J.D. Prose, USA TODAY Network – PA State Capitol Bureau
A state senator ran through a litany of complaints from Black state university students on Wednesday during a Senate hearing and called on the chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to immediately address a “hostile environment of race discrimination” on campuses.
State Sen. Art Haywood, D-Montgomery County, shared several stories from Black students who said they had been called the n-word, harassed, and made to feel uncomfortable at several different Pennsylvania colleges.
During a Senate hearing on PASSHE’s redesign implementation plan, Haywood told PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein to address ongoing racial discrimination at the executive and administration levels “so that our students can know that they are welcome because today they are not.”
Pennsylvania state system schools include Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester universities.
Greenstein did not respond to Haywood’s comments during the remainder of the hearing. “The chancellor’s lack of response during questioning and his inaction is exactly what the students have been complaining about,” Haywood said.
Later on Wednesday, though, Greenstein released a statement to the USA TODAY Network in which he said nobody affiliated with the state system would tolerate racial discrimination.
“Racism is systemic and has been on this continent for more than 400 years. Its impacts ebb and flow but are always present in our society. It shows up everywhere, including in the universities and colleges across this nation – including in the universities of the Pennsylvania State System,” Greenstein said, “but the universities of this State System – our faculty, staff, students, Board of Governors, and counsels of trustees – do not and will not accept this status quo.”
Greenstein continued, “All of our universities are applying themselves diligently to the task and making strides to close opportunity gaps that persist between Black, Brown, and White students. They are also building culturally inclusive and tolerant communities while diversifying our employees and student bodies, ensuring they reflect the composition of the people of this Commonwealth.”
Acknowledging that there is work to do, Greenstein reiterated the system’s commitment to addressing discrimination. “I am proud of the accomplishments that we have made and of the commitment that we collectively bring to addressing egregious injustices, which have persisted too long in our country. On this issue we shall not rest,” he said.
Haywood said the complaints he has heard range from a Black student at Bloomsburg University who said Black students do not go to a certain area of town for fear of being assaulted to another Black Bloomsburg student who lamented having limited access to support services and no Black study courses or academic counselors.
That last student also said the school administration failed to condemn a slave auction reenactment, an event that Haywood said “has got to be one of the worst reenactments I can possibly imagine.”
A third Bloomsburg student said she has been called the n-word on campus and been stereotyped as a poor, inner-city child with no father although she is from the suburbs and has a father.
East Stroudsburg University students have told Haywood that they were “heavily recruited” by the school, but there have been no attempts to keep them on campus. Haywood said they have also been placed with racist roommates and seen hate groups flourish on campus.
A Shippensburg University student reported being chased on campus, told to “go home” and called the n-word, Haywood said. The student also reported seeing Confederate flags on many vehicles on campus.
An Indiana University of Pennsylvania student also reported Confederate flags on campus and claimed few, if any, white students, faculty or staff participate in diversity training. The student, Haywood said, also said there was no condemnation from the school after someone hacked into a Zoom meeting and used the n-word and other slurs.
“The Confederate flag is nothing but a symbol of power to enslave African-Americans,” Haywood said, “and it is offensive to all the students of African-American descent on campus and I’m sure beyond.”
Haywood also seemed wary of the hiring of Denise Pearson, who is Black, as PASSHE’s vice chancellor and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer in early August, saying it seemed like “a typical play … where there’s a diversity problem (and) an African American is put at the head of dealing with what is essentially a white, race discrimination problem.”