Penn State

‘Black In America’ sparks racial discussion at Penn State

Soledad O’Brien leads a discussion of racial issues Wednesday as part of her “Black in America” tour at Eisenhower Auditorium.
Soledad O’Brien leads a discussion of racial issues Wednesday as part of her “Black in America” tour at Eisenhower Auditorium. CDT photo

Award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien and fellow panelists took to the stage at Eisenhower Auditorium Wednesday night to discuss race issues in America.

Students and locals of all ages and races filled the auditorium to join the panelists, St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, college administrator Julianne Malveaux and Penn State Black Caucus member Jada Hill, in an interactive lecture based on O’Brien’s series “Black in America.” After the presentation, audience members had a 15 minute question and answer session and meet-and-greet with O’Brien.

In a press conference before the lecture, O’Brien and her panelists discussed the opportunities college students have to educate themselves about racial issues.

“College campuses are an amazing place to have these conversations,” O’Brien said.

“Young people are in the moment of trying to figure out where they’re going and what their future is going to be. It’s important to bring a national conversation to a university campus … so people can understand what’s happening both inside their campus and outside of it.”

Malveaux, the president emerita of Bennett College for Women, emphasized the importance of using the college years as a time to explore various issues.

“You all will not be living in Happy Valley all of your life,” Malveaux said. “As an undergraduate, you will see problems you haven’t experienced yet — in Washington or Philadelphia or wherever you end up. As an undergraduate, you have the luxury of thinking without the obligations life gives you. That opportunity allows you to think about race.”

The panel was quick to emphasize that racial issues like the Michael Brown shooting, police profiling and Penn State’s own “die-in” protests are not just “black people problems,” but societal problems that involve everyone.

“Problems that affect African-Americans or Native Americans, they’re American problems,” French said. “It affects us all when a large percentage of Americans don’t feel like they have equal protection under the law.”

O’Brien also explained the importance of keeping the issues exposed in “Black in America” in the media, and why they are just now coming to the forefront.

“Conversations about how to act around police happen in families of color of any socio-economic standing,” O’Brien said. “This is something people of color know, but for people who are white — it’s a new thing. It’s really not a new thing. It’s an old thing that has finally bubbled to the service.”

Penn State was O’Brien’s fourth stop on the college tour of her series “Black in America.” The tour features universities across the country, including Florida International University and Purdue University.