Two Penn Staters named to state law enforcement advisory commission

January 20, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Two members of the Penn State community — Charima Young, director of local government and community relations, and Suresh Canagarajah, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Applied Linguistics, English and Asian Studies — have been appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf to the newly formed Pennsylvania State Law Enforcement Citizen Advisory Commission.

Charima Young

Charima Young is director of local government and community relations at Penn State. 

IMAGE: Courtesy Charima Young

Young and Canagarajah are two of 21 voting members on the commission, which was created by an executive order signed by the governor last July. The commission’s purpose is to improve policing practices within law enforcement agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction, with a focus on promoting transparency, fairness and accountability. The commission will examine events and conduct reviews of policies, practices and procedures relating to use of force and biased-based policing and make recommendations for implementation of corrective measures. 

“Our local community has spent years working alongside law enforcement to put systems in place that are designed to promote fairness and accountability within municipal police departments,” said Young. “Reformation processes such as these are crucial in combating bias and increasing equity for historically disenfranchised communities. I look forward to sharing all we've learned with the commission and bringing new insights back to our local community, as well.”

Chaired by the deputy state inspector general for law enforcement oversight in the Office of the State Inspector General, the commission is comprised of 15 members appointed to represent each of the Pennsylvania State Police’s troop geographic areas and six additional citizen members chosen at large. 

Young will represent the geographic area of state police Troop G, which covers Bedford, Blair, Centre, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata and Mifflin counties. Canagarajah will serve on the commission as an at-large member.

Suresh Canagarajah

Suresh Canagarajah is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Applied Linguistics, English and Asian Studies at Penn State. 

IMAGE: Courtesy Suresh Canagarajah

A member of the Penn State faculty since 2007, Canagarajah’s areas of specialization include rhetoric and composition, world Englishes and multilingual writing. In 2016, Canagarajah was named one of the top 50 scholars who have shaped the field of Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) in the past 50 years by the TESOL International Association.

Previously, Canagarajah was invited by Gov. Wolf to serve on the Pennsylvania Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, where he helped to create greater awareness at the state level of the challenges Asian immigrants face due to language differences, inadequate support resources, stigmatization and prejudice. Through his new role on the Pennsylvania State Law Enforcement Citizen Advisory Commission, Canagarajah said he hopes to continue to raise awareness of these cultural and linguistic differences and how they shape immigrants’ interactions with law enforcement. 

“While the commission will help in creating better relationships between all citizens in the state and law enforcement personnel, I am particularly interested in the way the commission will address the concerns of immigrants,” Canagarajah said. “Immigrant communities experience special challenges. As they are culturally unfamiliar with law enforcement practices in the U.S., there are chances for miscommunication. This is compounded by the differences in language and communication. Immigrants are new to the legal and policing practices in this country. They also speak different varieties of English, which can cause communication problems in understanding police officers or legal proceedings.”

At Penn State, Young is a member of the Task Force on Policing and Communities of Color, a town-gown body comprised of Penn State and local community leaders that originally formed in 2015 and reconvened last year at the request of President Eric J. Barron. Barron has asked the task force to examine all procedures and practices related to bias and use of force within the University’s and local police departments, and also to review where progress has or has not been made since the task force released its initial report and recommendations in 2016.

Young also is a member of the Community and Campus in Unity organization, which was created to help build bridges between police and the community. In March 2020, the Bellefonte Art Museum selected Young as a woman of achievement who is making a difference in the local community. 

Young joined Penn State’s Office of Government and Community Relations in 2017, where she engages and collaborates with local government agencies and officials, community-based organizations and constituencies, and local businesses and associations in the Centre Region and across the commonwealth on behalf of the University. 

More information about the commission is available here.

Last Updated January 20, 2021