State Senator Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) and Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) held a hybrid press conference at Kutztown University Wednesday, to announce new funding for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives at PASSHE universities. Notable in-person speakers included Dr. Denise Pearson, vice chancellor and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at PASSHE, Dr. Kenneth S. Hawkinson, president of Kutztown University, and State Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks), who was instrumental in advocating for the funds.
Contributed by the Office of State Senator Art Haywood
Virtual speakers included Dr. Daniel Greenstein, chancellor of PASSHE, and Brandon Teel, alum of East Stroudsburg University, who delivered remarks via Zoom. In October 2020, Teel and Zuri Redmond, two black students at East Stroudsburg University, protested the racist campus environment at their institution. Soon after, the college seniors accepted Senator Haywood’s support and partnership to end campus racism at all PASSHE universities. Together, they created the Coalition to End Campus Racism and compiled the six student demands, entitled “ENOUGH: Fix the Six.”
The students demanded that PASSHE:
- End racial harassment and speech.
- Nurture and retain students of color.
- Organize an incident reporting system.
- Unveil mandatory diversity training.
- Generate more mental health resources.
- Hire more faculty and staff of color.
What started as a social media initiative to raise awareness turned into a movement. The student-led coalition demanded action from the State System and hosted two virtual town halls, where students shared their stories of racial harassment and heard solutions from presidents of nine PASSHE schools. “Our state universities knew that the experiences of students of color on campuses could not be ignored,” said Senator Haywood. “We sent a clear message to PASSHE that we had ENOUGH – and it was time to Fix the Six.”
From January to April 2021, Senator Haywood, black college students and end campus racism advocates met with PASSHE’s executive leadership and presidents of the 14 universities to address the six demands. On April 15, 2021, the PASSHE Board of Governors made ending campus racism an urgent priority in the redesign of the State System, contingent on funding from the state legislature. On June 26, 2021, the General Assembly successfully passed $200 million for PASSHE over the next four years, or $50 million per year, to include financing for DEI.
Chancellor Greenstein expressed his gratitude for Senator Haywood’s partnership and shared his enthusiasm for moving the PASSHE system forward.
“We are able to move forward on this critically important work, to ensure everyone who makes up our campus communities feel welcome and supported, because the State System has a strong partner in Sen. Haywood,” Greenstein said. “We are engaged in a comprehensive planning process on matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion because we must achieve better outcomes and campus climates, we must improve educational outcomes, we must foster higher ed communities that more accurately reflect the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And we are able to accelerate that work and stand a better chance of achieving those goals because of Sen. Haywood’s support.”
Senator Haywood selected Kutztown University as the location for the conference, as the campus is within Schwank’s district.
“If we truly mean it when we say our mission is to provide a great education at an affordable price, it’s paramount that we create an environment that is welcoming to all students,” Schwank said. “Feedback directly from students revealed the need to do more to address inequities at state system schools. Funding made available in the latest budget gives us a chance to build Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs and ensure all students are treated with respect and put in a position to succeed.”
Kutztown University president Dr. Kenneth S. Hawkinson was pleased to open the doors of his campus for the momentous event.
“We are grateful to Senator Heywood and our other leaders for being here today to help us realize our full potential – to help us realize and create a just university that recognizes the wonder and beauty of each member of our community,” Hawkinson said. “Our students have diverse backgrounds that cross our state, nation and the world. We have done much to address systematic injustices at Kutztown University, including more than 100 initiatives and the creation of a Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion strategic plan.”
As part of Chancellor Greenstein’s budget presentation delivered to the PASSHE Board of Governors in July 2021, PASSHE will allocate $2.5 million towards DEI goals for the fiscal year 2021-2022. The $2.5 million will help to promote diversity amongst the general education curriculum and employees, improve campus climate and increase student success initiatives that positively impact under-represented and low-income students. In October 2021, PASSHE will provide more details on the distribution.
Over the past year, vice chancellor Denise Pearson has worked closely with Chancellor Greenstein to develop Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plans at PASSHE.
“We are engaged in deep conversations about what the next steps look like, and we’re linking arms across the State System with university leadership, faculty, staff and students to achieve these goals,” Pearson said. “We’re collecting data, we’re studying it closely, we’re putting together the means necessary to carry out our goals and Sen. Haywood is a vital part of those efforts.”
State Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) also played a major role in advocating for the PASSHE funds.
“This investment is an important first step in restoring the commonwealth’s commitment to inclusive, accessible and affordable higher education for students of diverse backgrounds and experiences,” said Senator Hughes. “I hope that it is a first step in a commitment to once again make Pennsylvania a leader in both financial support for state-supported schools and aggressive promotion of student populations and faculty that represent all communities. Thank you, Senator Haywood, for your leadership on this issue.”
Although Teel graduated from East Stroudsburg University in May 2021, he is grateful that this funding will benefit current students at his alma matter and across the State System.
“I want to say thank you, PASSHE, for hearing and responding to these concerns,” said Teel, who will pursue his master’s degree at West Chester University this fall. “There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but at the same time, this financial commitment shows us that PASSHE is dedicated to doing the work to make every campus one in which all students feel supported.”
Senator Haywood will continue working with PASSHE students this fall to ensure that all university campuses are inclusive, safe and supportive for all students.
“I recognize that what’s won can be lost, therefore, much work remains to ensure that the changes are made, monitored and reported,” Haywood said. “Nevertheless, I am pleased and proud that we helped contribute to this historic victory.”
Video of the event will be available at https://www.senatorhaywood.com/video.