Hundreds Call For Changes To Penn State’s ‘System, Curriculum, & Culture’

More than 1,000 people have signed a petition calling on Penn State to implement university-wide changes to address its “historical and current racism” and lack of support for students of color.

The petition, which included a lengthy letter written by an anonymous user, offered several demands for the university in order to create meaningful changes. These included both short-term and long-term goals that would work to modernize Penn State’s culture and promote underrepresented voices.

“In 2016, the university stated the following as its core values: Integrity, Respect, Responsibility, Discovery, Excellence and Community — represent Penn State’s core ethical aspirations for what we do every day as students, faculty, staff and volunteers,” the petition’s introduction reads. “Penn State has failed its BIPOC and students of color in terms of holding true to these values. Instead of creating an environment of ‘WE ARE’ the university has instead created an environment of ‘THEY ARE’ — ‘they’ referring to white people.”

First, the petition asks Penn State to issue an immediate apology to its students of color for a “lack of regard and attention” to race-driven conversations. Its writer cited an apology as a stepping stone and not a solution itself.

“For an institution who produces outstanding Black athletes, professionals, artists, and educators you would think it would induce an environment that protects, loves, and supports its Black students, but that is not the case at all,” the petition wrote. “The University continues to use money and a fake system of ‘core values’ to hide its racist and prejudiced ways. We will no longer sit back and watch as the university continues to disrespect and misuse its BIPOC students.”

The petition also called on Penn State to reexamine the demographic makeup of its faculty and staff, citing underrepresentation of people of color.

“You cannot throw your BIPOC and other students of color into a pool of whiteness and expect us to automatically know how to swim,” the petition reads. “We must be implemented and integrated into that culture in a safe and welcoming manner, and this starts with having faces and bodies in spaces that reflect what BIPOC students see in the mirror.”

The document referenced students’ accounts of racial insensitivity and microaggression from professors, as documented on Instagram’s Black At Penn State account, which also wrote the petition. The account allows students, both past and present, to anonymously submit their accounts of racial discrimination at Penn State.

Next, the petition demanded Penn State “decolonizes” its curriculums to properly reflect history and incorporate multiple viewpoints and backgrounds. The demands also listed 25 suggested texts for educators to use to modify courses and effectively broaden horizons.

“Unlearning racism and prejudice towards marginalized groups should be a key goal for Penn State students and faculty, and providing courses to help with that should be a high consideration,” the petition says.

Many demands revolved around promoting diversity, both through representation and programming. The petition called on Penn State to implement mandatory diversity and inclusion training for all employees, create diversity and inclusion committees consisting of both students and staff, and prioritize planning student programming to educate on social justice, race relations, white supremacism, and more.

Finally, the petition demanded Penn State reexamine its punishment for students’ hate speech.

“We have recently seen that this idea of ‘zero-tolerance’ for disruptive behavior has been in fact a failure as this institution has allowed for one of its own white students to spread hate and racist remarks without any form of repercussion,” the petition reads. “The idea that hate speech is protected under freedom of speech is appalling.”

Earlier this summer, two Penn State students received criticism after videos and images of them engaging in hate speech surfaced online. The university responded and condemned the acts but declined to take disciplinary action, citing it can’t as a public university.

“Penn State cannot on one hand tolerate racist behavior while on the other say they are in support of Black Lives,” the petition says. “The two do not go together and never will.”

So far, Penn State has taken a few steps toward promoting diversity and inclusion in recent weeks. It’s held university-wide town halls to discuss the issues, created several commissions and tasks forces, and committed more than $10 million to diversity scholarships.

“WE ARE tired of the broken promises and partial support for your BIPOC and students of color and so passionately want to change the way of life at Penn State,” the petition concludes. “This is an institution that is supposed to be for all people, and we plan to continue to call out and hold Penn State accountable until we see the change and progress that is needed to foster a safe environment for students of all backgrounds, cultures, races, sexual orientations, genders, and ethnicities.”

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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