IUP Punxsutawney’s racist past and present

A Civic Project story

Khandice J. Hampton, 20, of Philadelphia, outside Wilson Hall on Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s main campus, March 29. Hampton, a junior, spent her freshman year at IUP’s branch campus in Punxsutawney. Photo by Alexandria Mansfield.

By Alexandria M. Mansfield

PUNXSUTAWNEY –- On a Friday night in early April, students at this Indiana University of Pennsylvania branch campus do not roam the streets looking for their next party. No, students at this vintage-1962 institution burrow in their rooms like the town’s most famous mammal, celebrity groundhog Punxsutawney Phil.

Why? Because they have been warned by friends, family members and administrators against walking at night. Students don’t feel safe here.

“People would roll by and yell racial slurs out of their cars,” said Khandice J. Hampton, 20, of Philadelphia, in a March 29 interview in the Stapleton Library on the main IUP campus in Indiana. “It put a piece of fear in me. You see it on movies and TV, and you just don’t really think about it until it actually happens to you.”

Hampton, who attended IUP’s Jefferson County campus from the summer 2014 semester until the end of the spring 2015 semester, said she is just one of many black students at IUP who have experienced racism at Punxsutawney. Hampton, now a junior, plans to graduate in May 2018.

“There was stuff that was unnecessary,” Hampton recalled. “We were walking to a store, and a guy just rolled past and screamed, ‘N****rs!’”

The Philadelphia native said she and her classmates from the City of Brotherly Love never experienced racism like that before because, where they are from, everyone treated each other with respect or indifference, but not abhorrence like they experienced in Punxsy.

“When we first moved, we knew there was racism,” Hampton said. “People told us to be careful and not to go outside for no reason.”

Hampton said she experienced about four or five instances of racist remarks based on her skin color. She also noticed a disproportionate number of black students on Punxsutawney’s campus.

“It struck me as weird that most of the kids were black,” Hampton said. “Nine out of 10 people were black, in a racist neighborhood.”


FIGURES RELEASED at IUP’s main campus report that black students outnumber white students at the Punxsutawney campus by a ratio of two to one. (See table, below.) On the main campus in Indiana, the ratios are reversed and multiplied: White students outnumber black students by a ratio of roughly nine to one.

A university spokeswoman said the racial sorting between the campuses is attributable to self-selection by students. It’s “really up to the students’ preference” which campus they attend, said Michelle S. Fryling, communications and media relations executive director, said in an April 17 interview in her Sutton Hall office.

Recently, however, IUP announced plans for “reinvention” of the Punxsutawney campus to help commuters and Jefferson County residents. Now, said Fryling, student admissions are decided on a “case-by-case basis.”

“We decide based on the best fit,” Fryling said. “It was always a campus for the first-year experience. It’s always been a resource for Jefferson County and the surrounding neighborhoods.”

According to Fryling, the new admissions policy for the Punxsy campus will go into effect for students admitted for the fall 2017 semester.

Richard J. Muth, director of IUP’s Punxsutawney’s and Northpointe branch campuses, did not immediately respond to an April 13 email requesting an interview. In an April 21 email, Muth wrote that he would be “happy to help” and offered his phone number. On April 25, he rescinded the offer and directed all questions to Fryling.


HOWEVER, IUP PRESIDENT Michael A. Driscoll addressed the changed plans for Punxsy in a Nov. 11 speech in Gorrell Recital Hall.

“We’re going to stop assigning large numbers of new freshman to the Punxsutawney campus,” Driscoll said.

He added that all freshman will be permitted to start on the main campus.

“We’re going to further emphasize the signature culinary arts program in Punxsutawney and look for opportunities that may be unique to the region for students interested in our hospitality-management program as well,” Driscoll said.

On March 23, Driscoll spoke at a Council of Trustees meeting in Punxsutawney for only the second time since his 2012 appointment as IUP president.

“We have been using this campus as a proving ground for transferring students to the Indiana campus,” Driscoll said at the meeting. “A few of those students have been from this region, but most are not from this region. We had lost sight of what this campus was originally intended to do, which was to serve the needs of the citizens of this region. And, it’s for that reason we are redesigning what our Punxsutawney Regional Campus does and who it serves.”

Neither Driscoll nor Fryling addressed reports of racial incidents at the satellite campus.

“I have not heard of those,” Fryling said. “I am not aware of those.”


DESPITE THE NEW admissions policy, Punxsutawney has a history of racism to reckon with.

Before the civil rights revolution that culminated in the 1960s, Punxsutawney ranked among the most racist towns in Pennsylvania, according to a June 22 article on RoadSnacks.net titled “These Are The 10 Cities In Pennsylvania With The Most KKK Members.” RoadSnacks is an online publication based in Durham, N.C. It aims to “deliver infotainment about where you live” using data and analytics to “determine the dirt on places across the country.”

According to the article, “Hate groups can be hard to measure, because typically, there’s no record of where they exist. But there is data on where there were distinct Klaverns of the Ku Klux Klan in each state.”

The report noted that at the Klan’s height in the last century 144 Klaverns were active in Pennsylvania, and Punxsutawney was the state’s 58th most racist town among 100 analyzed.

That history resonates with students interviewed on the Punxsutawney campus.

“It was kind of a dumb place to put this campus,” Deja L. Wilson, 19, of Allentown, said in an April 28 interview in the campus’ combined residential and academic building. Wilson described it as a “culture shock” for students from urban areas.

“Punxsy is very isolated, obviously,” said Wilson, a freshman psychology major who is finishing her first year at the Punxsutawney campus and is planning to transfer to the main campus for the fall 2017 semester. “I don’t know if people here are necessarily racist. But they aren’t welcoming.”

Wilson said she noticed a difference in the way she is treated when she shops at the local Walmart.

A store employee watches her the entire time she shops in the store, Wilson said. But to white customers, the employee is more welcoming, calling them “honey” when she speaks to them.

Hampton, the junior from Philadelphia, said the Punxsutawney’s campus is set up so students don’t need to go into town. The dining hall, residence hall, classrooms and most anything else students need are located “conveniently” in one building, Hampton said.

IUP Punxsutawney’s combined “living-learning” building. Photo by Alexandria Mansfield.

The residential facility, which opened in fall 2005, is attached to the classroom and administration building, which opened in fall 2006. The two buildings completed a $19 million living-learning complex that can house 194 students in a suite-style residential and academic facility. Fall 2016 enrollment was 151, according to numbers provided by the main campus.

Students can “go days without stepping outside,” Hampton added.

“Walking places wasn’t really recommended,” Hampton said. “I wasn’t going out places at certain times. We would joke about it. But it was a necessary thing.”


IN DECEMBER 2016, IUP released a Campus Climate Study Report, a year after a racist Snapchat photo and caption roiled the main campus.

The report included results of an anonymous survey of IUP students and faculty members. Some respondents said isolating students in Punxsy hindered their learning.

“Words like ‘horrible idea’ and ‘outrageous’ were used to describe the IUP practice of sending the lowest achieving, predominantly minority (African-American and Latino/a) students to spend one year at the geographically, socially and academically isolated Punxsutawney campus,” reads the study on page 46.

Statistics provided by spokeswoman Fryling showed that 88 of Punxsutawney’s 151 students, or 58.3 percent, were black in 2016; 45 white students were 29.8 percent of the Punxsy student population that year. The remaining 11.9 percent of students were four Asian or Pacific Islander, four Hispanic, eight multi-racial and two unknown.


Student ethnicity, IUP Punxsutawney campus, academic year 2016-17

Ethnicity                                                    Number                   Percentage

Black Non-Hispanic                                88                              58.28 %
White Non-Hispanic                               45                               29.8
Multi-Racial                                               8                                  5.3
Hispanic                                                      4                                  2.65
Asian or Pacific Islander                          4                                 2.65
Unknown                                                     2                                 1.32

TOTALS                                                   151                                  100%


IUP sociology professors Melanie D. Hildebrandt and Melissa L. Swauger, co-authors of the campus-climate study, found “students who spend their first year in college at the Punxsutawney campus are less likely to remain at IUP into the second or third years and graduate in lower rates than their peers starting on main campus.”

Student retention is measured as the rate at which a school’s first-year undergraduate students continue at the same school the next year. For example, if two students start their careers in higher education at IUP and graduate from IUP, the retention rate would be 100 percent. If one student leaves IUP in the third year, the third-year retention rate would be 50 percent.

In 2013, Punxsutawney second- and third-year retention rates were 67 and 57 percent, respectively. In that same year, the retention rates for main campus were 75 and 67 percent, respectively, according to Hildebrandt and Swauger. This indicates a trend of unsuccessfulness among first-year Punxsutawney students who try to assimilate to IUP’s main campus classes and culture.

Hildebrandt and Swauger offered several explanations for this pattern, including that Punxsutawney students face an added strain of adjusting to campus life twice.

However, Hampton, the Punxsy student from Philadelphia, said the branch campus’ cloistered environment was a plus.

“Overall, I personally think Punxsy was a great way to start out college because it was small and close enough to start out without being overwhelming,” Hampton said. “I think it was a pro and a good start to my college career.”



IUP Punxsutawney: ‘… a “little hamster cage surrounded by white people who hate us.’

Khandice J. Hampton, 20, of Philadelphia, former IUP Punxsutawney student



But the surrounding community posed a problem, Hampton added. She wondered why the admissions office would put them in a “little hamster cage surrounded by white people who hate us.”


THE UNIVERSITY’S UPCOMING transition for Punxsutawney students has raised another concern, however. Students who previously received extra attention and academic assistance in smaller and more personal learning groups at the branch campus no longer will have those same options at the main campus.

Wilson, the freshman from Allentown, worried about transitioning from the branch campus to the larger main campus.

“The idea of Punxsy is beneficial to a lot of students, and beneficial to me,” Wilson said. “People don’t realize how big of a change college is. Punxsy is good for people.”

Fryling said the main campus will provide support for Punxsy students transferring to Indiana.

“Students who may be coming to IUP with some academic support needs that may have been assigned to IUP Punxsutawney in the past will come to IUP through the department of developmental studies,” Fryling wrote in an April 28 email.

She added that a College Undergraduate Success Program offers a week of study skills, time management and other college basics for academic credit immediately before the start of the fall semester.

Some Punxsutawney students, however, are less enthusiastic about the change.

“I definitely appreciate coming here because it helped me identify why I’m here,” Wilson said. “I hate that people like to kind of bash Punxsy. People don’t know what Punxsy is.”

Wilson said she wishes IUP would keep the Punxsutawney experience but change its location.

Alexandria M. Mansfield, a junior journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania from Wellsboro, is a staff reporter for The HawkEye. She may be contacted at A.M.Mansfield@iup.edu


Sidebar: For more information or to get involved

For more information about this story or to get engaged in the issues raised, contact the following sources:

Michael Driscoll
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
201 Sutton Hall
1011 South Drive
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-2200
Email: Michael.Driscoll@iup.edu

Pablo Mendoza
Assistant to the President for Social Equity
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
B17 Susan Snell Delaney Hall
920 Grant Street
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-3402
Email: Mendoza@iup.edu

Richard Muth
IUP branch campuses at Punxsutawney and Northpointe
Academic Building
167 Northpointe Blvd
Freeport, PA 16229
Phone: 724-294-3300
Email: Richard.Muth@iup.edu

Melanie Hildebrandt
Professor of sociology
McElhaney Hall, Room 112C
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-7635
Email: Melanie.Hildebrandt@iup.edu

Melissa Swauger
Professor of sociology
McElhaney Hall, Room 112H
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-0158
Email: MSwauger@iup.edu

Michelle Fryling
Executive director of communications and media relations
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
314 Sutton Hall
1011 South Drive
Indiana, PA 15705
Email: Michelle.Fryling@iup.edu

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5 Responses to IUP Punxsutawney’s racist past and present

  1. This story kind of gets muddied by the pros/cons of a branch campus, but I was stunned that there is allegedly such a racism problem there. I grew up not that far away in a very similar town (Clarion, Pa.,) — and went to college at IUP in Indiana. I would love to see a story with a stronger focus on the racist problems in Punxsy, particularly if they are truly so bad that college students won’t go outside! Is Indiana different? Is Clarion, where there is a state school, different? Is it Punxsy in particular or all of rural Pennsylvania? What do town officials think of that allegation? What does the NAACP or other civil rights groups think of that allegation? What is the university doing about it? This could be fascinating if more fully sourced. This story has one source who says people are racist, and one who doesn’t know if they are necessarily racist but thinks the WalMart cashiers aren’t as friendly (isn’t that a problem everywhere?). It’s a big allegation to make on the words of one person, and I’d like to see more voices, but definitely worth developing further!
    — Diane, IUP Class of 2000, Journalism

  2. David R Setree says:

    I am sure that the idea of Punxsutawney residents being unwelcoming and racist is very overblown and can not be laid at the feet of the residents only. First of all, the presence of KKK members here (after the 1920’s) is mostly because of one outspoken and media savvy man who is now deceased. One or two loudmouths can paint a thousand with a single comment mumbled in public.
    As far as being unwelcoming? I have lived her most of my life except for my college years and have traveled widely. I can not recall having much contact with ANY IUP students since my sisters attended this branch in the mid-1960’s. They once had a dinner at my restaurant (30 years ago) in which they stole all the wine glasses from the tables (Hey! They are collage students! And the teacher returned them all) and there were no hard feelings.
    I believe this might be systemic because of what this article describes all the students needs being ” located “conveniently” in one building” hence avoiding any need for interaction with the towns residents. Yes. I see IUP students every day. But only while they are walking on the sidewalk and I am driving by. I would like to meet and get to know a few!
    I was once asked, a few years ago, to speak to a class about my experience in owning and running a restaurant. Perhaps the admiration and the teachers could expand this and let us residents get to know the students on their own turf?


    David R Setree
    Punxsutawney resident.

  3. craig smith says:

    i moved to Punxsy from Pittsburgh in 1994, in the middle of my first year in high school. I knew that it was going to be a bit of a culture shock seeing as how I came from a predominantly black school district. Within my second week of living there, we had an assembly and were told that there was going to be a KKK rally at the high school within a couple weeks. I thought to myself isn’t it 1994, who the hell allows a KKK rally to happen at a high school, and I was also pretty sure that I hadn’t even seen a person of color in Punxsy? I thought to myself how can you hate people because of the color of there skin, let alone people that you don’t interact with on a daily basis, it was kinda hard to process? I’m not saying all Punxsy people are bad most of my best friends live there still, it was just weird to hangout with people driving trucks with rebel flags in their windows, while bumping Tupac and West Side Connections and yelling the “N” word out the window to the coolege kids. Shit was just weird to me, thats why as soon as I graduated high school I moved away.

    • David R Setree says:

      I was a Television news reporter during the period of which you speak. The High School Administration had allowed a Christian event to be held and a local man (mentioned in my first comment) fought a legal battle with help from the ACLU for the right to use the auditorium for the KKK meeting.
      He imported a bunch of skin-heads from outlying areas and there was about a dozen loud mouths show up. Since this man’s death quite long ago, there has been no activity of the KKK variety.
      Come on. This was almost 25 years ago no and most people remember it because this certain man made it onto a Discovery Channel documentary and they still play it occasionally
      I’m not saying there is zero prejudice in Punxsutawney but there is certainly no more than any other small city and I believe a whole lot less!

  4. Josh says:

    Yins r incorrect n put a bad name to a good small town with good down home values I was born n raised in Punxsutawney n I’ve worked in few different states n I can tell u that there’s no other place I’d want raise my kids than here in a small knit town were u know most people other than raise kids in a place like philly were they can get shanked for there shoes walkin to school .

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