In a letter to the Penn State community on Feb. 22, President Eric Barron outlined his plan to advance the work of the Select Penn State Presidential Commission on Racism, Bias, and Community Safety. Barron is embracing specific initiatives to move forward this semester, as part of ongoing efforts to create a more diverse and welcoming University community.
Dear Penn State Community:
In the wake of senseless tragedies this past year, we saw with clarity the ongoing challenges of racism, bias, and community safety that persist in our nation. The sobering acknowledgement of work to be done across the country drove urgent calls for action. Though we have made great strides in creating a more diverse and welcoming University community, we know that additional efforts are necessary. In a June message, I made a commitment to address these imperatives and outlined a series of steps designed to seek input from across our campuses.
I have heard from many of you, and you have underscored our responsibility to one another and challenged us to listen, learn and hold ourselves more accountable for growth in critical areas. To create positive and sustained change, it was essential that a process of reassessment and planning be driven from within our community, independent of the ideas of the administration.
With the support of the Board of Trustees, I looked to well-respected members of our community to lead key initiatives and develop recommendations for improving the climate for diversity, equity and inclusion at Penn State. At the heart of this work has been the expertise and insights of our faculty, staff and students — whose belief in our collective success reflects who we are as Penn Staters.
Important progress has been made, and you may have already seen that a revised Student Code of Conduct has been implemented for the spring 2021 semester after a thorough review by the Student Code of Conduct Task Force. I publicly announced my critical priorities for the remainder of my tenure through June 2022 and, with that, my plan to advance work of the Select Penn State Presidential Commission on Racism, Bias, and Community Safety, which is among them.
While some recommendations require additional discussion and opportunities to formulate a plan of action, I am embracing specific initiatives, as described below, to move forward this semester. I believe strongly in these initiatives as they align directly with our University’s educational and research mission, and they support the vision for a more diverse and welcoming Penn State community that I set forth during my presidency. It is in continually advancing diversity, equity and inclusion that we demonstrate our Penn State Values in action and uphold the commitment made in our Penn State Statement on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Move to an enterprise approach to diversity, equity and inclusion: There is remarkable work from many individuals and support through many units to advance diversity, equity and inclusion at Penn State, but there are opportunities to maximize networks, resources and the impact of our existing programs.
The administration proposes to:
- Complete a full inventory of Penn State’s investment in diversity, equity and inclusion programs and staff in order to discover gaps in our investments and to create more effective programs;
- Create a chief diversity officer position reporting to the president, charged with coordinating and maximizing the effectiveness of our programs and our staff; and
- Develop a stronger system of accountability reporting to the chief diversity officer as a centralized function and institutional priority.
Create greater commitment to recruitment, onboarding, mentoring and building community: Penn State has developed strong policies and employs many individuals dedicated to recruitment, onboarding and mentoring individuals from a broad range of backgrounds, but we must make additional progress.
- Penn State must address the apparent challenges in recruitment, with an added focus on accountability within our units. This responsibility will be a key element of the portfolio of the chief diversity officer.
- We must invest in an onboarding and mentoring program that is a model for universities across the nation. The administration proposes to form a task group to design best practices for onboarding and mentoring, and for the University to provide sufficient investment to reach its realization.
Advance in key areas that align with the educational and research mission of the University:
- Establish a center, institute or consortium dedicated to anti-racist, anti-bias pedagogy and scholarly research. The form of this (center, institute or consortium) requires additional analysis, but the potential impact of such an enterprise could be profound and multi-faceted. The administration will financially support the development of an enterprise dedicated to anti-racist, anti-bias pedagogy and scholarly research and is committed to attracting an outstanding leader for this effort.
- Represent diversity, equity and inclusion as a mandatory element of education. I fully endorse the combined efforts of the commission and the University Faculty Senate to consider the best approach to incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion into the learning commitment required for a Penn State degree.
- Learn through a scholarly analysis of our past practices in teaching, research and service. I propose an exploration of Penn State’s history in diversity, equity and inclusion as a mechanism to develop a more productive focus on the future.
I am keenly aware of our potential as Penn Staters and believe we are well-positioned to meet the challenges of this moment. Each of us is a vital part of this University, and our ongoing compassion, open-mindedness and engagement with one another can help us reach our individual and community goals.
This is only the beginning. We take these next steps with purpose and conviction, knowing that addressing these critical issues and creating positive change will require our collective persistence and focus. I invite your continued involvement as we take action together.
Eric J. Barron
President, Penn State