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Two 'promising' PSU diversity efforts don't exist

Plus: A massive highway project in Centre County prompts calls from farmers, advocates for change to eminent domain process

This is Talk of the Town, a free weekly newsletter delivering top news from State College and the surrounding region.

March 7, 2024
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Inside this edition: Two diversity initiatives highlighted by Penn State to receive better funding don’t exist, farmers say they’re short-changed in eminent domain process, and a free event on Pennsylvania’s Black Wall Street.
While reporting my recent story on the status of diversity programs Penn State pledged to invest in after canceling its Center for Racial Justice, I learned that some of them didn’t actually exist. 

The Center for Disability Studies and the Center on Engineering and Social Justice — which Jennifer Hamer, a university official leading the revamped diversity effort, cited in a public report — were not real.

Michael Bérubé, a professor of literature who was listed as affiliate faculty on the Center for Disability Studies website, told Spotlight PA the website was at least a decade old and obsolete. The center never existed, he said, and had neither funding, nor affiliate faculty.

In response to questions from Spotlight PA, a Penn State spokesperson wrote via email, “It came to our attention following the publication of [Hamer’s] report, that the Center for Disability Studies was not an official center.”

The website is no longer active.

Similarly, I couldn’t find information on the Center on Engineering and Social Justice, which Hamer described as having “immediate promise of supporting diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging on campus.”

In an email response to my questions, the Penn State spokesperson wrote, “We have learned this center is still in proposal stage within the College of Engineering.”

Following these revelations, my reporting focused on the 15 diversity projects that do exist, and looked at their funding. I examined how the current administration’s diversity plan differs from that of the previous Penn State president, how some students and faculty are pushing back, and university budget data. 

The budget data, which I adjusted for inflation, showed that months before President Neeli Bendapudi’s administration pledged to better fund existing diversity programs, university officials from various departments cut $246,000 from three of those projects.

These cuts, as well as statements from the university, suggest that Penn State’s current diversity plan places less emphasis on race, a stark contrast from the plan under the previous university administration. 

Following up on the university’s pledge and digging into the nature of Penn State’s financial support for diversity programs was an important accountability story for us. To learn more about what I found, read the full story here.

Wyatt Massey, Penn State investigative reporter
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» Pa. pays property owners for land lost to eminent domain, but farmers want more for their loss

» Pa. was deluged by election lawsuits in 2020. Experts say 2024 will be even more intense.

» BLACK WALL STREET: Join us TONIGHT from 6-7 p.m. ET on Zoom for a free panel on the history of Harrisburg’s Black Wall Street, and the people and businesses hoping to preserve its legacy. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
A covered bridge in snowy Huntingdon County via James G.

Have a north-central Pennsylvania photo to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A covered bridge in snowy woods in Huntingdon County, PA
We’re giving you a special preview of our “All Sun, No Shade” beach towel! This towel is available for a special pre-sale to celebrate Sunshine Week, a time when we mark the importance of government transparency. Sunshine Week begins March 10, so make sure to place your preorder ASAP!

Proceeds benefit Spotlight PA’s nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism that gets results for Pennsylvania.
» NCPA: Four arrested, charged in Williamsport double homicide
» CDT: ‘Abhorrent racist’ words used in online attack at PSU meeting
» Courier Express: More details released on DuBois police chief
» WPSU: PSU president argues for funding ‘parity’ before legislators
» CDT: State College parents to pay more for CEEL program
» Mirror: Inmate can’t sue judge who denied appeal hearing
Want us to list your event? Send it to us.

» March 9: Lace up your boots for a Winter Adventure Hike at Lyman Run State Park in Potter County.

» March 9: Howard, Centre County, hosts its fourth annual Winter Festival at the community park, complete with vendors, food trucks, a chili cook-off, games, and more.

» March 10: Celebrate Pennsylvania’s birthday at the lumber museum in Ulysses, Potter County.

» March 10: The Community Arts Center in Williamsport, Lycoming County, presents Rhythm of the Dance.

» March 11: Learn how to make your backyard bird-friendly at the Altoona Area Public Library, Blair County.
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