Penn State students plan march to denounce intolerance in light of sorority photo

mdawson@centredaily.comDecember 10, 2012 

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    Minority populations at the University Park campus as of fall 2012

    Hispanic/Latino: 2,268 Asian: 2,252 Black: 1,886 Two or more races: 951 American Indian: 42 Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 28

    Total student populations is 45,351. The race or ethnicity for 743 students is not known.

— Penn State students are organizing a peaceful march through campus Thursday in solidarity after a photo mocking Mexican stereotypes from a party ignited a firestorm of criticism and raised concerns over intolerance at the university.

The group, called PSU For All Student Equality, will gather at Pennypacker Hall at noon. That’s in East Halls.

Penn State’s chapter of Chi Omega was put on probation by its parent organization over the photo, which was from a Mexican-themed Halloween party and surfaced online last week. Two women in the photo are seen wearing sombreros and fake mustaches and holding up the signs “will mow lawn for weed + beer” and “I don’t cut grass I smoke it.”

“Unfortunately, the Chi Omega incident is just one of many instances of racial insensitivity that has beleaguered the Penn State community in recent years,” the Penn State student group said in a news release.

The group said it is denouncing “all forms of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia and seeks to draw attention to social inequality, like those before us,” referencing the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Penn State junior Manuel Figueroa, the Penn State Puerto Rican Association student, is helping to organize the peaceful march and said the route will go from East Halls into the heart of campus with a stop at Old Main.

Figueroa said PSU For All Student Equality includes students from multicultural groups, advocacy groups and students concerned about diversity issues at the university, where Hispanic students make up 5 percent of the 45,351 undergraduate and graduate population.

Asian students make up another 5 percent, and black students are about 4 percent of the population. There are 5,540 international students at Penn State’s main campus.

Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said university officials encourage the show of support by the students and hope their actions rub off on others.

“We share their concern and hope their actions prompt other students to embrace a more accepting attitude and a feeling of unity on campus,” she said.

The photo, which was first published by a student blog, has made diversity a topic of discussion on campus during a semester that’s been dominated by the resilient football team and the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

President Rodney Erickson jump-started the discussions in an open letter that was emailed to Penn State students and employees last week. In the email, Erickson and other university officials said they were disappointed by behavior of the students posing in the photo.

Erickson, at the meeting of the Faculty Senate last week, said he had been told about several examples of intolerance. He later clarified they were about incidents from classrooms.

“We must redouble our efforts to make sure that everyone here at Penn State feels welcome, that they feel valued, that they feel an important part of our living and learning community,” Erickson told the faculty.

Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT.

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