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THON’s Community Roundtable Ignites Discussions On Inclusion, Culture

On Monday, October 25, THON welcomed Penn State students and community members to an open discussion forum regarding the organization’s culture and its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

Before the public meeting started, participants filled out a form asking for thoughts on how THON’s diversity, equity, and inclusion movements are seen at Penn State. The poll asked questions like, “How would you describe THON’s culture?”, “How socially responsible do you believe THON is?”, and, “Do you think THON should require volunteers to participate in diversity, equity, and inclusion conversation?”

The main forum opened up with how THON is perceived socially. Some speakers shared about how inspiring THON is from an outside perspective.

“I have a wonderful impression from THON, especially the student-run aspect. The relationships with the families always amaze me,” one student said. “A more negative perception is when the outside organizations get into more issues and financial pressure to donate. The competitiveness of money is where the impression is more negative.”

This year, DEI discussions are held regularly to have conversations on intersectionality and what programs should be incorporated throughout the year to volunteers. Volunteers and committee members view a video or piece of media that faces a number of diversity, equity, and inclusion barriers. They have these certain trainings to show them what exactly different members might face, but some participants realize the potential downside.

“This training might almost be a chore for some members,” a student said.

After that comment was made, there was a suggestion that training could be incentivized with something positive so that members are not just “checking a box.”

THON also said it’s looking for ways to accommodate diverse holidays within its DEI actions. The roundtable leaders gave an example that Penn State is off for Christmas while other diverse holidays are overlooked. Members had the chance to recommend ways to include more people in each unique holiday that passes.

One student said THON’s calendar of events should be more “culturally conscious” since many of the organization’s important events come in the fall, potentially causing conflicts with some Jewish holidays.

The roundtable also touched on THON’s social media presence and avoiding performative activism. One roundtable leader pointed out that THON is promoting storytelling so the organization can understand more perspectives.

“Putting activism out there to other THON members and community shows there are real things happening in the world and we are here for you,” a student said. “Happy things do not happen all the time.”

A question that was posed through the poll and specifically addressed during the forum was, “Should THON intentionally recruit more diverse students?” Audience members collectively believed this is a positive aspect because it opens up more perspectives, includes different walks of life, and reaches out to minority groups within diverse groups.

Some students recognized that recruiting minorities just because they are within a minority group isn’t always positive. Individuals said that it should always be a goal to include diversity, but it shouldn’t degrade them in the process.

“This is not something that should be tokenized,” a student said. “I don’t think that is something you guys would do, but maybe if THON diversifies the way information is dispersed, it would avoid that.”

Eventually, the roundtable’s organizers opened up the floor to hear stories about how students feel accepted and welcomed into the organization. As with any club or group, there are times that individuals could feel extremely welcomed or left out entirely through THON.

A student shared that when coming from a Commonwealth Campus, there were moments that the branch campuses were not as prioritized as University Park volunteers. The students believe that THON can be more open with the different parts of Penn State uniting together.

Another aspect introduced was how closed-captioning was not added to the THON 2021’s online livestream for viewers at home. The room agreed that closed-captioning is a simple fix that would boost accessibility, especially during such a technological era.

The discussion focused on how THON can support the State College area since the community largely supports the event.

“Maybe smaller businesses should be focused on,” one student said. “Bigger chain restaurants shouldn’t be the focus.”

The idea of a “big community” is important to many. For many students, they come from a high school that hosted a Mini-THON and introduced them to the event. Someone suggested that THON could kickstart those introductions by promoting footage and information for Mini-THONs to highlight how they’re contributing to the organization at large.

With THON being such a large community, there are social ways that can intimidate students and make it difficult to navigate how to become involved. Students discussed how many feel forced to join the community before they know what it is. At times, some say organizations feel like cliques and do not provide enough necessary information.

“People should join THON because they love it and know what THON stands for, not because everyone does it,” a student said.

The open forum agreed THON should not feel like a pressured or segmented environment. Someone suggested that THON should promote its organizations to promote equality and facilitate such actions through committee leaders.

“Returners to THON tend to stick to each other and tend to leave out new members,” a student said. “We know that is not what THON is about.”

The meeting ended on a positive note, and leaders thanked the community members who attended and appreciated the information they were willing to share.

Over the summer, THON released a new plan that outlined initiatives it would take to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout its organization. New initiatives include name-blind application reviews and more accessible event planning.

THON 2022 will stretch from February 18 to 20, 2022. Its theme, announced during Homecoming last week, is “Spark Endless Light”.

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About the Author

Larkin Richards

Larkin is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. The only words that leave her mouth are "yinz" and "dippy eggs." Luckily, her writing has much more substance than that. As a Steelers and Pirates fan, sports can become a hot debate. Share your thoughts on dogs (specifically Boston Terriers) with her at: [email protected]

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