UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — At its meeting on May 6, leaders from units across Penn State gave the Board of Trustees Committee on Outreach, Development and Community Relations a broad overview of the University’s multifaceted work in outreach, communications and development and alumni relations to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in their work in ways that help cultivate acceptance and celebrate diversity.
Lawrence Lokman, Penn State’s vice president for Strategic Communications; Tracey Huston, vice president for Outreach; and O. Richard Bundy III, vice president for Development and Alumni Relations, each updated the trustees on how they are addressing these priorities within their units, and weaving these priorities into their various activities.
Lokman spoke to the role of Penn State Strategic Communications in supporting University leadership’s priority to enhance equity and inclusion across Penn State and combat bias, racism and intolerance in all of its forms through integrated storytelling that reflects the diversity of the Penn State community, strategically focusing the University’s communications channels and building greater capacity across the University to more effectively serve the communication needs of diverse audiences.
Strategic Communications has played a key role in communicating the goals and initiatives and priorities of Penn State’s leadership to the University’s audience and stakeholders, Lokman said. Penn State News and the Penn State Action Together website have served as central platforms for outlining diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives from Penn State President Eric Barron, and have helped keep the University community informed of progress as the University’s initiatives have yielded actionable results — such as the revised Student Code of Conduct and the recommendations currently being implemented from the Select Penn State Presidential Commission on Racism, Bias and Community Safety.
Lokman said Strategic Communications also has worked closely with University leadership to help leaders remain engaged, accessible and responsive to the Penn State community. Barron and other University leaders have hosted multiple town halls to engage with the University community about ongoing work around diversity, equity and inclusion. As the nation has experienced racial violence and protests for social justice, University leadership has consistently offered unequivocal support for community members impacted by national events, as well as denouncing all acts of hatred, violence and bias.
The Office of Strategic Communications has taken a holistic approach to communicating around diversity, equity and inclusion, integrating these themes into the University’s storytelling across multiple channels — including proactive media placements of diverse faculty experts, building relationships with media outlets that serve underrepresented populations, reflecting the diversity and inclusiveness of the University through enrollment marketing and admission communications, and using the University’s impact campaign to highlight how Penn Staters from all backgrounds are making a positive difference in the world.
Lokman said Strategic Communications has been working to continue to build greater capacity to advance diversity, equity and inclusion across Penn State’s communications infrastructure, including by listening to expertise and input from diverse community members and stakeholders, as well as by advancing new communications pilot projects and working with communicators across the University.
“We must weave into our storytelling — whether in media relations, or through brand impact and enrollment, for example — the diversity we represent and aspire to. This is work that requires constant attention and improvement in very intentional ways,” Lokman said. “And it is a privilege to be able to tell the stories in the way that this University is creating more justice in the world and seeking to fulfill its greatest aspirations.”
Penn State Outreach
Huston shared updates from Penn State Outreach about the advancement of inclusion, equity and diversity in the workplace, both through internal programming and alongside the audiences that Outreach supports.
“I believe that as an Outreach organization, we are uniquely positioned to listen, examine, develop and deliver programs to engage and support our employees,” Huston said. “We also have the ability, and responsibility, to facilitate civil discourse in our communities and encourage our learners to think more intentionally about inclusion and equity.”
Highlights of Huston’s presentation included examples of programs facilitated by Penn State Outreach, which began with the appointment of Karen Armstrong as its director of diversity, equity and inclusion in October 2020. Armstrong works to see that best practices are followed throughout organizational structures, policies, strategic plans and programs to foster a sense of belonging among Outreach employees while teaching and demonstrating allyship through affinity groups.
One example Huston described is a virtual book club created by Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center to examine how the natural environment has been understood, commodified and represented by both Black and white Americans. The first book featured in March was Carolyn Finney’s “Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors.” Participants took part in a conversation with the author that examined the under-representation of African Americans in nature, outdoor recreation and environmentalism.
Huston also highlighted Outreach’s purposeful focus on local and regional engagement and impact, such as the community discussion hosted in March by WPSU about the roles Black churches play in central Pennsylvania. In coordination with the PBS two-part program “The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song,” panelists for the event included a founding member of the Penn State Black Caucus and former president of the Forum on Black Affairs at Penn State; a retired administrator from the State College Area School District, the district’s first African American principal and a former director of multicultural affairs for the Penn State College of Informational Sciences and Technology; the pastor of the Albright-Bethune/Park Forest Village United Methodist Church in State College; and the chaplaincy program director for Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institute and pastor of Payne Church in Huntingdon.
Huston said many of Penn State Outreach’s functions pivoted rapidly to remain accessible during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, including helping the state-run, no-cost Summer Academy for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired transition to a virtual format during the summer of 2020.
Huston also introduced two partners with whom she works closely — Josiah Gilliam, coordinator for the My Brother’s Keeper program to provide opportunities to young men of color in Pittsburgh, and Justin Aglio, senior director of the Penn State Readiness Institute, which serves as a learning lab and creates learner-centered experiences for Pittsburgh youth.
Another highlight that Huston shared was the work of Penn State student Maura Chadwick through a pre-pandemic internship facilitated by the Penn State Center Philadelphia. Chadwick worked with South Philly Barbacoa, a restaurant co-owned by Ben Miller and Mexican chef, immigrant and immigration activist Cristina Martinez, to organize a dinner series that educated the public about the immigrant workforce in the local restaurant industry. South Philly Barbacoa is now also a participant in another Penn State Center Philadelphia collaboration that received the 2021 Penn State Award for Community Engagement and Scholarship called the People’s Kitchen, which helps feed health care workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic and keep out-of-work restaurant workers employed during the pandemic.
Development and Alumni Relations
Bundy described the commitment of Development and Alumni Relations to embedding diversity, equity and inclusion into every aspect of its work. “Through both our fundraising operations and the Penn State Alumni Association, we strive to create a stronger Penn State community,” Bundy said. “Our core mission depends upon ensuring that every student, every graduate, every citizen we serve feels welcomed, celebrated and supported by the University.”
Bundy updated the committee on key achievements and activities of the past year, including trainings on inclusive hiring practices to diversify the unit’s workforce and discussion series events that have engaged more than 300 employees as participants. Development and Alumni Relations also has prioritized diversity, equity and inclusion goals in the performance review process and worked to foster employee resource groups and volunteer trainings on relevant issues.
He also shared the division’s success in engaging alumni and friends as partners in supporting a more inclusive institution. Created in response to the national conversation around issues of race and justice, the Educational Equity Matching Program announced in June 2020 offered a 2:1 match for scholarships awarded at the University level and a 1:1 match for scholarships awarded by colleges and campuses to students whose backgrounds contribute to the diversity of the Penn State community.
Over the course of the now-concluded program, donors made 165 commitments totaling more than $11 million, which have been matched with University funds for nearly $24.6 million in new scholarship endowments.
Looking ahead, Bundy said that diversity, equity and inclusion priorities are outlined in Development and Alumni Relations’ strategic plan, as well as the roadmap for the Penn State Alumni Association, to help create a welcoming community that best serves all Penn Staters.
“From building a diverse team and preparing them to work with greater cultural agility, to engaging with a diverse donor audience in support of a vision of Penn State that reflects their passions and values, to programming that recognizes the experiences and challenges of all our graduates, our division is committed to leading the way forward for the larger University community, one that extends far beyond our campuses and all over the world,” Bundy said.
While discussing these updates with the panelists, the members of the Board of Trustees affirmed their commitment to helping create a more diverse, equitable and welcoming Penn State.
“I want to thank everyone for all of the important work that we're doing on diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Trustee Brandon Short. “Penn State, through President Barron’s initiatives, has really taken a lead in this area. I’m really proud of what we have accomplished so far.”