UPUA hosted a panel on diversity and inclusion this afternoon during the Board of Trustees’ committee meeting on Academic Affairs and Student Life, bringing seven student leaders in diversity to meet with the committee for a facilitated discussion and questions-and-answer session.
Student Body Vice President Katie Jordan introduced the panel and the students, discussing how important diversity and inclusion has been for her and President Terry Ford during their leadership. Jordan noted how it’s not always easy having conversations about diversity and inclusion but hopes the panel is a step in the right direction with administrators.
The discussion opened with a loaded question: What suggestions do you (the panel) have that would make Penn State a more welcoming community for both faculty and staff? This idea was repeatedly tied back into the conversation, and the panel offered a number of suggestions based on what they’ve experienced.
“A big thing is going to be accountability,” said David Gaines, president of W.O.R.D.S. He said there are tensions among the marginalized communities on campus but nobody but the students in those communities are addressing the issues. “We need more to be done by the administrators so students of color aren’t the only ones speaking up,” he said.
Trustee Alice Pope suggested the bystander intervention program and using Stand for State, which is already in place, to inspire people in the vicinity to step in when active discrimination is happening. Pope also suggested helping students and staff alike understand how they can serve as allies for the multicultural and other marginalized communities.
Steffen Blanco, former Asian/Pacific American Caucus President and UPUA At-Large Representative and current Onward State photographer, said it’s difficult for first generation students to navigate the university, considering both them and their parents are new to the world of higher education. Additionally, Blanco said when it comes to the All In campaign and general diversity awareness on campus, the most important thing faculty, staff, and administrators can do is make an appearance.
“We invite administrators [to our events] but we don’t see the general faculty — general staff — supporting those initiatives,” he said. “It comes down to showing up, showing face, and showing that you are all in.”
Another member of the panel, UPUA At-Large Representative Jorge Zurita-Coronado, said World In Conversation and SOC 119 are great platforms to give students the opportunity to discuss difficult topics. “I think students feel uncomfortable talking about it because they’ve never had the opportunity to talk about it,” he said.
The panel comes a few months after UPUA hosted a panel of Trustees in a diversity and inclusion town hall, this time giving students the chance to answer the Board’s questions and raise concerns. Though the Committee didn’t take any immediate action regarding the conversation, it’s an important step for the relationship between faculty, staff, administrators, and students as well as diversity and inclusion on campus.
“Diversity and inclusion is about students having equal access to things that everyone else has access to on a regular basis,” Sis-Obed Torres said in conclusion.
“It’s fairly extraordinary — I’ve found it’s equally well received and not well received,” Sims said of the response to the restrictions and actions against Greek life. “It’s polarizing. It’s polarizing for the student community and it’s polarizing for the alumni community.”
Sims mentioned how part of the restrictions include the implementation of “compliance checks” to make sure fraternities are following the social ban that has been enacted, saying that one chapter (he didn’t say which) was already found in violation of the news rules on Sunday night and will be sanctioned accordingly. He also said that three chapters have already submitted plans on how they intend to complete new member programs in the future that don’t involve hazing, one of the requirements that’s been enacted.
The Committee on Academic Affairs and Student Life was one of the last of the day, and the full Board of Trustees will meet tomorrow to approve any committee actions that were passed today. The Board will meet at 1 p.m. at the Penn Stater at Innovation Park.