In response to rising tension about racism at Penn State sparked by the Chi Omega photo that has become national news, the University Park Undergraduate Association will form a focus group to discuss race issues on campus that will hold its first meeting tonight.
At a UPUA general assembly meeting on Wednesday night, nearly 75 students of differing ethnicities, races, and cultural backgrounds came to speak to the assembly and ask for help in addressing the problem of racism on campus. One student, a member of the LGBT community, dared the assembly to stop saying they will reach out to minority groups and to actually do it instead, receiving a large applause for his comments.
“Minorities are not in the bubble of Penn State culture,” a former vice president of the Student Black Caucus explained. Another former vice president of the Student Black Caucus asked UPUA to step up and advocate for some of the marginalized people in this community. “This time it was Mexican-Americans. Last time it was African-Americans. Next time it could be Asian-Americans.”
“This culture on campus has got to change,” another student said. “The disregard for a culture and the stereotyping of a culture is ridiculous. The Penn State culture is not welcoming to minority students. I really do love this university and I do not want something like race relations to further tarnish this university’s name.”
After the long line of students finished addressing the assembly with their concerns, UPUA President Courtney Lennartz weighed in. She thanked the students for coming and agreed that UPUA “needs to have their backs” in helping with diversity education amongst the student body. Lennartz told the students that she intends to form a focus group with representatives from campus minority groups to further the discussion on racism on campus to work on reaching a resolution.
The focus group will be called the Diversity Awareness Task Force and will hold its first meeting tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Room 22 of the Paul Robeson Cultural Center, located in the HUB. The meeting will be open to the public but space is extremely limited. We will tweet the meeting (@OnwardState) to keep those that don’t make it in updated on the discussion.
The issue of racism at Penn State first reached UPUA after Halloween weekend, when a small group of African American students came to speak to the assembly about the use of blackface in Halloween costumes, which they believed to be offensive. The group also mentioned the use of Arab garb in terrorist-themed costumes.
It seems that the events that took place Wednesday night were a cry for help from minorities that feel underrepresented in groups like UPUA and feel that previous racial issues have been swept under the rug. The formation of this focus group is certainly an encouraging step in the right direction and will continue the ongoing discussion on racism and racial insensitivity at Penn State.