Penn State Fayette holds diversity forum for first-year students

LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — This fall, Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus held an inaugural Diversity Forum as an integrated component of its first-year student curriculum.

During week five of the requisite First-Year Seminar, 98 new students were divided into small groups for a discussion facilitated by a faculty or staff member.

Each small group began with an exercise called “Diversity Among Us,” which established the various kinds of diversity present among participants by generating a word cloud from anonymous submissions.

“While the group of participants may have, at first, appeared homogeneous, they were actually more diverse based on their religious beliefs, political beliefs, sexual orientation and learning capabilities,” said Carol Evans, biology lecturer and member of the Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Alliance on campus.

Next, facilitators presented three videos demonstrating discrimination and harassment to prompt discussion. “Some of my peers commented that watching these video was the first time they observed such discrimination,” said biology student Sharaf Mohammad. “They never really thought about it because it's not a part of their world.”

“The objective of the forum was to start the conversation on diversity, discrimination, and social injustices current in society today, and to promote awareness of the various types of diversity that exist on the Fayette campus,” said Evans. “We hope to educate students on how they can use their voices for change.”

"After participating in the FYS Diversity Forum week, I have a better understanding of how to address discrimination."

—Donata Heckman, Pre-Nursing program student 

Survey responses indicated that students had a positive experience and want to continue the discussion — on subjects like sexuality, race and ethnicity, and confronting bias — beyond the forum. For 63% of respondents, the forum was their first opportunity to talk about diversity and inclusion. An overwhelming majority recognized the need for such discussions.

“After participating in the FYS Diversity Forum week, I have a better understanding of how to address discrimination,” said Pre-Nursing program student Donata Heckman. “When in public, most people can feel overwhelmed when they encounter racism. For people who have anxiety about confrontation, addressing visible racism and talking about it is enough. Talk about it with the person that you are sitting with, ask for a manager, call your friend up on the drive home and tell them about what you just encountered. By addressing discrimination and holding people accountable, we are improving the situation.”

Evans said the Diversity Forum will be an essential part of the first-year seminar curriculum moving forward. In response to student interest, the campus held a “All Are Welcome Here” diversity activity to continue the conversation.