Penn State President shares welcome back message of inclusion, civil engagement

September 09, 2019

Dear Penn State community:

Two weeks into the fall semester, I hope you are settling into a routine and those of you new to Penn State are beginning to find that it feels like home.

I have spent most of my career in academia, and I particularly enjoy these first few weeks as we get to know our new students (more than 16,700 this year) and reconnect with our returning students. This is a time that can set the tone for the rest of the year.

Many of you have heard me speak about the importance of inclusion, diversity and creating a welcoming environment at Penn State. I do so often because I truly believe that diversity of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, economic background, geographic place, and all of the ways that we differ bring a range of thought and action that not only strengthens our community, but allows each of us to grow and live in our globally interconnected world.

In that spirit, I write to share some thoughts on our campus community in light of a national climate that has been marred by incidents of hate and intolerance. Penn State increasingly reflects our state, our nation and the world, and we embrace the vision of a just university unified around our common values. We should all contribute, striving to create a place where it is known that everyone belongs here because they earned the right to be at Penn State. 

Unfortunately, our own community is not immune from the insensitivity, hostility and divisiveness that is all too commonplace today. We can do better.

Fueling this divisiveness are national movements, including those with representation locally, whose sole purpose is to provoke angry responses from those who disagree with their viewpoints in order to generate negative media attention or complaints. Engaging with these groups on their terms only serves to advance their mission of discord. It is in our collective best interest to resist the temptation to respond to vitriol with vitriol.

Engagement instead in civil conversations with a variety of viewpoints will strengthen us as a community. In fact, such engagement is the essence of a university community. Controversial topics, when addressed with civility, can help us grow and learn about the broader world. As Abraham Lincoln once said: “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”

It’s important to recognize the value of inclusion and diversity, and to take that moment to get to know someone better. This incoming class is one of the most diverse in our history. Penn State is now the home away from home for more than 10,000 international students. Our international faculty also have come a long way to share their talents and expertise, and their knowledge of the broader world, with all of us. All are a part of the fabric of our University, all earned their place by their hard work and brainpower, and I am asking you to please do your part — to create a welcoming environment. 

During my many years at Penn State (as president, and as a member of the faculty), I have spent time with students, faculty and staff from every walk of life. I have found that our community has an amazing potential for goodness, as well as the courage of our convictions to be a national leader in inclusion and diversity efforts. We recognize that we still have work to do in this area, and we will be implementing the first University-wide climate survey focused on diversity for students and employees to learn how we can continue to improve.

As Penn Staters, we have been interconnected throughout our shared history. As the Nittany Lion football team once stood up to segregation by saying, “We play all or we play none, we are Penn State,” we too need to “play all” and stand up for all Penn Staters.

One in 106 Americans with a college degree is a Penn State graduate, and that number is 1 in 10 among Pennsylvanians. When we stand up for one, we stand up for all with the We Are spirit that has brought Penn Staters together for generations.

That spirit bonds us together as we begin this new academic year.

You are welcome here. We’re thrilled you chose Penn State. Have a great semester!


Eric Barron

Penn State President

Last Updated September 09, 2019