February 8, 2021

Message from Dean Lang

To: Liberal Arts Faculty, Staff, Graduate Students and Post Docs
From: Clarence Lang
Date: February 8, 2021 

Dear Colleagues: 

I hope this message finds you well.  

As you were reminded in a memo sent last week, our University is sponsoring the first of three scheduled Wellness Days tomorrow. To enjoy the full benefits of Tuesday’s Wellness Day, I encourage you to limit your time on Zoom by postponing or altogether canceling any standing meetings. Among the Wellness Day activities the University is offering tomorrow is a virtual screening of the film Crip Camp, which the Office of Educational Equity’s Diversability Committee is sponsoring at 10:00 a.m. For a comprehensive listing of University Wellness Day events, see this link for Financial and Occupational Wellness. Our own Jill Wood, teaching professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, is also leading a free virtual session for our college, “Relax, Renew, and Restore: Virtual Yoga Nidra,” which is scheduled for 4:30 pm. Please see the attached flyer to learn more; you can also click here to register in advance

This Wellness Day could not come at a more opportune time. The current state of vaccination efforts, and the return of students to State College this week and next, bring a great deal of anxiety. Further, you may be aware that a meeting hosted by the Penn State Black Caucus during the University’s recent Student Involvement was hijacked by approximately 51 individuals who used it as an opportunity to racially assault and intimidate attendees. This event happened on the heels of a separate incident involving a Liberal Arts faculty member who received a threatening letter for organizing a petition following the January siege of the U.S. Capitol. (State College police are investigating the matter.) Moreover, the “Zoom-bombing” of the Black Caucus is one of apparently several incidents that have occurred this semester during which assailants have threatened people of color and others within our community. In a message to Black Caucus members, I wrote that our students deserve a campus environment in which they can thrive, be their best selves, and most importantly, be safe. Similarly, I am grateful for the active solidarity among the units in our college, and I maintain trust in the University’s continuing efforts to identify the assailants and hold them accountable for their actions.  

As I wrote to our undergraduates early last week, racist attacks like the recent Zoom-bombing are stark reminders of how much hard work we have in front of us. Whether these attacks involved Penn State students or not, they demonstrate how critical it is to have an education firmly rooted in liberal arts principles like perspective-taking, a valuing of the diversity of humanity, ethical and informed decision-making, democratic participation, collective empathy and care, a global understanding of “citizenship,” and an eye toward just transformations and a common good. As difficult as it is to imagine these principles (let alone achieve them) in the tough circumstances of a pandemic, we have few alternatives to the uncertain work this entails. 

So, whatever else you decide to do tomorrow, please do your best to be well.