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UPUA, Black Caucus Discuss Diversity, Tradition At ‘Semesterly Forum’ Town Hall

UPUA held a “Semesterly Forum” town hall event Monday night in the HUB, inviting students to discuss issues on campus that UPUA could work on. Despite casting a wide net to students on social media, the forum’s student audience and moderating panel members were composed entirely of UPUA representatives and members of Penn State’s Black Caucus.

Black Caucus PR Chair Omou Barry began discussion by opening the floor for attendees to share their opinions.

When the prompt was met with silence, UPUA President Cody Heaton laughed and asked, “Penn State is perfect?”

“This has been an intense few weeks. How is everyone feeling?” asked Peggy Diaz, a supervisor Student Affairs, referring to UPUA’s recent vote to add appointed seats to the Assembly for Penn State’s three multicultural caucuses, which was ultimately voided by UPUA’s Judicial Board. Her question was also met with silence.

Diaz shifted the trajectory of the night and asked the attendees to form a circle to discuss how they have been forced outside of their comfort zones on campus, and to examine possible solutions to problems they’ve noticed at Penn State.

Mahogany Florence, Black Caucus’s 2nd vice president, set the tone for the next hour and a half by expressing frustration with the objectification of black women’s hair on campus.

The discussion then moved to the lack of diversity at Penn State.

“I want [people of color] to feel comfortable going outside of their safe spaces — not that [safe spaces] are bad — I just want them to feel like they can approach other organizations on campus and feel welcome,” UPUA Representative David Weiss said.

After another attendee noted that only 5.3 percent of Penn State’s student population is black, UPUA Representative Seun Babalola responded to Weiss’s comment.

“It’s just easier to make friends with people who you share common experiences with whether that experience is related to your race or the type of community you’re both from,” Babalola said.

Diaz later asked, “In your opinion, what are Penn State’s traditions?”

After several responses about football and university pride, she asked if everyone is welcome to participate in these traditions.

“No. I feel comfortable saying no,” said Fatima Odebisi, 1st vice president of the Black Caucus. “A lot of traditions would lead me to jail or would lead to me not being a student here anymore.”

When asked to clarify, Odebisi said she and other people of color on campus are more likely to be arrested for illegal activities than white students on campus.

Heaton closed the meeting by asking how UPUA can change its outreach strategies to better engage students and improve attendance at future public forums.

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About the Author

Annmarie Sorensen

Annmarie's brain is comprised of quotes from The Office, Harry Potter, and Gilmore Girls. She lives off of Amy's GF Mac n Cheese because she has Celiac disease. She enjoys long walks to the fridge, the deli in Findlay Commons, and to her bed after her 9am. You can follow her on Twitter @aannmarieeee for additional political commentary and email her at [email protected]

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