Tensions Build at Penn State After Controversial Decisions Regarding Racial Justice

Criticisms against Penn State’s moves regarding racial justice are amassing, Spotlight PA reported.Penn State

In recent months, Penn State officials decided to cancel its plans for a Center for Racial Justice and not to initially cancel a Oct. 24 event involving far-right activists.

More than 400 professors and lecturers questioned new President Dr. Neeli Bendapudi’s commitment to racial justice in a letter. Faculty also led a protest last week.

The Oct. 24 event involved a student group hosting two far-right figures — one connected to extremist group Proud Boys, — for a “comedy” event. School officials declined to cancel the event, citing freedom of speech. Protesters gathered during the evening of the event, and police did not immediately intervene when individuals sprayed a chemical irritant at protesters, according to videos. Penn State then canceled the event due to “the threat of escalating violence.”

The Center for Racial Justice plans were also dropped, with Bendapudi citing budget concerns privately. Then, in a public statement, Bendapudi said the school would invest in existing programs to the sum of at least $3.5 million over five years.

“While any plan that leads to systemic antiracism reform is welcome, these messages appear inconsistent and raise further concerns,” the faculty letter read. “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.”

Internally, there seems to be strife at Penn State as well. One faculty diversity committee told administrators the school’s actions were undermining its work.

And in a Nov. 7 letter to colleagues, Dr. Clarence Lang, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts and a co-chair of the committee that proposed launching the center, wrote that he found the center “mainly performative” and “not essential to the substantive work of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at Penn State,” instead vouching for investing in existing diversity programs.

Lang also wrote that Bendapudi, as the school’s first woman president and president of color, is facing problems left by “an otherwise unbroken chain of white males who have led Penn State.”

These issues come as Bendapudi presents some of her plans to fight racial inequity. She is expected to address faculty in a town hall next week.