Penn State Won’t Open Promised Racial Justice Center

In 2021, the university said it would create a center dedicated to anti-racist pedagogy and research. Last week, officials announced they would instead focus on existing DEI initiatives.
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  • In the aftermath of the 2020 protests for racial justice, Penn State officials announced plans to open a racial justice center.
  • Last week, university leaders announced they won't be moving forward with that effort and will instead focus on existing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives.
  • Some racial justice advocates, including Bernice King, CEO of the King Center, criticized the move.

The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) won't open a racial justice center that university officials promised in the wake of the 2020 protests for racial justice.

Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi last week announced the university will not create a promised Center for Racial Justice. Instead, she said, the university will focus funds on existing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) efforts, such as closing graduation rate gaps, diversifying faculty, and promoting staff equity.

"I have determined that enhancing support for current efforts by people who know Penn State best will be more impactful than investing in a new venture, and so we will not pursue efforts to launch a Center for Racial Justice," Bendapudi said in a statement.

Bendapudi highlighted the university's potential to "expand, connect and invest in the work of our faculty experts and existing networks in a way that grows our impact and standing as an institution in this scholarly discipline."

Former Penn State President Eric J. Barron first floated the concept of "a center, institute or consortium dedicated to anti-racist, anti-bias pedagogy and scholarly research" at the beginning of 2021. He formally announced the formation of a new Center for Racial Justice in September 2021. Last March, university officials began searching for a director for the planned racial justice center.

The university's tenuous financial situation may have contributed to the move. Penn State is facing budget cuts and ran a $127 million deficit during the last fiscal year, according to SpotlightPA.

The estimated cost for the center was at least $3.5 million over five years, Lisa Powers, Penn State senior director for strategic communications, told BestColleges via email.

Bendapudi said in the release that the university will invest at least that much in existing DEIB initiatives, like the Center for Education and Civil Rights, the Africana Research Center, the Rock Ethics Institution, and the Penn State Dickinson Law's Antiracist Development Institute.

Scrapping plans for the racial justice center drew criticism from some advocates, including Bernice King, the CEO of the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

"DEI work and racial justice/eradicating racism are NOT the same thing," King wrote in a tweet. "We can have diversity, inclusion and a semblance of equity, and still not have justice. The Center could have helped get there at this institution and beyond."