Arts and Entertainment

Penn State Laureate to bring ‘Dignity Tour’ to New Kensington campus

Russell's 'experiement' involves individuals bestowing dignity on all people

UPPER BURRELL, Pa. -- Penn State Laureate Susan Russell, associate professor of theater at the University Park campus, brings her "Dignity Tour" to Penn State New Kensington at noon Wednesday, Nov. 19, in the Forum Theatre. Russell’s talk, “Dignity: Changing Obstacles Into Opportunities,” will focus on who we can be in the 21st century and how we can get there together.

During her presentation, Russell will describe a simple “experiment” that she is running during her term as laureate. For a year, she wants individuals to agree that all people -- those we know, those we heard about and those we never met -- deserve dignity. The dignity individuals want for themselves needs to be bestowed upon everyone else. According to Russell, the success of the experiment relies on two questions -- how will this way of thinking change people, and how will personal and collective freedoms look to people a year from now?

“Dignity is a tangible thread running through our cultural design since 1964,” said Russell, who uses the civil rights movement as a base. “If we are to address the changes that need to take place in the 21st century, perhaps we can begin to address our personal fears by changing our neighbors from different to dignified.”

Penn State Laureate is a full-time University faculty member in the humanities or fine arts who is assigned half-time for one academic year to bring an enhanced level of social, cultural, artistic and human perspective and awareness to a broad array of audiences. The highly visible representative of Penn State appears regularly at Penn State campus and community events throughout the commonwealth.

As laureate, Russell works to address the many social challenges faced by young people. She uses her skills as an actor, stage director, playwright, author and speaker to advocate for human rights. A popular speaker and academic presenter, Russell has spoken to local, national and international audiences about “how to make choices that make change, and how to make change make sense.”

“I speak about various languages of creativity, and how these languages can bridge communication gaps between diverse cultures and disciplines,” Russell said. “And I work diligently to open dialogues between our campuses and communities that will foster, promote and maintain an environment where everyone -- students and citizens alike -- learns, experiences and creates.”

Members of the campus and local communities are encouraged to contribute to the discussion. Examples of dignity in music, movies, books, images, texts, speeches and videos can be submitted to her website,

Russell graduated summa cum laude with a doctorate in theater studies from Florida State University in 2008. She received her undergraduate degree in theater from St. Andrews Presbyterian College in North Carolina in 1979. Between educational pursuits, she heeded the call of the stage and began a career as a professional actor. She performed on Broadway, in regional theaters and at opera companies across the country. Her thespian credits include five years in the Broadway production of “Phantom of the Opera.”

As a professional playwright, her works “Olympia” (1998) and “Present Perfect” (1999) have been produced by Lincoln Center and the Emerging Artist Theatre in New York City. Her play “Severe Clear” was a semifinalist in the 2006 O’Neill Theatre Center Playwriting Competition, and her 2009 play “Écoute: Pieces of Reynaldo Hahn” toured 40 venues in the United States.

After 25 years in theater, Russell joined the Penn State faculty in 2007. She teaches playwriting, history of American musical theater, women in theater, and graduate literature and criticism seminars in ancient theater. She founded Cultural Conversations, a new works festival devoted to issues of local and global diversity. It is the only university festival of its kind in the United States. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Penn State Commission for Women's Achieving Woman Award in 2012 and the Centre County Youth Service Bureau's Dr. Edward Vogelsong Professional Excellence Award in 2013.

Russell has written two books: “Body Language: Cultural Conversations Reaching Out and Reaching In” and “Body Language: Stop the Violence/Start the Conversation.” The books are designed to offer day-by-day templates for school systems on how to use playwriting, media and public performance to explore issues that affect middle and high school students.

As the seventh Penn State laureate, Russell succeeds Kenneth Womack, associate dean for Academic Affairs and professor of English at Penn State Altoona. Previous laureates were Chris Staley, distinguished professor of ceramic art; Linda Miller, professor of English at Penn State Abington; Robin Becker, professor of English and women's studies; Anthony Leach, professor of music; and inaugural laureate Kim Cook, professor of music in cello.

The talk is free to the public.

For more information on Russell’s talk, contact Bill Mitas, instructor in theater, at

For a video of Russell’s work, visit

Penn State Laureate Susan Russell's "Dignity Tour" makes a stop at Penn State New Kensington on Nov. 19. Russell advocates treating everyone with dignity. Credit: Susan Russell websiteAll Rights Reserved.

Last Updated September 04, 2020