The racial climate on campus, and off

Race and IUP: a Civic Project story

Indiana University of Pennsylvania student Justin G. Cobb at a rally sponsored by The Racial Justice Coalition for Change, Stapleton Library, Nov, 1. Photo by Tiffany Brisbon.

By Tiffany Brisbon

INDIANA — For four years, Justin G. Cobb, a senior communications media major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, has heard people talk. Racist talk. On campus.

“I’ve heard some things you wouldn’t believe,” said Cobb, 20, as he held a “no hate” sign at a Nov. 1 rally against racism in front of Stapleton Library.

His African-American friends have been called the “N” word, he said. But that’s only part of the problem.

“I’m looked at as your typical white male,” Cobb said. “Fine. My black girlfriend is looked at with disgust.”

The issue goes beyond the personal, Cobb said.

“There is racism on an institutional level,” he said.

THE CRITIQUE is not unique. IUP students, faculty members and administrators collectively have grappled with hate speech on campus well before the Nov. 8, 2016, presidential election of Donald Trump.  Within a month, the Southern Poverty Law Center issued a report documenting nearly 900 hate-motivated incidents, many on college campuses, within 10 days of Trump’s election.

At IUP, the hate-speech timeline begins with two recent Snapchats. The first, posted by a white female IUP student in December 2015, launched rallies, speeches, studies and public discussions. Since February 2016, the rallies have been regular events sponsored by the Racial Justice Coalition for Change. 

In December 2016, a yearlong campus-climate study by sociology professors Melanie D. Hildebrandt and Melissa L. Swauger described campus life as “segregated” for black students and diversity efforts as “insincere” and “fragmented.” The descriptions were based on campus-wide surveys, focus groups and interviews.

“Respondents perceived a lack of interest or concern, a willful ignorance if not downright hostility, coming from both people in authority positions, including some upper level administrators and faculty, as well as majority groups on campus,” the study reported.


THEN CAME the second racist Snapchat, posted Sept. 4, 2017, by a white male IUP student. It, too, prompted an institutional response. But it differed from the first.

In the first case, IUP President Michael A. Driscoll responded promptly in a Dec. 9, 2015, letter posted one day after the offending Snapchat. That evening, he addressed students’ concerns and answered questions at an event in front of Wallwork Hall.

Following the 2017 incident, Driscoll responded with a letter dated Sept. 11, one week later.

Yaw A. Asamoah, dean of the IUP College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Photo from IUP website.

Yaw A. Asamoah, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said the university erred in its late response following the second Snapchat incident.

“The university community is now resolved that quicker responses to incidents of that type are needed,” Asamoah said in a Nov. 10 interview in his McElhaney Hall office.

IUP spokeswoman Michelle S. Fryling said the administration is trying to create an environment that is diverse and inclusive, including asking students what they should do.


IUP spokeswoman Michelle S. Fryling. File photo.

“I’m not a student of color,” Fryling said in an Oct. 19 interview in her Sutton Hall office. “I don’t know how students feel. I want them to feel welcomed.”


TO IMPROVE the campus climate, a President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion is preparing a plan, Asamoah said. It will include a list of recommendations drafted by Asamoah, other administrators and students.

Recommendations will include centralizing functions that promote diversity and inclusion, reporting and preparing responses to “silly” social-media incidents, using curriculum to discuss social justice, hiring diverse faculty and staff and supporting student retention, Asamoah said. The final list will be forwarded to Driscoll.

“We’re struggling to find ways that have all of us involved,” Asamoah said.

A preliminary draft of the plan has been posted to the university’s website. Comments are invited through Feb. 23.


Deanne Snavely, dean of the IUP College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, joined other members of the Racial Justice Coalition for Change in front of Stapleton Library, Sept. 2, 2016. File photo.

BUT ONLY OVERT FORMS of racism are being addressed, Cobb said. Institutional racism must be addressed, too.

The RJCC, meanwhile, is independent of the administration and promotes diversity in the wider community, said Deanne Snavely, dean of natural sciences and mathematics and an RJCC leader.

“In the end, all we have is our voice,” Snavely said at the Nov. 1 RJCC rally.

Tiffany Brisbon, a senior majoring in communication media and journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Philadelphia.





Sidebar: The off-campus climate in Indiana, Pa.

INDIANA — During the annual 2017 Homecoming weekend, the racial climate on the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus migrated to the main street of this college town in another incident highlighted on social media.

On Oct. 7, a video surfaced on Facebook showing an Oct. 6 arrest of a black, 22-year-old, IUP information systems and decisions sciences major. The video of William A. James Jr. evidently was taken by his father. It shows the younger James with his hands up being tackled to the pavement on Philadelphia Street by a half dozen white officers from what appear to be different police agencies.

Police charged James with resisting arrest, criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief. A police news release was published eight days later.

“He shows no sign of resistance at any point,” reads the caption under the video shot by James Sr. “THIS HAS TO STOP. He wasn’t gravely injured but I can only imagine what others have felt with so many incidents occurring so frequently.”

Borough police declined comment on the video. James Sr. and James Jr. also declined comment.

The video has been viewed more than 340,000 times.

— by Tiffany Brisbon


Sidebar: For more information or to get involved

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

Michael A. Driscoll, Ph.D.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
201 Sutton Hall
1011 South Drive
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-2200

Michelle S. Fryling
Executive director of communications and media relations
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
314 Sutton Hall
1011 South Drive
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: (724) 357-2302

Yaw Asamoah, Ph. D.
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
McElhaney Hall, Room 201
441 North Walk
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-2280

Racial Justice Coalition for Change
Social Equity Office
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Susan S. Delaney Hall, Rm B17
920 Grant Street
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-3402

Melanie D. Hildebrandt, Ph.D.
Professor of sociology
McElhaney Hall, Room 112C
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-7635

Melissa L. Swauger, Ph.D.
Professor of sociology
McElhaney Hall, Room 112H
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-0158

Center for Multicultural Student Leadership and Engagement Personnel
Theodore G. Turner
307 Pratt Hall,
201 Pratt Drive
Phone: 724-357-2598


Sidebar: About us

The HawkEye  is a civic- and community-journalism project involving students in the Department of Journalism & Public Relations at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

These undergraduates report and write public-service investigative stories focused on their campus, their community and the county. The stories are rooted in the curriculum of the News Reporting classes taught by IUP journalism professor David O. Loomis Ph.D.

The students’ work has won awards from the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, a statewide professional and trade group based in Harrisburg. The association has honored the students’ public-service enterprise reporting, a professional practice emphasized by the online newspaper. The practice, according to the PNA, encourages publication of “any special project that exposed a problem or issue and thus benefited the public ….”

The HawkEye’s PNA awards date to 2005. Eight times student stories published in the online newspaper have been submitted to the association’s annual, statewide, Keystone collegiate-journalism competition. Each time, the IUP students have won honors.

The HawkEye encourages interaction with readers and welcomes accountability for its reporting. Contact editor David Loomis, Ph.D.,  at or at 724-357-2742.

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