FOBA expanding membership with regional meeting at New Kensington campus

William A. Woodard Jr.
November 05, 2015

UPPER BURRELL, Pa. -- In an effort to reach out to all Penn State campuses, the Forum on Black Affairs (FOBA) at Penn State held its western regional meeting at Penn State New Kensington on Oct. 23. Four Penn State campuses were represented at the meeting, which dealt with issues of diversity related to Penn State faculty and staff.

To continue to grow, the organization is striving to be more inclusive and to reach out to faculty and staff of color at other campuses. As part of that strategy, FOBA is holding regional meetings at various Penn State campuses. In April, a meeting was held in eastern Pennsylvania at Penn State Berks in Reading. In 2014, a regional meeting for the western campuses was held at Penn State Greater Allegheny in McKeesport.

The mission of FOBA, which is celebrating its 41st anniversary, is to partner with the University to encourage racial diversity, and specifically to create a climate conducive for black faculty and staff to thrive on each of the Penn State campuses. FOBA is open to all members of the Penn State community who support black aspirations at Penn State.

Following the opening remarks by Kevin Snider, chancellor of Penn State New Kensington, and Wanda Knight, president of FOBA, the group sang the inspirational song “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson, principal of Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida, around 1900, it was later put to music by Rosamond Johnson and adopted by various organizations for its power in voicing the cry for liberation and affirmation for African-American people. Artists such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Melba Moore have performed the song.

Knight, associate professor of art education and women’s studies at the University Park campus, delivered the keynote address, “Status of Black Faculty and Staff at the Pennsylvania State University." She laid out the forum's seven strategic goals for 2015-16. FOBA will:

  • enhance the recruitment, employment, retention and advancement of black people throughout the University;
  • assure that black people are widely represented throughout the University;
  • affect policy, programs, and people to ensure that black people are considered during all facets of the policy-making process;
  • be an advocate and celebrant of the accomplishments of black people;
  • be an open forum for discussion and debates;
  • serve in an advisory and consultant capacity at the University level;
  • strategically align with powerful partners for powerful results.

The FOBA president also discussed the challenges that black faculty, staff and administrators face at Penn State. The challenges include overcoming stagnation, increasing representation of blacks in senior leadership positions, and changing the reality of the black experience at the University.

To meet the challenges, Knight recommended increasing efforts to diversify, strengthening diversity training, increasing oversight of the strategic plan, increasing accountability of retention, and expanding the vision of scholarship.

Knight opened the floor for discussion. The 20 Penn State faculty and staff members at the forum proffered a variety of diversity issues. Included in the conversation were concerns about minority students entering college unprepared for the academic rigors and how Penn State can ameliorate the situation. Art McCray, men’s basketball coach at the New Kensington campus, talked about getting to students as early as elementary school.

“Some high school students I recruit aren’t ready for the structured academic programs of college,” said McCray, a former New Kensington campus student-athlete. “When I talk to fifth-graders, I try to impress upon them that now is the time to learn how to study, so you will be ready to succeed in college when the time comes.”

McCray earned an associate degree at the campus and a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation sciences at the University Park campus. Since 2001, he has been an administrator and teacher at Summit Academy, a high school in Butler County for court-adjudicated youth. For the past four years, he has served as an assistant to the principal with the responsibility of supervising the instructional program and discipline of the school. He was named the campus basketball coach in 2013.

Angie Fisher, administrative support assistant in the Student Affairs office, organized the event.

For more information about FOBA, visit www.foba.psu.edu.

  • FOBA president

    Wanda Knight, Forum on Black Affairs president, takes notes during discussions at the FOBA meeting in October at the New Kensington campus. 

    IMAGE: Bill Woodard

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Last Updated November 05, 2015