Dear Penn State Community:

Penn State is beginning the new academic year on a high note thanks to the support and achievements of so many in the Penn State family. A top 50 world academic ranking, a record-setting year for fundraising, record research expenditures, great success by our student-athletes, and positive outcomes for our students—clearly indicate that Penn State is making important strides. While there are encouraging advances taking place across our campuses, unfortunately, like many other higher education institutions, we are not immune to the uncertainty, polarization and conflict happening nationally and internationally. From conversations I’ve had with many of you, I am aware that this atmosphere may be impacting each of you in different ways.

Penn State increasingly reflects the changing face of our nation, and I hope the entire Penn State community feels a shared commitment to being a welcoming and inclusive campus. Throughout our history, when Penn Staters have faced discrimination and hatred, our community has stepped up to embrace differences and promote respect. That is the true meaning of “We are,” and it’s what binds us all together.

In that spirit, I wanted to begin the semester with a few updates on new initiatives that focus on fostering respect and meaningful dialogue within our community. Some of these efforts build on All In, launched two years ago based on the suggestion of students. Other initiatives are important new steps designed to make Penn State a place where all members of our campus community – each of whom has earned the right to be here – feel welcomed and safe at Penn State.

Take a look to see how you can get involved.

  • Addressing Hate

Last spring, various groups of undergraduate and graduate students participated in several meetings to develop an interactive website of resources that begin to address the many challenges Penn State students face when navigating politics, opinions and views, discriminatory behavior, bias, and more. The site will offer resources for community members at each campus, as well as advice, scenarios, and decision-making tips to help students, faculty, and staff better understand these complex issues. Students at University Park will be invited to participate in a fall meeting before the launch, and students at the Commonwealth campuses also will be invited to take part in launch events.

  • Social Media and Hateful Language

This past year, we saw several incidents of hateful language, videos and conversations on social media channels. Penn State has a consistent message – hate has no place on a university campus and we take such acts seriously. Our administrators met with individual students to discuss these issues on a case-by-case basis.

  • Student Code of Conduct and Report Bias Hotline

In April, Penn State administrators also met with students to discuss Penn State’s student code of conduct, the University’s communications protocol and strategy, and the Report Bias Hotline and reporting process. Students offered recommendations, which are currently being reviewed.

  • New Student Orientation and Welcome Week Theatrical Production

Over the summer, the Offices of Student Affairs, Educational Equity, and Undergraduate Education, collaborated with the School of Theatre and Center for Pedagogy in Arts and Design to develop an interactive theatre production – written and performed by Penn State students. This production, premiering this month, will educate incoming first-year and transfer students on Penn State’s Values and topics such as diversity and inclusion, bystander intervention, sexual assault prevention, and alcohol and drug use and abuse.

  • Penn State 2017 Values and Culture Survey

In June, the results from this ongoing initiative to gauge the climate at Penn State and focus on the well-being and safety of the University community were shared with all students, faculty and staff. While there were many positive outcomes, we still have work to do in some areas. Penn State leaders hosted a town hall to discuss the survey results, answer questions and outline future University initiatives to create a safe and encouraging environment for our community.

  • Student Focus Groups

As we develop a new University-wide climate survey, we plan to engage students through focus groups. The survey will launch in spring 2019 and will use a national instrument focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion to inform our continuous efforts to create an inclusive campus climate, better understand challenges, build a diverse student body and workforce, and prepare community members for active participation in a global world.

Finally, for students who are interested, there is a range of on-campus support and educational resources available to you, including the Office of Educational Equity, Multicultural Resource Center, Paul Robeson Cultural Center, LGBTQA Student Resource Center, Gender Equity Center and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

I feel it’s important to acknowledge that while much work is underway, we understand that Penn State can do better.  I invite your ideas, support and criticism, in the spirit of reaching our full potential as a community to create a more just and equitable environment, where everyone at Penn State has the opportunity and support needed to reach their full potential.  It is also my hope that each of us takes time to reflect on the role we can play in this process, as we begin the new academic year together.

Eric Barron
President, Penn State

 

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