In an effort to help advance diversity, equity and inclusion at Penn State, the Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity created a new fellowship to help faculty members develop as leaders.
The Equity Leadership Fellows Program began this past summer with the aim of acknowledging faculty members’ efforts to create a greater sense of DEI while also continuing to educate themselves as leaders “in fostering a more equitable and inclusive institution,” according to Penn State News.
Those involved in the fellowship will be tasked with working together with senior faculty mentors where they will work together on initiatives for the Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity. The fellows will also be given the chance to shadow senior level DEI administrators.
Any efforts that are made to promote a more diverse campus and community deserves recognition, especially in a relatively non-diverse area like higher education.
This is not just a student body issue as professors are still more likely to be white than students despite an increase in overall ethnic diversity, according to the Pew Research Center.
Roughly 65% of the undergraduate student body at Penn State is white. The percentage for faculty members is a significant increase with over 92% of the demographic being white.
Attempting to bring a more diverse outlook to the faculty is not only a positive for professors but for the student body as a whole. It’s encouraging to those who don’t fall under the nearly 65% makeup of Penn State to see representation not just among peers but by those who lead and educate.
It can be a deterrent from attending a university for students who don’t see themselves in classroom spaces. While this effort is coming somewhat late, Penn State’s attempt to improve DEI is good even if it may be minor.
However, now is not the time to become content. More strides must follow as this merely is scratching the surface in regard to DEI on campus. The percentage of marginalized professors is still low and remains stagnant. This might not be a Penn State issue rather a fault on the education system as a whole.
Not every person is going to work in diversity and inclusion, the departments where most marginalized faculty seem to be placed. There must be an uptick in educational representation. University administration is still trying to play catch up to the efforts made by the student body, which has taken more initiative than the faculty in spreading awareness.
Promoting DEI goes beyond the classroom as a large part of the college experience occurs outside of the academic portion. The standard should be marginalized people can get involved in organizations like THON, Homecoming and greek life without feeling like they must be sectioned off into groups that focus exclusively on their identities.
While the fellowship has the potential to do great things for the university, there is also the possibility that it could serve as a sense of symbolism. The talk of diversity is high but until tangible results are shown, this merely serves as a talking point compared to real change.
Being patient and indirect with your efforts doesn’t equate to a reformative program. Rather than attempt to stay in control, the university needs to place the power and lead to those who truly understand the struggles of marginalized groups, not just strive for a sense of compromise.
The program’s first fellow is Laura Leites, an associate research professor of quantitative forest ecology in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Leites was selected based on her work in the college while having a strong interest in equity and inclusion, according to Jennifer Hamer, a senior faculty member at Penn State.
Leites’s focus on equity and inclusion deals especially with non-tenure employees. According to Hamer, “Non-tenure track faculty are among the most invisible groups of faculty, and often have the greatest needs at any university,” and also said many of these faculty members come from underrepresented backgrounds.
Along with instilling leadership in those who understand it best like Leites, Penn State must also listen to its diverse faculty members. The best way to create change is by listening to those who experience the struggles of marginalized groups firsthand. Discussion from faculty of color will incite more meaningful conversation and will create a greater future for DEI at Penn State.
Beyond Penn State, Centre County is also striving toward a more diverse community. Whether it be Ezra Nanes elected as the first Jewish mayor or Tierra Williams becoming the first Black supervisor elected in Ferguson Township, it’s clear the people are looking to hear the voices of those in marginalized communities broadcasted more than ever.
But just like the fellowship, State College cannot become complacent with these results. This is a new era for both the university and the town to work together to improve the community side by side for the common good of the people.
Daily Collegian Opinion Editor Joe Eckstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.