CSGD Celebration of Black Queer History, Display

The Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity displays moments in Black queer history in celebration of Black History Month in the HUB-Robeson Center on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022 in State College, Pa.

Since 1976, the month of February has been officially designated as a time to commemorate and celebrate the extensive achievements made by African Americans — pioneers of their craft in countless fields.

From rock ‘n’ roll to chemistry, the mark African Americans have made on contemporary culture is abundant. This influence and impact they’ve continued to imbue should transcend any editorial or journalistic article written about Black History Month.

And Black History Month at Penn State needs to be more than a time just to celebrate African American voices; it's a month for reflection and an opportunity for students to understand their duty to recognize and uplift marginalized voices as members of a predominantly white institution.

Representation is seeing people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds sharing ideas and aspirations with you.

However, what are Penn State students supposed to do when their surroundings don’t represent this so-called “diversity" the university continuously preaches?

According to the Penn State Undergraduate admissions, in 2019-20, approximately 5.63% of undergraduate students were African Americans — a small percentage compared to the 64.95% of white students.

This disparity is not only visible in classrooms and halls across campus but also in many student-run organizations and clubs on campus, one being THON.

As the largest student-run philanthropy in the world and a staple to Penn State’s culture, THON boasted over 16,500 student volunteers for its 2023 event, which provided emotional and financial support to Four Diamonds families impacted by childhood cancer and raised over $15 million, breaking its record for a second year in a row.

Yet, despite its popularity and influence, approximately 16% of its volunteers belonged to minoritized groups, with 2% being African Americans, according to the most recent THON Transparency Report in 2022.

After these alarming statistics, THON did take steps to improve the culture of its organization, implementing a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Action Plan for THON 2023.

Other clubs and organizations at Penn State should follow this initiative by being transparent with its demographics and create yearly action plans to track its diversity.

According to Penn State’s Multicultural Outreach office, “students of color comprise more than 20% of our student body, but we know that number can always be better.”

Specifically, courses devoted to African American Studies should be promoted and incentivized by working side-by-side with academic advisors, because Black history is history. And this should go beyond offering diversity-themed courses during Black History Month at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Student-run media outlets and clubs should reach out to diverse clubs

like The Penn State Student Black Caucus and Penn State University African Students Association to create more diverse spaces — especially in the media.

The Daily Collegian has continuously made efforts to encourage diversity and inclusion, as it’s crucial to create a solidified journalistic community that represents people from different backgrounds, perspectives and opinions — but there’s always more work to be done.

Yet, this lack of diversity in different student-run outlets is not due to lack of interest from students of color, proven in the popularity of other media outlets, like Sovereign Magazine, Penn State’s first magazine for students of color, for example.

According to Pew Research Center, diversity can have an abundance of impact — not only on the newsroom environment but also in the quality of journalism itself.

Encouraging a predominantly white community of students to celebrate Black History Month has proven to not be entirely effective, evident in the false belief that cultural events are limited to those who identify as part of those groups.

It’s Penn State’s duty to be aggressive with its attempts to diversify its student population, clubs and organizations. Preaching and fomenting diversity is not enough.

Media co-exists with diversity, and as student-run clubs at Penn State continue to lack diverse representation, so will their attempts to honor them.

Every February, Penn State should acknowledge Black History Month as a reason to celebrate the importance of diversity in different fields — and student organizations are no exception.

Daily Collegian Opinion Editor Fernanda López can be reached at lfl5339@psu.edu.

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