UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With a $20,000 pledge, Kenya and Kevin Faulkner have created the Kenya and Kevin Faulkner Equity and Justice Staff Award in the College of the Liberal Arts, the first award of its kind in the college.
Inspired by dean, former ethics and compliance chief creates Liberal Arts award
Kenya Faulkner served as Penn State’s chief ethics and compliance officer from 2018 to 2021. Kevin Faulkner is a retired college football coach who stays active by mentoring young men of color.
Raised by her grandfather after losing her mother at a very young age, Kenya Faulkner said her grandfather provided her biggest life lesson.
“He only went to school through the third grade, but he said, ‘Get a good education,’” she said. “He didn’t say be a doctor or be a lawyer or be an astronaut. He just said, ‘Get a good education, because it’s something no one can take away from you.’”
Faulkner heeded those words, eventually earning a law degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo, which led to a successful career as an attorney in government, private practice and education.
Somewhere along the line, Faulkner said she realized that gender and race played a role in how people behaved.
“I wasn’t always treated fairly, and the microaggressions I experienced were particularly hurtful. Once I realized how prevalent these behaviors were, I tried hard to be open to other people who are different and to make them feel comfortable,” she explained. “The work of diversity, equity and inclusion isn’t something that just happened for me and my husband. We have always been part of this issue, this journey, in whatever little way we can.”
Faulkner said her experiences fueled a desire to establish the award in the College of the Liberal Arts.
“Staff members are on the ground. They provide the support that makes everything run better,” Faulkner said. “The spotlight is not often shined on staff, so I thought something needed to be done to recognize their efforts. And I thought, ‘Not only does it need to be done – but Clarence [Lang] is the one to do it.’”
Lang, Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, served as cochair of the University’s Presidential Commission on Racism, Bias and Community Safety, which was convened in the wake of the racial and political unrest of the summer of 2020. Faulkner, who had never worked with Lang before, was assigned to his working group.
“I was consistently impressed by his leadership and his approach to dealing with difficult issues,” Faulkner said. “People were hurting in many, many different ways, and [Lang] listened. He allowed people to express their emotions and provided a safe space to speak freely, but he also wanted solutions. That’s what good leaders do. They listen, they probe, and then they say, ‘Now how do we get it done?’”
According to Faulkner, Lang’s work with the College of the Liberal Arts reflected that same leadership style. She said Lang appreciates the work of faculty but also acknowledges the role that staff members play in supporting the college’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and programs.
“None of us in the College of the Liberal Arts can fulfill our teaching, research and service goals, large or small, without the perennial, and often unrecognized, support of our staff members,” said Lang. “I am deeply grateful that Kenya and Kevin have provided us with a way to recognize and reward those whose work is crucial as we seek to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive environment here in the college, across the University and beyond.”
Neither Kenya nor Kevin attended Penn State, but they chose to create their endowment in the College of the Liberal Arts because Lang “knows what is needed to become truly inclusive, and we believe in what he is doing in the college.”
“We hope the staff members who receive this award will continue to do the work of social justice and equity, not just inside the workforce but outside,” Kenya Faulkner concluded. “What better place than in higher education to combat microaggression, to have these dialogs, this consciousness? We want people to call out injustice in a peaceful way and to carry that work, that drive, that energy with them, not just at Penn State but everywhere, so that it becomes part of their DNA.”
Those interested in making an online contribution to the Kenya and Kevin Faulkner Equity and Justice Staff Award may visit this link or contact Geoff Halberstadt, senior director of development and alumni relations in the College of the Liberal Arts via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 814-865-3173.
The Kenya and Kevin Faulkner Equity and Justice Staff Award helps to advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With support from devoted benefactors who believe in Penn State and its mission, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.