Paul Robeson Cultural Center Takes A New Direction

May 14, 2008

University Park, Pa.--With help from Paul Robeson Cultural Center (PRCC) Director Toby Jenkins and her staff, students at Penn State's University Park campus are finding more opportunities to experience the richness of their own and other cultures.

Over the past three years, Jenkins and the PRCC staff have implemented a new programming and services framework to guide their work. Jenkins has been a guiding force.

"I had worked in the transformation of the cultural center on the University of Maryland's campus, had done national research on university cultural centers, and had already created a practical model for cultural practice that has been published in several student affairs journals, magazines and books," she said. "So, I brought this model to our cultural center at Penn State."

PRCC's new direction includes five initiatives:

-- Scholarly initiatives and cultural education programs, approaching cultural diversity from an academic perspective, give the entire campus community opportunities to engage in scholarship and interactive cultural learning outside of the classroom.

-- Cultural engagement programs provide opportunities for all students, faculty, staff and the community to experience the practice, celebration, and demonstration of culture through the visual and performing arts and social events.

-- Cultural development programs are personal development initiatives that encourage student leadership, gender, and civic growth as well as an understanding of the critical intersection of culture with each of these areas.

-- Cultural community building initiatives build PRCC's relationship with various constituents including alumni; parents; undergraduates and graduate students; campus departments; and city, state, and national cultural colleagues.

-- Cultural environment enhancement/safe space is represented by the Paul Robeson Cultural Center itself. Created by African-American students in the 1970s to provide a welcoming environment for students, the PRCC remains a cultural "safe space" where students of color can see themselves reflected and valued in all that is created. Paramount to upholding this legacy is ensuring that the facility houses visual images, written messages, physical spaces, and human resources that are culturally welcoming.

"It is important that the University itself provides programs, events, and services that allow even the most involved student leader to at times also be a learner and participant," Jenkins emphasized. "By creating multiple programs that differ in scope, scale, and focus, we offer students a variety of opportunities to learn about and develop their cultural selves, and to also learn about others' cultural experiences. The cultural center should be just that--the center of culture on our campus."

The response has been "incredible," according to Jenkins. "We have seen students develop into more conscious, committed, and culturally aware citizens and professionals."

The proof lies not only in the personal reactions the PRCC staff has seen first-hand, but also in the sheer numbers of students who are participating in and benefiting from programs like the Tunnel of Oppression, a social justice museum that is built collectively by over 30 students, faculty, and staff. Additional programs include the World Cultural Festival, the Collective Energy Arts in Social Action seminar, and spoken-word events on social issues held several times each semester.

The cultural initiatives also foster relationships outside of the University Park campus, both with other institutions and groups in Centre County.

"Our cultural leadership seminar is a partnership with the College of the Liberal Arts and includes an academic course taught out of the African and African American Studies department as well as a community leadership exchange with Rutgers University where we take students to Newark, N.J., to interact with Rutgers student leaders for a weekend," Jenkins said.

"The seminar also takes students to various campus events and includes an optional education abroad component which takes students to West Africa for two weeks in partnership with the University of Cheikh Anta Diop and the American Slavery Institute.

"We have also done a reading circle program serving graduate students in which Penn State students and Rockview [State Correctional Institution] inmates jointly read a selected text then we take the students to Rockview to engage in a weekly book discussion with the inmates. Both the students and the inmates have written letters affirming how transformative the program was in their lives."

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009