Students Speak Out About Chi Omega Photo At UPUA

If you came for jokes and clever commentary on last night’s University Park Undergraduate Association meeting as is the case most weeks, keep scrolling. During the open student forum at the beginning of the meeting — which typically features one, maybe two, students — a group of approximately 75 students of all different ethnic and cultural backgrounds filed into the room to speak about the Chi Omega racially insensitive photo, which has become national news over the past two days.

The first two to make their way to the microphone were the former president of the Mexican-American Student Association and the president of the Latino Caucus. “Our culture is not a joke and our culture never will be a joke,” they said to the UPUA assembly. “Most of us know someone that has been killed or kidnapped as a result of the drug war, and this is not something that should be joked about. We want to educate. The first thing you need to do is educate students about each other’s cultures.”

A former vice president of the Student Black Caucus spoke next. She explained that most people think about white students when thinking about the Penn State culture. “Minorities are not in the bubble of Penn State culture,” she 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.”

Brian Clark, the vice president of Penn State’s NAACP chapter, asked students to approach peers about racism that they recognize and to take action instead of waiting and sweeping it under the rug. “It starts with us,” he said, referring to the students. “We have to look ourselves in the mirror and realize that this is not just a Mexican problem — this is a Penn State problem.”

Soon-to-be Panehellenic Council President Rachel Franceschino thanked everyone for coming and apologized for what happened on behalf of the Chi Omega sorority. “One of my campaign platforms is reaching out to different student organization that we don’t normally pair with. I am more than open to comments and suggestions.” She gave the students her e-mail address and asked them to contact her as she wants to work together to help end race issues at Penn State.

The president of Asian Pacific American Caucus said that she’s afraid the Asian community at Penn State will be next. She added that almost every weekend she hears a racist remark directed at her while out. Another student griped that Lion Ambassador tours do not stop at the HUB’s Cultural Center. Three students, including UPUA representative Ryan Brown, told a story about a trip they took to Purdue University for a conference. They said that they were “called n***ers from a vehicle,” but Brown’s complaint to the university went nowhere.

You could hear a lot of emotion in the voice of many of the students that spoke last night. One particularly emotional female student said: “This issue is not going away. It will not go away. We are not going away. This group of people right here has so much power to help the student body. We are trying to improve this campus so that everybody here feels comfortable, safe, and educated. We just want your help. This is not going away.”

A representative from an LGBT advocacy group added some strong words, essentially daring the UPUA assembly to stop saying that they will reach out to minority groups and to actually do it. There was loud applause from the group of students there for the forum following his comments.

UPUA president Courtney Lennartz thanked the students for coming to the meeting. She explained that she hears their concerns that UPUA needs to have their backs and understands that diversity education needs to be done. Lennartz said that she wants to work with all of their organizations to form a focus group and will talk to the administration, but thinks that it falls on the students to work through these racially insensitive issues.

UPUA’s open student forum typically takes at most a few minutes if any time at all, but last night was different. The students in attendance took over half an hour to voice their concerns to the assembly and ask for help. The majority of them stressed the need for diversity education and the underrepresentation of minorities within groups like UPUA. It took just 30 minutes for President Lennartz to decide to form a focus group to discuss race issues at Penn State, which goes to show how powerful the students of this university can be if they want to.

The power of the student body happened to be the main point of Dr. Ben Novak’s special presentation at last night’s meeting. Novak is a Penn State alumnus and former Penn State trustee that is involved with the Nittany Valley Society. He spoke about how the increase of power for the university president has been negative and that students at Penn State used to have control of a lot more, including running one of three branches of the university — student life — which existed in conjunction with the faculty and the administration.

Novak added that student discipline was handled by the students in the past and that the student union was entirely paid for by students. He discussed a turning point in the university’s history when president Bryce Jordan referred to students as customers and nothing more. “The real university is the spirit of the place,” he said, “and only the students can create the spirit.”

He went on to tell the assembly that student government used to have a lot more responsbility than they do now. “We used to do for the student body what Joe Paterno did for the football team,” he said. “The last thing you want is power. If they talk about giving you power, give it back. Make people want to do things for you. Make yourselves attractive.” It is interesting to think that just after he finished speaking, a huge group of students would ask the assembly for help.

In president Lennartz’s weekly report, she said that UPUA will finally have university-wide listserv access at the start of next semester. Yes, this does mean that you will be getting more unwanted spam on your Webmail account in the near future. In vice president Katelyn Mullen’s report, she discussed UPUA’s proposed sustainability fee, explaining that the university is unaware of any other Big Ten colleges with such a fee. She is also still working on alternate alcohol policies for dorms.

Association of Residence Hall Students representative Malcolm Jenkins discussed a few interesting initiatives, including tests to see if WiFi pilots now works in all campus dorm buildings. He also said that ARHS is looking in to installing air conditioning in all dorms, and added that they are in preliminary discussions about bringing a Starbucks to the library.

Resolution 15-07: Academic Rights Documentation and Whistleblower Campaign was on the agenda for tonight. Academic Affairs Chair Rick Pooler said: “Our goal with this piece of legislation was to inform students on their academic rights and can stand up for their rights when they are being violated. I think it’s a great idea and campaign, but it has a flawed marketing system, which is why I am going to move to recommit.”

The marketing system that he mentioned is the Whistleblower Campaign in which Academic Affairs committee members will hand out metal keychain whistles in front of the HUB. The whistles would have plastic tags attached that say “Know Your Rights” and have a QR Code that leads to a mobile academic rights website. Because of the weak marketing campaign, Pooler motioned to recommit the legislation, which carried.

Lion Ambassadors President Logan Cawley, who was recommended by former UPUA president T.J. Bard, was confirmed and sworn in as UPUA’s S-Book Director at last night’s meeting. S-Book is an informational book that is intended to be used by incoming freshman students.  Three new Board of Arbitration members were also sworn in at the meeting.

Because of the seriousness of last night’s meeting, there is not a John Zang Tie Rating or an Elias Warren Quote of the Week in today’s UPUA recap. If it makes you feel any better, Zang wore a beige button-down shirt with a dark blue and green plaid skinny tie with a tie clip.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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