Penn State is lacking in color during more than just white out football games. Despite the efforts of multicultural clubs and initiatives meant to promote inclusivity and acceptance, Penn State is lacking in diversity, statistics show.
Though there are 73 multicultural and international student organizations listed in the Office of Student Activities’ directory, Penn State is a predominantly white university. Unsatisfied with this, Penn State continues recruitment of minorities and bolsters inclusion initiatives to help those that are already on campus feel welcome. Students and faculty are hesitant to say whether this is working, but it appears it is not enough to discourage white supremacists like Richard Spencer from targeting the University.
A majority 68.4 percent of the student body is white, statistics by Undergraduate Admissions show.
An article by The Atlantic titled “The missing black students at elite American universities” puts this into perspective. Penn State is nearer the national average percentage of white students in universities in 1994, which was 72 percent, than the 58 percent in 2013.
The white-to-minority ratio has made Penn State an ideal target for white supremacist Spencer, who was denied the ability to speak on campus due to fear of violent responses. The head of the African American Studies Department at Penn State, Cynthia Young said Spencer speaks at universities because of their tendency to emphasize diversity. Penn State, Young said, is a “public university with an overwhelmingly white community” where Spencer possibly believed he could expect a “warm welcome.”
Ohio State University, similarly to Penn State, is being sued by the Georgia State University student who requested Spencer speak at both colleges. Ohio State’s autumn 2016 statistical summary reports only 19 percent of its student body is attributed to minorities.
Young said she expects Spencer to come to campus regardless of being rejected. Even though Penn State’s student body is mostly white, she has firm confidence that his ideals will not take root. Instead, she foresees counter-protests and potentially the violent response the university feared.
“Students have an incredible amount of power,” Young said.
Though Spencer is likely to be met with resistance, there are some students who may side with him. Beginning last year, posters have been appearing on bulletin boards in campus buildings. The posters advocate for Identity Evropa, an alt-right organization that practices white supremacy. Flyers associated with the organization have commonly appeared on college campuses nationwide. The reason for this, Young said, is because campuses are slowly diversifying their curriculum and adding diversity requirements. There is concern among white supremacists that white culture is becoming decentralized.
“White decline is a myth,” Young said, “but it’s a powerful one.”
According to Undergraduate Admissions, African American students made up 5.8 percent of Penn State’s student body in 2016. The aforementioned Atlantic article denotes the national average for American universities that specialize in bachelors, master’s and doctoral degrees was 14 percent in 2013. Again, Penn State falls behind the national average.
The lack of diversity is a problem not just within the student body, but within the university’s staff, according to faculty. A literature professor for the College of Liberal Arts at Penn State and Chair Elect of the Faculty Senate, Michael Berube, said only 3 percent of the university’s staff and faculty are African American. Berube was recently a panelist for an event about white supremacism and discussed why this is and what can be done about it.
Higher administrations within Penn State are continually less diverse, with each tier more white than the last, Berube said. However, he said, this is not due to racism. People in charge of recruitment and hiring processes “don’t have to have a racist bone in their collective bodies, Berube said. “They just have to not care enough to notice.”
Penn State’s Faculty Senate is self-described as the “representative body of Penn State’s faculty with legislative authority on all matters pertaining to the educational interests of the University.” One of its functions is faculty recruitment. Being part of the Senate, Berube said he believes a solution to diversifying faculty is to have more diversity within members of the Senate. “It can be done,” he said. “It takes collective effort, affirmative action and refusal of white exemption.” The All In initiative at Penn State emphasizes the importance of diversity and inclusivity. It accommodates minority cultures, such as by offering extra dining options during Halal and hosting a variety of events. More recently, All In has been working to recruit more minority students and faculty. According to All In’s website, it ensures every Faculty Senate meeting includes a diversity topic. In March of last year, All In hired Sara Oliver-Carter as senior director of talent, diversity and inclusion to lead diversity initiatives. While All In is a start to increasing diversity, Penn State student Andrew Mollenauer believes it needs to do more.
“Major institutions like Penn State owe it to the minority community to show more respect than simply calling themselves inclusive,” Mollenauer (sophomore - journalism) said. The solution, he said, is “outspokenly busting stereotypes instead of simply preaching diversity at an ingenuine, abstract surface-level.”
With the combined minority recruitment efforts of All In, Undergraduate Admissions and the Faculty Senate — including by himself — Berube said he is hopeful numbers will rise among students and staff at Penn State in the coming years.
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