In the midst of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, Penn State University pledged to establish a Center for Racial Justice. But some faculty members expressed outrage at last week’s announcement that the center will not move forward with it. A number of them staging a protest Thursday afternoon.
The presence of the far-right group the Proud Boys, Oct. 24, at Penn State, and the ensuing violence, have placed university race relations under a spotlight.
The announcement that the university would halt the proposed Center for Racial Justice prompted at least 300 faculty to denounce the decision in an open letter.
“Last week,” the open letter began, “Penn State reminded us why it needs a space that is dedicated to the production of ideas and practices aimed at ending the structural racism that plagues its own campus and the nation as a whole.”
“It’s sad that, at my age, as I move towards retirement, things don’t seem to have changed that much,”
Last week, a campus organization invited the far-right Proud Boys group and Gavin McInnes, one of its founders. The results were chaotic, with Penn State canceling the event due to “the threat of escalating violence” as protesters and counter-protesters confronted each other.
“There’s an outbreak of violence, and it’s the people who are left in the community that really have to try to kind of clean it up and move forward and to work towards racial justice and racial healing in the aftermath of these events.”
However, shortly after the chaos, University President Neeli Bendapudi issued a statement saying: “Tonight, [Alex] Stein and McInnes will celebrate a victory for being canceled, when in actuality, they contributed to the very violence that compromised their ability to speak. Tonight, counter-protestors also will celebrate a victory that they forced the university to cancel this event, when in actuality they have furthered the visibility of the very cause they oppose.”
Nonetheless, the open letter claims the university has “failed to explain” the decision to shutter the Center for Racial Justice.
Noting that “recent communications reveal a tentative plan to spend more on existing racial justice programs than the center would have cost, while any plan that leads to systemic antiracism reform is welcome, these messages appear inconsistent and raise further concerns. Either the university did not have the resources for the center, or they had the money all along and were going to invest it elsewhere.”
“Unfortunately, Penn State is in a bit of a predicament. And we all love Penn State, we want Penn State to be a much better institution than what it is, But the present administration, the incoming president has not shown that she’s willing to take those steps to make it so.”
A university spokesperson said “President Bendapudi and the university administration are entirely committed to enhancing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) at Penn State,
“The president and the university’s newly appointed Special Adviser for Institutional Equity Jennifer Hamer are meeting with key constituents across the university, including faculty and others who have expressed their opinions in this area, to fully assess DEIB initiatives, programs and scholarly research across Penn State.”