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Racism at Pa.'s state universities: a special report

The Investigator

Your guide to the Capitol & stories holding the powerful to account

August 6, 2020 | spotlightpa.org

Racist texts. A slave auction. Students dressed like the KKK.

Pennsylvania's state universities have spent years recruiting students of color. Yet at best students say they feel unwelcome and ill-supported — and at worst, unsafe and targeted — once on campus, a special Spotlight PA report shows.

(The story is being presented in our new design format for long-form journalism, and is accompanied with a prominent focus on solutions.)

Over the past week, our reporters have also continued investigating the state's response to the coronavirus, with a new review finding just 5% of loans doled out to struggling small businesses went to ones owned by people of color

Separately, emails obtained by Spotlight PA and The Inquirer show health officials abruptly canceled training for contact tracing volunteers a day before the department announced it would hire 1,000 people to do the work.

Finally this week, we're excited to welcome 90.5 WESA to the Spotlight PA family. If you're in the Pittsburgh region, you'll soon hear more of our stories and reporters on the airwaves. With the addition, we now provide high-quality journalism to 46 newsrooms in communities in all corners of the state.

If you value this innovative effort to improve journalism across Pennsylvania and strengthen our communities and democracy, please become a monthly donor today. We rely on your support to continue our work.

Sarah Anne Hughes


"At some point, I go numb to the feeling of it."

— Sierra Taylor, a former Kutztown University student, on feeling isolated on campus with few options for support
NEW THIS WEEK: Sign up to receive free weekly COVID-19 alerts for your county. We've taken our popular coronavirus dashboard and created weekly, customized email updates so you can get the local data you need most.
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More from Spotlight PA

» Pa. pursuing huge cleaning plan for Capitol Complex after worker tests positive
» Tax collections rebound on pent-up shopper demand, but Pa. still faces huge deficit

» Pa. education secretary will step down in October to lead Lancaster technical college

How arguments in Washington are holding up coronavirus relief in Pennsylvania

There’s roughly $1 billion in unspent federal aid for coronavirus relief sitting in Pennsylvania’s coffers. Yet key players in the Capitol say they won’t make any decisions about how to spend the cash until Washington makes up its mind on a second stimulus package. 

As congressional lawmakers and the White House negotiate, the list of industries calling for immediate help is growing. Last week, state House Republicans heard from restaurant and bar owners pleading for a bailout. 

“As much as we hate to ask, because we are proud business owners that go out there and do it on our own … we need financial assistance,” Rui Lucas, general manager at Na’Brasa Brazilian Steakhouse in Horsham, told lawmakers. “If we do not get grants or loans to pay out mortgages, employees, and local taxes, we will not survive.”

Both Democrats and Republicans have put forth their own relief packages for small restaurants. One bill from Rep. Todd Stephens (R., Montgomery) would create a program to award grants of up to $50,000 to cover operating expenses including payroll and rent.

But leaders in Harrisburg say they won’t do anything until Washington makes a move.

“We need to see what, if any, additional relief Congress allocates so that we can make wise decisions that protect taxpayers and help those Pennsylvanians most impacted by the pandemic,” said Neal Lesher, a spokesperson for House Appropriations Chair Stan Saylor (R., York). 

Bill Patton, a spokesperson for House Democrats, likewise said “there likely won’t be any movement” until the federal government makes a decision. 

Beyond more funding, states are also waiting to see if the feds will change course and let them use the first round of stimulus money to replace lost revenues. Pennsylvania’s got plenty of that — up to $5 billion in losses through next June.

As of Wednesday, there seemed to be some agreement in Washington that states need greater flexibility to spend remaining funds, the Associated Press reported. More money is also on the table, though there’s no consensus on the amount. 

While what happens next is murky, one thing is clear: All CARES Act funds must be spent by Dec. 30, per the U.S. Treasury.

Cynthia Fernandez 


Spotlight PA is building a database of diverse experts from across Pennsylvania to increase the representation of people of color in our journalism and the reporting of other newsrooms across the state. If you know of experts in your field or in your community who should be included, you can nominate them here.

You can also support this important project by becoming a monthly donor now.

From across the state

» In late July, the state Department of Health temporarily suspended children’s immunization requirements. The Inquirer reports that the pandemic has made it difficult for families to schedule check-ups. However, parents and pediatricians fear the return of preventable diseases. 

» Black and Hispanic women in Philadelphia are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, The Daily Pennsylvanian reports. According to a new study, one in 10 Black and Hispanic pregnant women tested positive for exposure to the coronavirus, compared to one in 50 white women.

» With less than 90 days to go until the November election, the Department of State is recommending lawmakers make some last-minute changes. They include extending the deadline to postmark mail-in ballots and allowing counties to begin tabulating votes earlier, according to PA Post

More good reads

» CAPITAL-STAR: Pa. sitting on money to expand internet access for students

» INQUIRER: Nearly 100 kids have been shot in Philadelphia this year

» THE INTELLIGENCER: State lawmaker says colleague threatened him over bill

» MORNING CALL: Witnesses tell state Senate schools are being ‘set up to fail’

» PA POST: Pa. college administrators are preparing for unpredictable fall semester

» YORK DAILY RECORD: Some county judicial offices are ignoring mask orders

Yaasmeen Piper


Send your answers to newsletters@spotlightpa.org.

Bold prediction (Case No. 50): Jared and Tayvon are roasting s'mores around a fire just before midnight. Tayvon tells Jared that he can promise with absolute certainty that in exactly one week, it will not be sunny. How can he be so sure?
Stumped? Get a hintFeeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: The officer accused her of stealing skateboards.

Congrats to Judy E., who will receive Spotlight PA swag (when we reopen our office!). Others who answered correctly: Philip C., Don H. Nathan B., Ed N., Beverly M., Jeff W., Drew C., Hagan H., Joseph S., Jaymes D., Kenneth J., Deborah W., Carl B., Marian S., John S., Jim B., Jim K., Diane C., Dave D., Yvon K., Karen A., Megan S., Phil F., Dennis F., Jon N., and Dan S. 
» This week's Riddler hint: Timing is everything.

Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News and other news organizations across Pennsylvania.

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