Student Governments Host Board Of Trustees Town Hall On Diversity And Inclusion
Penn State’s student governments hosted a Board of Trustees town hall event focused on diversity and inclusion last night in Robb Hall of the Hintz Family Alumni Center. The panel included Trustees Valerie Detwiler, David Han, Pedro Rivera, Matthew Schuyler, Bill Oldsey, and student trustee Allie Goldstein as well as a decent student turnout.
GPSA President Kevin Horne (also an Onward State editor) began the event by explaining the All In campaign before turning the program over to UPUA President Terry Ford, who served as moderator for the evening.
Ford explained how the Board of Trustees does not deal with day-to-day issues at the university and asked students to tailor questions to the responsibilities of the Board. The Trustees on the panel then introduced themselves and explained how they’ve experienced diversity in their own lives and careers.
Rivera said moving to college was the first time he felt exposed to concepts of diversity and inclusion. “I always share with folks one of my biggest ‘aha’ moments was my first visit to the bookstore,” Rivera said. “When I looked at my first kit for drafting…and saw that for one tool it cost $100…it really struck me.”
Oldsey shared a few snapshots of his experiences with diversity and inclusion. “My first sort of teachable moment with diversity and inclusion happened when I was in maybe first or second grade,” he said. “I distinctly remember my mother and father joining a coalition made up of faculty and townspeople…advocating for African-Americans in State College so they could access retail establishments.”
The Oldsey family also spent a year living in Spain, though Oldsey himself knew nothing about the language, customs, or culture when they first moved. “I learned more in that year than I ever learned in my life in any single year,” Oldsey said.
Finally, Oldsey spoke of his time working at McGraw-Hill, where he helped form the diversity and inclusion council for the publishing company and was even the executive sponsor for the council at one point.
Student Trustee Goldstein shared her first classroom experience with diversity was when she moved to San Diego to pursue a master’s degree (Goldstein is currently pursuing her PhD at Penn State). “I was uncomfortable that I would say the wrong thing,” she said. “That led me to be very quiet in the classroom.” After speaking with mentors and advisors, Goldstein eventually wrote her thesis on student affair professionals and their experiences with diversity in education.
Though she grew up in a rural farming community without much diversity to speak of, Trustee Detwiler remembered a friend from kindergarten who was Korean and adopted. Even at such a young age, she couldn’t understand why the other children thought her friend was different.
Now living in a similar Central Pennsylvania community, Detwiler said she encounters diversity in her job daily because most of her colleagues in the banking industry are middle-aged white men. “I’ve learned in my time at Penn State and my time at the bank that even though we may have a lot of similarities, we still have a lot of differences of opinion, and that’s diversity in and of itself,” Detwiler said.
Schuyler discussed his work with diversity and inclusion at Hilton as a global company. “For us, being inclusive means, ‘bring everything you’ve got into the workplace, and let’s leverage it,'” he said.
Han kept his remarks brief, highlighting the under-representation of women in surgery and thanking the audience for attending.
Ford then opened the floor to questions. The first student to speak was concerned about the All In campaign. “So far, it’s seen as a marketing strategy,” he said. “So what’s next?”
Schuyler chimed in first, explaining that the campaign is a starting point for enacting change. Goldstein added it’s a collective responsibility to continue attending and organizing events centered on diversity and inclusion so it’s not just a one-year campaign. “If we each believe in it collectively and bring other people to these events, it becomes something bigger,” she said.
The next audience comment was from an alumna and State College resident, who said she was there to point out Penn State’s violation of the American Disabilities Act as it relates to the accessibility of Pegula Ice Arena. Schuyler said the trustees would address the concern with administrators.
A question from the live stream addressed economic diversity and asked about the Board’s view on access to higher education.
“This is an area that the Governor himself has been personally involved in conversation and having conversation as to what we need to do at the state level,” Rivera said.
Oldsey also mentioned the importance of development in donations and gifts that can go to student scholarships. “The more development gifts we can push in the direction of scholarships for deserving students, the better,” he said.
A student in the audience then expressed concern over the lack of diversity on the panel itself.
Schuyler said this lack of diversity is not only evident on the panel, but also on the entire Board of Trustees. “We’re aware of that and we’re studying it in great detail in a fully inclusive manner,” he said. “We’re taking a fully inclusive inventory of the diversity on the Board of Trustees.”
Detwiler highlighted her own experiences with diversity on the Board. “At the time I was running for election, I never thought I would be elected because I’m a young woman,” she said. “Other than [student trustees] Allie [Goldstein] and Luke [Metaxas], I’m the youngest trustee on the Board and there are only nine women.”
Another question from the live stream asked for advice on how to engage communities around Commonwealth in conversations of diversity and inclusion.
“Students have to be willing to go out into the community,” Detwiler said. “It’s not enough to bring the community in.”
The next question from the audience came from Brian Davis. “Penn State has continuously been winning awards for diversity,” he said, “and that’s something I don’t understand.” Davis discussed statistics for students of color, like graduation rate and retention rate before criticizing the lack of funding for engaged scholarship experiences like studying abroad.
Schuyler said this campaign is a journey that starts with awareness and measurement. “When I was at Penn State, you would not have seen this room look like this, so we are making progress,” he said.
“This is about culture, and cultures boil down to one thing,” Schuyler added as a final thought. “Cultures are about hope.”
The final question came from the live stream: “How can we be all in when some people frankly do not care?”
“One of the biggest areas of promise is the aspect of student leadership or organic leadership,” Rivera said. “You never can change someone’s belief without showing measurable gains.”
CCSG President Pavel Shusharin closed the evening with final comments. “Penn State is telling everyone that we’re trying to take an effort,” Shusharin said. “We’re all in. We’re willing to admit that we’re not at the place we want to be, but we’re working towards getting there.”
The panel discussion was one of the only opportunities students have had to come face-to-face with at least some of the Trustees in years. The student turnout was inspiring, and hopefully it will encourage the Board and the student governments to host more opportunities like this, no matter the topic or reason. You can watch the video of the entire panel event here.
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