Penn State Lehigh Valley focuses on diversity and inclusion efforts

screenshot of zoom artis projects event

The first Essence of Democracy event was held Oct. 15. The new Arts Project ONLINE virtual event series features conversations with artists whose work gives voice to those often stifled through racism, gender discrimination, homophobia and ableism

Credit: Dennille Schuler

Penn State Lehigh Valley campus community is engaging in a variety of ways to promote diversity and inclusion on campus.

In February, the University launched a Penn State Community Survey, inviting students, faculty and staff at every campus  to share their feedback and experiences related to diversity, equity and inclusion in key thematic areas, identified by the survey’s working group. Part of its ongoing efforts to promote community, inclusion and diversity, and support strategic planning priorities in these areas, its findings were released in a summary report and public results dashboard and is being used as the basis to create actions plans to address identified needs by the end of February 2021.

“We uphold the University’s commitment to disrupt hate, bias and racism whenever and wherever we encounter it. We aim to create the most inclusive and diverse community we possibly can and this cannot be done in a vacuum. It must be a comprehensive, campus-wide approach. I am encouraged by the range of initiatives that have been implemented on this campus, some started by groups of faculty, staff and students, others started by individuals. We need all hands-on deck to bring meaningful and lasting change.”

-- Tina Q. Richardson, chancellor, Penn State Lehigh Valley

Penn State Lehigh Valley is working on initiatives that started several years ago and continue to gain momentum. These efforts include:

  • All In Working Group: a group of faculty and staff members are exploring ways to make campus feel more inclusive. The group, which just recently formed, launched a board on where faculty and staff can submit content anonymously. They are invited to comment on everything from Feeling Valued and Appreciated to Vision for Diversity on Campus and more. The group will review submissions to inform future goals and actions. Other goals of the group include promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) on campus through various activities, engage students in activities specifically designed to raise awareness of DEI, share best practices and collaborate with the people leading initiatives in this area.  
  • Chancellor’s Council: which is made up of the chancellor, associate director of academic affairs and other campus department heads read and discussed the book “White Fragility” last summer and is currently reading and discussing the book “Caste: The Origins of our Discontents.” The team continues to encourage a broader campus commitment to engage in important discussions around inclusion and social justice.
  • Essence of Democracy series: is a new Arts Project ONLINE virtual event series featuring conversations with artists whose work gives voice to those often stifled through racism, gender discrimination, homophobia and ableism. This first event was held Oct. 15 with another event scheduled on Nov. 12. For more information, review the official announcement of the Essence of Democracy series. Events in this series will continue on a monthly basis through Spring 2021. It is supported by the Dr. Ann Williams Innovative Speaker Endowment, the PA Council on the Arts and Student Activity Fee.
  • Faculty and Staff Book Club: started this summer by reading “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People” by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald and are currently reading “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. The group’s goal is to foster a community of discussion and inquiry about bias, race, diversity and inclusion through several book discussions. Approximately 45 people participated this summer; 25 people are involved this fall.
  • Penn State Lehigh Valley International Food and Entrepreneur Series: was started five years ago by 12 faculty and staff members. The series brings together the campus and community partners to promote an intellectual, community-oriented project around issues of immigration, entrepreneurship, small business development, global and local economic transformations and cultural diversity. It was created to recognize and promote the valuable economic, creative and cultural contributions made by Lehigh Valley’s small businesses and entrepreneurs through business patronage, campus promotion and coverage, and fostering long-term relationships. Each event takes place at a local restaurant. After partaking in chef-inspired cuisine, attendees hear from the restaurant owners in a seminar discussion format. To date, 11 events have been held with plans being made for a COVID-friendly takeout event in the future.
  • Penn State Lehigh Valley Student Affairs: continues to emphasize diversity and inclusion programs for students and upped its featured offerings in this space over the past few years. In the 2018-19 academic year, the group launched the Stopping the Stigma Campaign. And in 2019-20, it introduced three new affinity/identity clubs based on student requests: Black Student Union, HOLA: Hispanic Organization and Latino Association and the Muslim Student Association. These student groups hold meetings to discuss current events, opportunities and challenges while hosting programs/events to build awareness and offer education on their race, culture and religions. The groups have also been part of Campus Culture Chats that encourage open and honest discussion and promote education and awareness while dispelling myths and stigma. These new groups join the already established Pride Group, Adult Learner Club and Veteran Student Organization.
  • PSU-LV Learning Community on Racial Justice, Fall 2020: The learning community is comprised of an interdisciplinary set of courses focused on historical and critical thought around racial inequalities and justice during the Fall 2020 semester. Sociohistorical institutional structures and the narratives of everyday experiences are examined through James Baldwin's writing and contemporary events. The courses involved include AMS 100: American Studies; English 001: Introduction to Literature; multiple sections of HDFS 287Y: Intercultural Community Building; SOC 001: Introduction to Sociology and SOC 119: Race and Ethnic Relations.
  • StartUp Lehigh Valley Pitch Competition: presented by Factory, LLC and Penn State Lehigh Valley LaunchBox will feature ten entrepreneurs selected to pitch their business for a chance to win money, provided by Lehigh Valley LaunchBox. JPMorgan Chase & Co is also an event sponsor. More than 25 diverse groups were contacted to ensure that entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds were informed of the opportunity and encouraged to apply.
  • We Rise Together @ LaunchBox is a new initiative designed to leverage Penn State’s 21 Innovation Hubs to provide entrepreneurship opportunities to underserved communities across Pennsylvania. The initiative will focus on building supporting networks for minority entrepreneurs within Pennsylvania communities and is offered through a partnership with Black & Brown Founders, who bring extensive startup experience, best practices in community building and trusted advisors specializing in assistance for underrepresented groups. The program will include a two-part summit that focuses on understanding the desires, capacity, and challenges faced by diverse entrepreneurs, and how to best ensure their representation and meaningful inclusion in entrepreneurship. Chancellor Richardson will be leading the overall strategy of this initiative for Invent Penn State.

Dennille Schuler

Public Relations Specialist
Penn State Lehigh Valley

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