At the end of last semester, I wrote about the rise of empathy among Penn State students, wondering if this is “a pivotal moment in turbulent times.” I had no idea of the turbulent times that would be upon us a few short months after I typed those words … or how our community’s empathy would be tested.
As COVID-19 cases mount in the United States, stress is an inevitable side effect. This pandemic has not surprisingly led to deep concerns and general anxiety, and it also has spawned misconceptions fueled in part by misinformation or fear. As the new coronavirus spreads around the world, so unfortunately do cases of xenophobia or discrimination against individuals of Asian descent.
As members of a community of learners, teachers and scholars, we have a responsibility to tap into expertise and knowledge at our disposal to avoid not only falling prey to these biases, but to actively address these ugly prejudices that have no basis in fact. Racial discrimination and unequal treatment of any population is unacceptable and offensive to everyone in our community who cherishes diversity and inclusion. The University offers many resources for those who need support during these uncertain times, including assistance from our Penn State Global Programs staff, who can answer questions about international student and scholar advising at 814-865-6348, and inquiries related to student engagement and intercultural learning at 814-867-6101.
At Penn State, the presence of an international population or racially diverse domestic population is a gift that we welcome. I personally would like these individuals to know that their talents, knowledge, differences and cultures are a tremendous benefit to our community and to our campuses across the commonwealth.
We truly are one community, and we are in this together. Caring for each other, albeit remotely, is the only way we can move forward as one. Please remember that many in the Penn State family are dealing with the additional anxiety that results from family members in the epicenter of outbreaks around the world, including the United States. My daughter, son-in-law and darling granddaughter live in New York City. Every day Molly and I read the headlines with dread. But we operate with the unshakable belief that we will get through this, and as a united community we will emerge stronger.
I am also encouraged by the Penn Staters who have stepped up to be part of the solution. Penn State’s student leaders gathered to discuss how to “flatten the curve” of this virus and protect our vulnerable residents by encouraging fellow students to practice social distancing. Alumni are contributing their company’s resources to fight COVID-19, and they are continuing to network with students who will be entering the job market. As you know, Penn Staters are across the globe, and the Shanghai Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association is collecting masks to send to the U.S. in this time of critical need. And our faculty and staff continue to do what they do best — keeping business operations functioning, teaching, conducting research and serving humankind.
I ask that, in addition to caring for others, please remember to care for yourselves. Challenging times like these are times when we need to care for ourselves the most. I understand that days of sitting in the same room looking at the same computer screen are difficult. But they will end, and when they do, let’s emerge as a united community ready to actively participate in the inclusive world all around us.
We are Penn State.