UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State is beginning a new process this fall to evaluate the multitude of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) initiatives, programs and scholarly research underway across the 24 campuses of the University. The effort will inform a holistic strategy that advances critical DEIB focus areas.
Last week, Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi shared key DEIB priorities with the Penn State Board of Trustees’ Equity and Human Resources committee, which include closing identity-based gaps in students’ four- and six-year graduation rates, diversifying the faculty at all levels, and investing in equitable professional development opportunities for staff.
“There is remarkable DEIB scholarship and practice underway by current faculty, staff and students across the University, and we remain deeply committed to continuing to build on the foundation of scholarly research and programming around racism and racial bias at Penn State,” said Bendapudi. “I have determined that enhancing support for current efforts by people who know Penn State best will be more impactful than investing in a new venture, and so we will not pursue efforts to launch a Center for Racial Justice.”
Bendapudi said the decision followed conversations with many individuals and groups throughout the University, including the University Equity Leadership Council, Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity, and the co-chairs of the former president’s Select Presidential Commission on Racism, Bias and Community Safety.
The effort to identify existing DEIB efforts will begin in November and will be led by a special adviser to the president for institutional equity whom Bendapudi will soon appoint. Bendapudi said she plans to select a faculty member with expertise and background in this area to shepherd this initial work, engage in conversations with stakeholders and groups across the University, and review existing data and reports with the goal of developing an institutional equity plan to be shared with the University community early next year.
“Scholarship and research on racism and racial bias play an integral role in not only attracting and retaining faculty who are leaders on this topic, but also on combatting bias and hatred within our communities, the nation and world,” Bendapudi said. “There is so much potential at Penn State for us to expand, connect and invest in the work of our faculty experts and existing networks in a way that grows our impact and standing as an institution in this scholarly discipline.”
According to Bendapudi, the University’s financial investment in existing DEIB initiatives across Penn State will be at least as much as would have been committed to the Center for Racial Justice over the next five years.
Among existing areas leading scholarship in racism and racial bias at Penn State are the Center for Education and Civil Rights, the Rock Ethics Institute and the Africana Research Center. In addition, Penn State Dickinson Law also recently launched the Antiracist Development Institute, which is focused on evidence-based approaches to developing antiracist practices and policies, with the mission of working with businesses and organizations across the country to implement best practices to actively combat racism, intolerance and racial bias at a national level.
“Having had the opportunity to work with University colleagues with deep expertise in diversity, equity, inclusion and antiracism, I see great value in lifting up their work for the benefit of One Penn State,” said Danielle Conway, dean of Penn State Dickinson Law and co-chair of the Select Presidential Commission on Racism, Bias and Community Safety. “The University has an opportunity to identify and then spotlight these professionals and their impactful work. Taking the time to build a network that will uplift these professional colleagues and the vital work they have done and have committed to doing is how we honor their contributions to Penn State, while also moving the needle substantially on embedding systemic equity in teaching and learning, research and scholarship, and administration.”
Bendapudi highlighted a variety of potential opportunities to explore to invest in existing efforts, such as:
Elevating attention to the experiences of teaching, research and clinical faculty so that this population has a stronger sense of connection among peers and greater job satisfaction.
Connecting and encouraging students across the commonwealth to engage in academic opportunities that prepare students for leadership in an increasingly diverse world, for example, Penn State Brandywine’s undergraduate minor in civic and community engagement.
Emphasizing the meaning of DEIB for the student experience. Support and resources offered through Student Disability Services and Counseling and Psychological Services, as well as need-based scholarships and other financial aid, for example, are critical in fostering student success.
In addition, many efforts, including recommendations from the Select Penn State Presidential Commission on Racism, Bias, and Community Safety, have continued to advance across the University, including the new BUILD @ Penn State DEIB education initiative open to all Penn State employees that will launch this fall; a recent landmark update to the University’s full-time faculty hiring policy designed to help diversify the University’s faculty and foster a culture of inclusion and belonging; a strategic approach to enrollment management with a focus on advancing multicultural recruitment and identifying and addressing barriers to access for underrepresented communities; a major update to the Student Code of Conduct in 2021 to incorporate language around bias and discriminatory harassment; and strides in transparency, accountability and diversity within University Police and Public Safety, among other efforts.
“Penn Staters have accomplished much in recent years, and we should all be proud of this progress and the ongoing commitment of so many in our community to building a more equitable and inclusive University,” Bendapudi said. “I truly believe that as a community we can identify the best models for DEIB practice at Penn State and invest in our ability to build on that foundation so we can support our students from recruitment through graduation, as well as staff and faculty at each stage of their careers.”