To Liberal Arts Faculty, Staff, Graduate Students, and Post Docs
From: Clarence Lang
Date: November 2, 2020
I hope you are well.
Let me begin by congratulating the members of our college’s Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Transformation (CoDIT) for coordinating a recent series of workshops regarding social justice and solidarity action on October 23-24. In particular, I commend Terri Vescio, professor of psychology, and Earl Merritt, director of equity, inclusion, and diversity, for their long-term planning and vision; and Kevin Conaway, director of digital pedagogy and scholarship, and Marc Kepler, technology consultant, for their technical expertise and support. The sessions attracted approximately 142 students, staff, faculty, and administrators from both inside and outside the college. Led by Steve Chase and Deborah Mathis from the Washington, D.C.-based International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, the trainings drew participants into timely discussions about changing the campus culture. The initial idea for this training developed after the 2016 presidential election, when volatile encounters occurred among students at Penn State and other institutions of higher education. Although no one at the time could have predicted all that has happened since then, I am thankful to those of you who have shepherded equity work in Liberal Arts over the long term. Notwithstanding the recent Presidential Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping, which calls into question diversity and cultural competency learning, our college’s commitment to inclusion remains consistent. I am also heartened to know that our University is part of ongoing advocacy efforts by the American Council on Education, and more than 50 other higher education associations, to rescind this executive order.
As we approach Election Day tomorrow, I expect faculty to adhere to Senate Policy 42-27: Class Attendance, which was amended to encourage instructors to “provide, within reason, the opportunity to make up for students who miss classes on an election day due to participation in local, state, and federal governmental elections.” It is unlikely that this election – whatever its outcome – will resolve our current political, social, economic, and cultural challenges; but we should take whatever comes as another reminder of the critical importance of the liberal arts in promoting reasoned inquiry, ethical judgment, social responsibility, empathy and resilience, and informed scholarly engagement about the issues of the day with diverse and multiple audiences.
Toward that end, I encourage you to attend the final installment of the University’s “Toward Racial Equity at Penn State: Social Difference, Social Equity and Social Change” series on Wednesday, November 4. The event will be livestreamed from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm at watch.psu.edu/toward-racial-equity. The roundtable discussion – titled “The Day After: Assessing the Post-Election State of the Nation” – will be moderated by Keith Gilyard and Jennifer Hamer, senior faculty mentors in the Office of Educational Equity, and will feature Michael Berkman, director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy; Candis Watts Smith, Brown-McCourtney Early Career Professor in Political Science and African American Studies; Royel Johnson, assistant professor of education and African American studies; and Emme Devonish, Penn State’s University ethics officer.
In the meantime, I trust that your preparations are underway for the University’s transition to remote-only teaching and learning for the remainder of this semester after November 20. As you also are aware, we will continue offering a combination of remote, mixed mode, and in-person courses next semester, which will begin on January 18 with University events observing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. All Study Abroad activities have been cancelled, and in lieu of Spring Break, the University is adding three “wellness days” to the calendar to provide much-needed moments of relief during another unpredictable semester. You can find more about wellness days here. My office will keep you updated as more information about next semester becomes available.
For now, I wish you all the peace, comfort, safety, and community you can find in this difficult moment. Let’s keep looking forward to better days.