Marchers denounce intolerance of minorities at Penn State

mdawson@centredaily.comDecember 13, 2012 

— Penn State associate professor John Ochoa was out to make a point Thursday, along with a couple dozen other university students and faculty.

But Ochoa was the only one wearing a poncho, a sombrero and a sign — “will teach you for your parents’ $” — that was a look mirroring that of a photo of sign-holding Penn State sorority sisters at a Mexican-themed party that surfaced online last week. The photo, showing the women holding up signs “will mow lawn for weed + beer” and “I don’t cut grass I smoke it,” ignited a firestorm of criticism over intolerance for minorities at the university.

Ochoa and almost 30 others marched silently through campus Thursday afternoon, from East Halls to Old Main to denounce racism, stereotyping, and host of other intolerance concerns that have been raised at Penn State, and they announced they are asking Penn State administrators to consider ways to improve their experience at the university.

The photo was a catalyst for the march, said organizers of the group, called Penn State For All Student Equality, or the acronym PSU-FASE.

“There’s no excuse for ignorance,” Ochoa said as the marchers were staging at Pennypacker Hall. “There are solutions for ignorance in Latino studies.” Ochoa is the director of the Latino studies minor.

The group ended their march at Old Main, hanging signs like “education not marginalization” and “integration not segregation” on-site.

Student Manuel Figueroa, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, read off a list of requests he and his fellow students would like the university to consider. He said the list was sent to the university’s administration earlier this week.

Among their requests, they want the university to hire more faculty in Latino studies and recruit more Latino students, a separate department for Latino studies, more scholarly books and journals in the university’s library system, and a lecture series that brings in Latino scholars.

Penn State administrators will consider the items and meet with the students to discuss their ideas, university spokeswoman Lisa Powers said.

Grace Delgado, an assistant professor of history who is the faculty adviser for the group, said the group will spend the Christmas break fleshing out the requests. The group plans to continue pressing forward until their requests are met, she said.

As the faculty adviser for the Puerto Rican and Mexican-American student groups and someone who teaches Latino history courses, Delgado said she has had interactions with many Latino students.

They are “really positive about being at Penn State,” she said, “but after a while they begin to feel they are marginalized because there is a lack of resources allocated to them.”

Damon Sims, Penn State’s vice president for student affairs, said university officials are encouraged by the show of support for diversity across campus.

“We welcome continued dialogue and partnership with all students as we collectively seek ways to improve the experience at Penn State for all who are part of it,” Sims said.

Penn State senior Jake Plevelich was among the marchers who is denouncing the behavior.

“I just think in the 21st century, we shouldn’t tolerate 20th century expressions of intolerance,” he said.

The sorority’s chapter was put on probation by its parent organization, and the chapter president issued an apology for the photo.

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

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