Many things have changed since Gary King arrived in Happy Valley in 1998 to take a position at Penn State University. Barack Obama broke barriers by becoming the first Black President of the United States, Halle Berry emerged as the first Black woman to win Best Actress at the Academy Awards and Kamala Harris became the first non-white man to serve as Vice President. King even rose a few rungs on the academic ladder over the last 23 years. Unfortunately, one important thing has not changed.
When King arrived at Penn State in 1998, fewer than 3 of every 100 full-time faculty members identified as Black. Twenty-one years later, only 3.2% of faculty members identified as Black. Sadly, this is not only an issue that exists at Penn State University. Many competing issues within the Big 10 all struggle to hire full-time faculty members that identify as Black. Federal data shows that less than 7% of full-time faculty members at the University of Maryland, Michigan State University and the Ohio State University identify as Black. In contrast, the Black student population at schools like Maryland and Ohio State nearly doubles the amount of Black full-time faculty members.
Making matters worse, King and his Black colleagues have been met the subtle opposition when pushing for more Black educators to be hired. King noted one particular experience in which he insinuated that there were not many qualified Black candidates to choose from.
"He looked at me and said, point-blank, 'Yes - if they're qualified,'" King said an administrator told him when he asked if more Black educators could be hired.
Taking things a step further, 100 Penn State faculty members participated in a survey in which they reflected on issues of race and discrimination at their current university and previous institutions that they have worked at. More than 80% of respondents said that they experienced racism at their workplace. Approximately two-thirds of respondents experienced racism when dealing with students and nearly half experienced it while dealing with administrators. Ultimately, 70% of participants don't believe Penn State would be an equitable space for Black students, faculty, and staff within the next decade.
“Racism is normalized at Penn State so it’s futile to report to white administrators or people of color who uphold whiteness about my experiences,” one respondent said.
“I would not expect anything to be done about it. Further, racism is deeply ingrained into the Penn State system. It is part of the culture and climate. One complaint will not address institutionalized racism," another respondent added.
Penn State officials responded to this recent report and the subsequent media coverage by claiming that it is committed to "recruiting and sustaining more faculty of color."
"Progress in diversifying faculty at Penn State is a critical part of fulfilling the promise of Penn State and living our values," the university stated.
"We will remain unrelenting in our efforts to create an inviting and accepting culture that seeks out, supports, encourages and sustains outstanding faculty from underrepresented communities. There are, indeed, more rivers to cross."
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