Faculty Senate hears from students in discussion focused on diversity, equity

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A group of undergraduate students shared their experiences and recommendations with the University Faculty Senate Tuesday (Sept. 6)  in a panel discussion focused on diversity, inclusion and how faculty could have a greater impact on the success of Penn State students.

Faculty Senate Chair James Strauss said one of the strategic goals for the upcoming year will be to include students in Faculty Senate leadership and feature them at meetings, as was done Tuesday. Senators not only heard from a student panel, but also from the Glee Club, which opened the meeting with a few songs. Another goal is focused on diversity, which will mean including a diversity-related event at each Faculty Senate meeting throughout the year. In October, Vice Provost for Educational Equity Marcus Whitehurst will speak at the meeting.

Strauss said along with diversity and increasing student involvement, other areas of focus in the upcoming year will be: scholarships; the use of physical space such as in the libraries; academic assessments; Human Resources benefits; academic curriculum; communications; academic titles; and technology.

The student panel discussion, led by Robert Loeb, chairman of the Senate Committee on Educational Equity and Campus Environment, gave Senate members a chance to learn about ways to make all students feel comfortable in the classroom, ideas for what to include in discussions and on syllabi, suggestions for training, working with students who have disabilities and ways to improve diversity at Penn State.

Steffen Blanco, a senior in economics and criminology, said he has had a positive experience at Penn State on issues related to diversity and inclusion, while offering ideas to build on those experiences.

“You’ve all been very supportive of our various student initiatives as well as collaborative with various student groups in regards to coming up with diversity initiatives and making the campus more inclusive,” Blanco said. “There is some improvement to be made. One thing I do suggest is that faculty and staff be more involved with some of the student organizations on campus, specifically the multicultural ones.”

Loeb noted the discussion was part of an upcoming University-wide initiative set to launch on Oct. 6 that is focused on Penn State’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. President Eric Barron has identified diversity as a key focus area at Penn State, noting that a diverse climate creates a richer learning environment for everyone, at the same time that it fulfills the University’s role in educating students and in meeting the changing needs in higher education.

Jazmaine Brown, a senior in communications, shared her story about her mother passing away last summer and how she was considering dropping out of Penn State, but stayed in after receiving support from an academic adviser.

“There are not many other institutions that I’ve visited that have that kind of impact and want you to succeed. It’s not just a business. You guys actually care,” Brown said.

But, Brown also spoke about being called a derogatory name and suggested incorporating a required diversity class in freshmen seminar.

“Like my friends have said, some people just don’t know it’s not OK to say certain things. I guess the best way to help people is through education,” Brown said.

Rabiyatu Jalloh, a junior in secondary education, social studies and African American studies, said so far her interactions with faculty have been mixed, with some who are amazing and some who aren’t aware of the issues that impact students.

“One of my professors thought I was very aggressive in the way I speak," Jalloh said. "It’s not the first time I heard that from a professor. I feel like the reason why that happens is that a lot of faculty have a lack of cultural competency. They do not understand how people from different walks of life interact with people.”

She suggested requiring cultural competency training for faculty and students.

Jorge Zurita-Coronado, a junior in political science, said everyone at Penn State “has the opportunity and responsibility to create a diverse campus.”

“It’s from the Board of Trustees down to every single student,” he said. “As my friends have said, when you do see something that is inappropriate, it is your responsibility to say something and call them out on that. I think little things like that can have a big impact.”

Also Tuesday, the Faculty Senate received an update on efforts to streamline required compliance training from Regis Becker, director of University Ethics and Compliance.

Becker said there are currently four training topics: Clery Act, reporting child abuse, Title IX and sexual misconduct, as well as a consolidated course the University hopes to build on to minimize the number of courses that are required. Becker said new employees take a range of training.

Becker said that 89 percent of faculty will take a consolidated annual compliance training course that covers reporting misconducts of all types and a Title IX training. Smaller groups of faculty and staff, such as campus security, have to take additional training in the other areas.

Long-range plans are to fold the Title IX course into the compliance training course, according to Becker. This year, plans are to launch the first training in mid-September with a required completion by Thanksgiving break. The second course would be launched in mid-January and completed by Spring Break.

The Senate also discussed the University’s smoking policy and whether there is support for moving to tobacco-free campuses. The Senate Committee on Faculty Benefits and Committee on Student Life, co-chaired by student Alex Shockley, led the discussion. Smoking is not allowed in University buildings, and the discussion focused on whether that should be expanded to having tobacco-free campuses at all Penn State locations. 

For more on Faculty Senate, go to: senate.psu.edu.

Last Updated September 07, 2016