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[Live Blog] State Of State 2019: State Of Change

Welcome to the home for our coverage of the sixth annual State of State conference. This year’s forum is titled State of Change and features 13 speakers, each discussing matters of Penn State life.

We’ll be live tweeting highlights from @OnwardState and updating this post throughout the day. For more up-to-the-minute coverage or to catch a particular speaker, follow State of State’s live stream.

5:47 p.m.: That’s all for State of State 2019! Executive Director Clare McHugh encourages attendees to become a voice for actual change in the Penn State community.

5:45 p.m.: Libscomb cites initiatives like “Ban The Box” that can make a difference for people impacted by the justice system, especially the 650,000 released from incarceration every year.

“These are things right now that we can attack as students. We can make things equitable.”

5:41 p.m.: “We can’t go through this life and not have trauma, but it should not hinder you from seeking education.”

5:37 p.m.: After arriving at Penn State, Lipscomb expected the best experience of his life, but in his first semester, he was lost. He didn’t want to go to the Paul Robeson Cultural Center because there were too many undergraduates. He didn’t want to go to the center for adult learners in Boucke.

“Where are the convicted felons?”

“Why are the voices of justice-impacted individuals silent on a prominent university campus like Penn State?”

5:32 p.m.: Lipscomb describes how he was asked on job and school applications whether he was convicted of a felony. “So what, I had a felony? I wanted to go get an education.”

“What we seem to forget is that we all have the same goals in life. We want to raise a family, we want to find success, and if you take that way from an individual who has historically been deprived of the right to basic things…socially, economically, that is not responsible.”

5:30 p.m.: “These kids, who barely can make rational decisions, are shuffled in and out of our juvenile justice system, our criminal justice system, with no hopes of every ending up here on Penn State’s campus.”

5:28 p.m.: Our final speaker of the afternoon is Divine Lipscomb, who describes his own experience with the “school to prison pipeline” when he was convicted of a felony at age 14.

When his step-father moved in and was addicted and abusive, he didn’t have time to think about books — he was worried about making sure his mother and his siblings were okay.

5:22 p.m.: “The impact extends beyond world campus.” We’re only scratching the surface of the ways to creatively and effectively use online education to engage more people.

“We know and we can see that online education is changing, and it is so important that the university keep up.”

5:20 p.m.: Goldstein asks what we can do organizationally to become more accessible to online learners.

  • What are we already doing that could be made more accessible?
  • What tools exist that could help us in our efforts to connect?
  • What new and exciting opportunities could we create?

5:17 p.m.: “These online students could be some of our greatest untapped resources.” So what can we do individually?

  • Think creatively about ways to include World Campus students in what we do
  • Research what’s already being done — resources may already exist
  • Engage! How can we as residential students/employees help to connect our online students?

5:14 p.m.: Allie Goldstein explains that online students are the second largest student population at Penn State, right behind University Park. Online education is becoming the “new normal.”

5:10 p.m.: After we published this post about Lion Ambassadors focusing on diversity in recruitment, Pazuchanics said he got texts and emails from alumni asking why things would need to change. But the “new tradition” was purposeful for Lion Ambassadors, and he stuck by it.

He encouraged all student organization leaders to reevaluate their traditions to improve.

5:07 p.m.: Nick Pazuchanics hopes to address how to change bad traditions during his talk, eliminating “because that’s the way it’s always been done.”

“If you can’t justify why your organization is doing something, you probably shouldn’t be doing that thing.”

5:03 p.m.: “It should be of our interest to do everything we can to help these student-athletes utilize and benefit from their college years.”

Marks said he asked his first professor at Penn State if he had any advice. He suggested joining something besides the soccer team. “I didn’t truly listen to him, so now I hope that someone listens to me.”

5 p.m.: Marks says he’s lucky at Penn State because he’s always had a group of Israeli friends to connect with, where he could forget about soccer and expand his perspectives through that relationship.

“I’m not a doctor. I don’t know how to medically help student-athletes who are struggling. But I do believe that by expanding our foundation, and by helping athletes step out of this bubble, it’ll be proactive.”

He says not only athletes, but coaches, are expected to win at a place like Penn State. It’s difficult for coaches to identify which students might be struggling.

4:58 p.m.: “It’s confusing when your sport isn’t going the way you’d like it to go.” — but off the field, girls are hitting on you wherever you go and guys are giving you the head nod.

“We need to help athletes reach out of this bubble.” Marks describes how most student-athletes never actually compete when they reach the collegiate level, and how an even smaller percentage continues in their respective sport professionally.

He says an easy way to help student-athletes is to bridge the gap between them and the rest of the student population.

4:56 p.m.: Dani Marks describes how collegiate athletes go from representing themselves to representing a brand.

“We eat. We sleep. We live. We train. We play.”

He describes how student-athletes walk around in their blue jackets from Athletics, which seem to earn them automatic respect. But under the jacket, they’re afraid.

4:51 p.m.: “Will you join me in engaging in conversations and research on mental health support for students, especially those who come from underrepresented communities?”

4:49 p.m.: Okafor said that while she loved living and working in San Francisco, depression + grief + racism was the nightmare that she just couldn’t shake from her reality.

She was able to seek professional help, and is so grateful that she did.

4:47 p.m.: Catherine Okafor starts by telling the story of Karyn Washington, who created the For Brown Girls blog and later took her own life after battling depression.

4:43 p.m.: “You have the power to impact others, but I need you to understand that people don’t just dream of becoming a drug addict or an alcoholic…it doesn’t work like that.”

She challenges the audience, if they notice that someone seems a little off or different than normal, to speak life into them. “In my opinion, we need to do this for the rest of our life. You could be the very reason that someone decides to believe in themselves just enough to create a change in their life.”

4:39 p.m.: Nelson said her dream is to help others overcome addition and live the lives that bring them joy. She’s a published author, on the World Campus blog, on recovery podcasts…”and y’all, I’m just getting started.”

4:38 p.m.: Amanda Nelson said one day her drug dealer looked at her and said, “You are too beautiful for this. You were born to do great things.” Then, she changed her life forever.

4:35 p.m.: “Engaging in the arts is worth your time and there’s never going to be a convenient time…Engaging in the arts is an investment in the way you see the world.”

4:31 p.m.: Works says she’ll start with what she’s not saying: Artistic experiences do not change the world.

“Artistic experiences are all about perspective in the way that you think and the way that you see the world…Engaging in the arts is an investment in your perspective.”

So what does the arts scene look like at Penn State?

  • Center for the Performing Arts “connects us here in Central Pennsylvania to the rest of the world”
  • Student performing arts groups “are the student voices here at Penn State…representing who they are and where they’re from”
  • College of Arts and Architecture

4:29 p.m.: Performing Arts Council President Marissa Works is up next — “I am here because I believe that engaging in the arts has the power to spark a much-needed social and cultural change…”

4:24 p.m.: Schmidt is eager to make State College and Penn State a better college town — he says Penn State President Eric Barron would love to be like Boulder, Colorado.

4:19 p.m.: Schmidt says with a laugh that locals complain about there being too many students. “Well guess what? We wouldn’t be a college town without all of you.”

When the current high-rise construction is all said and done, about 3,000 more students will be able to live downtown. (He agrees that “Here” is a “perplexing” name for a building.)

He says the surplus of student housing can be a benefit to students, who are no longer “screwed…I mean…out of luck” if they don’t have housing lined up for the next school year so far in advance.

4:16 p.m.: So what makes a great college town? Schmidt has some ideas:

  • A vibrant place that appeals to students, visitors, and locals alike
  • How do we maintain that appeal in a time of change?
  • The College Town Conundrum — Do locals and students care about the same issues?

4:12 p.m.: Schmidt graduated from Penn State in 1982, when the football team won a national championship. He grew up in State College and was also involved in Greek life and THON. But when he graduated, he couldn’t wait to leave.

“The four…five years I spent at Penn State were among the best years of my life, but it was time to move on.”

Schmidt never thought he’d be back to State College, but after seven years living in Connecticut, his company transferred him back. “I had to move away and come back to know State College and Penn State for the very first time. I had looked at it through a totally different lens…and I realized what makes State College one of the greatest college towns in America.”

4:07 p.m.: “Our Greek community has regained stability, established a new normal, and is growing.”

Though the Greek community remains far from perfect, Lord says it continues to improve.

“My challenge for change for the Penn State Greek community is to recruit better people…If you care about your organization and you care about Penn State, recruit the right people.”

4:04 p.m.: Lord describes the three goals he strove toward during his term as IFC president:

  1. Restructure the IFC
  2. Build trust and confidence & create partnerships
  3. Innovate and implement progressive policies

“We recognized that no one can fix Greek life alone. We recognized that partnership was necessary.”

4:02 p.m.: John Lord was the Interfraternity Council’s vice president of community relations when then-sophomore Tim Piazza died after a night of hazing and drinking at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house. He later became president during arguably the most tumultuous period of Greek life history.

“How do you change something so flawed?”

3:59 p.m.: “When we learn to give value to our differences, we recognize now that there’s a greater strength in variability in how we can approach situations.”

3:53 p.m.: Jeffries’ position is one of the first of its kind in the country, helping people not only unite around shared experience, but recognize and celebrate their vast differences.

“When people know that they belong in a space, when people know that they matter, we get their most creative and innovative selves.”

Jeffries has six steps to creating inclusive environments:

  • Be willing to get uncomfortable…you’re not the only one
  • Stop doing things just because that’s how we’ve always done it
  • Engage in dialogue…listen more than you speak
  • Challenge “The Single Story”
  • If you make a mistake, recover
  • Value differences & celebrate progress

3:51 p.m.: “When we make diversity about just ‘the other,’ we miss the fact that that leaves diversity vulnerable.”

3:49 p.m.: We’ll hear Charleone Jeffries next as she describes her unique background and how she grew up learning about her family’s cultural history.

3:44 p.m.: Fitzgerald compares Penn State’s process to peer institutions, which have changed the details of their own processes. He believes updates can eliminate the “us” vs. “them” sentiment of students going through the process.

“It strengthens the bridge of trust between the university and the students.”

3:41 p.m.: Jackson Fitzgerald is on stage next, discussing three limitations with Penn State’s student conduct process:

  1. Lack of transparency in investigation procedure and tactics
  2. Inability to cross-examine student witnesses
  3. No right for advisor/attorney to speak in the conduct meeting

3:38 p.m.: “It is time for those in the Penn State community to follow in the footsteps of those who came before us, stand with international students, and say, ‘We play all or we play none.'”

3:34 p.m.: Shah says changing the culture around international students at Penn State starts by identifying the key stakeholders able to make change. “It’s on each individual Penn Stater to take part in ensuring a truly inclusive environment.”

3:33 p.m.: Our next speaker is Bhavin Shah, discussing how international students have been neglected by various offices at Penn State.

“Even in meetings with the Office of Educational Equity, international student council was not invited to meetings about underrepresented communities…until that oversight was pointed out.”

3:28 p.m.: How can Penn State become more inclusive to non-traditional and adoptive families?


“If you took nothing else away from my conversation today, I hope you remember this: Family is family no matter what.”

3:26 p.m.: Schrekengast said she met a man during her Miss America run who yelled “WE ARE!” from the boardwalk while she was speaking. She, of course, said “PENN STATE!” back before continuing with her speech. Later, the man approached her and told her his own adoption story, and how he had never talked about it until he heard hers.

3:22 p.m.: Our first speaker of the afternoon is Katie Schrekengast, former Miss Pennsylvania. She’s discussing non-traditional families, starting with the story of her own adoption as well as her pageant experience.

3:20 p.m.: Today’s emcees are Cheyenne Oswald and student body president-elect Laura McKinney!

3:15 p.m.: Let’s get things started! This year’s State of State is switching venues from previous years, calling the State Theatre its home for the first time ever.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa was the managing editor of Onward State from 2017-2019. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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