The Africana Research Center (ARC) and the Institute for the Arts and Humanities (IAH) embarked on an initiative fall 2003 called In Pursuit of Social Justice: Recognizing Pennsylvania Black Artists. The ARC’s mission is to promote diversity through Black scholarship, whereas the IAH focuses on scholarship through the arts and humanities. Although we are both Penn State entities, as research centers a central component of our programming is outreach. We entered into this partnership to promote diversity not only on campus, but to be a beacon to increasing diversity throughout the central Pennsylvania area. Penn State brings to the university and community diverse cultural events, but these events are rarely free and open to the public. Our plan is to provide culturally diverse events that are free or at a reduced cost and open to the public. We believe that Recognizing Pennsylvania Black Artists initiative provides a format to address to two specific problems at once.
One problem is the lack of racial diversity in Centre County and the contiguous counties in Central Pennsylvania. Based on the U.S. 2000 census, approximately 10% of Pennsylvania’s population is African American, which is currently the largest racial minority group in Pennsylvania. The majority of Pennsylvania’s racial minority group lives in the urban areas such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg. In contrast, African Americans constitute approximately 2.6% of Centre County’s population (40% of the 2.6% is in the State College Borough), with the African American population in surrounding counties ranging from .5% (Mifflin & Clinton) to 6.9% (Union; 5.1% Huntington). The absence of a diverse workforce and community has a direct impact on the cultural attitudes of individuals, which highlights the second problem that needs to be addressed: negative attitudes toward racial minorities. Lack of positive exposure unfortunately promotes negative stereotypes, which creates a cycle of negative racial attitudes when contact is not positive. This state of affairs is most unfortunate in the 21st century and has been evident even on Penn State’s campus as well. Currently, there are about 5,000 students of color out of a population of approximately 41,000 students at Penn State’s University Park campus. Students of color, especially African American students, continually report experiences of being called racial slurs by White individuals, on campus and off campus. Penn State’s main campus is centrally located in the middle of Pennsylvania. Its location draws students from surrounding areas, which are the heart of Appalachia and, as noted before, is virtually lacking in racial diversity in population.
To address the two problems—lack of racial diversity in the community and the presence of negative racial attitudes toward racial minorities—we believe that offering more culturally diverse events to the general public in Centre County will facilitate racial minorities to be interested in coming and settling in the area and that positive cultural events will strengthen the already existing positive racial attitudes in the community, which in turn may offset the negative ones. In essence, we want to promote and increase a more welcoming atmosphere and inclusive racial attitude in the community. As the largest employer of individuals in central Pennsylvania, we believe that Penn State has an obligation to the community to be a leader in fostering diversity. In addition, its status lends credence to the ambitious plan that we have and provides us the visibility in the community and state to accomplish our goals.
Pennsylvania Black Artists Honored at Penn State through this Initiative
Recognizing Pennsylvania Black Artists is an initiative to foster state pride and, at the same time, to promote cultural diversity. Over the next five years (2003-2008), ARC and IAH have planned to recognize Pennsylvania Black artists, which include musicians, fiction writers, playwrights, painters, dancers, poets, and photographers, who have made a significant contribution to the state as well as to the world. By inviting them to Penn State at University Park, our central location provides the opportunity to expose the community to talented Pennsylvanians who we all can be proud of and at the same time offer an educational opportunity to know more about Blacks’ contribution to Pennsylvania. Our goal is to have a major Pennsylvania Black artist to come to the community every semester. In the long run, the goal is of this initiative is to serve as a catalyst to increase focus and production of scholarship on Blacks in the arts and humanities by means of recruitment, classroom focus, discipline focus, archival development at Penn State, recruiting noted “Black artists” to spend time in the community in resident, and the development of an Africana post-doctoral fellowship program focused on the humanities.