls for public access while other statistics are so easy to find. In fact, the university does not have that data at all.

In spring 2021, The Daily Collegian began looking into marginalized student experiences with housing after the Instagram @black_at_pennstate, created amid Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020, shared anonymous student stories about residence halls.

One student said she was the only Black occupant on her floor in East Halls, with the only other marginalized student being her Asian roommate.

Another East Halls occupant said there were only three Black students on their floor among 40 other students. Both of these students reported being isolated by their white floor mates.

Several Black students spoke with The Daily Collegian about how, based on their experiences, they felt Penn State placed many marginalized students in Pollock residence halls, which are notoriously known for being the least desirable living area on campus, while white students were primarily assigned to renovated East halls.

We could not continue with the story as the university noted they don’t keep track of the demographics of students in various residence halls. Ultimately, there was no way to prove the claims with statistics.

As of Oct. 1, Penn State spokesperson Lisa Powers said the university housing assignment process hasn’t changed. Powers said race nor ethnicity are categories in eLiving and are therefore not factored into the process.

Student preferences are taken into consideration for housing assignments, so if any first-year student would like to be placed in East Halls, they have the opportunity to be.

The process of housing is randomized, too, unless students opt for special living options, which offers them an opportunity to live with other students of similar interests and backgrounds.

Perhaps the randomized placement for students is affected by early decision admissions on a first come, first serve type of basis — a process typically associated with wealthier, white backgrounds, according to the Center for American Progress. The lack of resources available for marginalized students and those from poor socioeconomic statuses serves as another obstacle that may in turn impact housing.

However, many marginalized students have shared experiences feeling isolated in renovated dorms among many white peers or siloed off to worse buildings. But since there’s no demographics on housing available, it’s hard for these claims from marginalized students to gain traction.

Additionally, one of the SLOs available to marginalized students — the Bunton-Waller fellows program — is in Pollock residence halls. Bunton-Waller scholarships are awarded to students for their high performance in academics and diverse backgrounds.

There are several SLOs in Pollock residence halls that aren’t connected to race and ethnicity, though it’s disappointing to see the space designated for gifted marginalized students in one of the most run down areas on campus.

The university has the records of all students. It knows their ages, ethnicities, high school GPA and, of course, their housing assignments. Why not have a database available to provide demographics on a rather prevalent portion of the college experience?

No action is an action in this manner, as it seems telling of what the separation is for race and ethnicity within housing. Students shouldn’t have to ask for this information considering the breadth of information that’s already available. Unless the administration hasn’t put two and two together yet, it appears oblivious to gloss over something brought up before by marginalized students.

Even if the housing process is truly randomized, there is still enough of a problem that several students have come forward sharing negative experiences. By not keeping demographics of housing, the university will be unaware of the discrepancies present in halls.

A change to the housing system is not the definite resolution to the issues marginalized students face at Penn State. The assumption that placing two marginalized students on a floor together will solve everything is an issue in its own right.

If students cannot see the university is making strides to combat discrimination, then no change will be made. Penn State is not being asked to come up with a solution entirely, rather show a sense of care in the claims made by marginalized students.

While Penn State has its responsibility in this issue, there is also an impetus on students to become more inclusive of marginalized students. In the two Instagram posts, both parties said no one on their floor would interact with them, including an RA.

A primary focal point of Penn State and any college experience should be to ensure students feel included. The minority experience shouldn’t be erased by artificial grouping. By constantly thinking about diversity and inclusion, Penn State will be able to create an environment of acceptance for all — something that has truly been lacking at the university.

Daily Collegian Opinion Editor Joe Eckstein can be reached at jce5179@psu.edu.

If you're interested in submitting a Letter to the Editor, click here.

Support Student Journalism

Your contribution will help the Collegian provide award winning journalism to the Penn State community and beyond.

Donate to the Collegian by clicking the button below.

Newsletters