Penn State reflects on MLK’s legacy

Campus hosts luncheon, conversation

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski / Penn State Altoona Residence Life Director Jeet Sausen, campus ministry staff members Evan Kephart, Nate Powles and Heather Turnwall (from left) sort donated winter garments in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service at the United Way of Blair County, Duncansville, on Monday. The clothes were gathered during Blair County’s recent “Share the Warmth” drive.

In an effort to combat inequality and as a way to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Penn State Altoona hosted a reflection luncheon and conversation Monday.

Sponsored by the Office of Institutional Equity, Diversity and International Student Services, participants discussed current challenges and what might be done now to address those issues. Organizers hoped the event would give attendees tools to use today, this semester and this year in combating inequality.

Typically, the campus brings in a speaker to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but “students tell us ‘we don’t do anything with that information,'” said Sue Patterson, director of student diversity and inclusion programming.

To reach out and connect people face-to-face, Penn State Altoona student Amarillys Aponte-Lee volunteered to help organize a different kind of event with Patterson.

“I had a lot of conversations with Sue. Our deepest desire for this is to take concrete steps to make a difference in the local community that aligns with Dr. King’s vision,” Aponte-Lee said.

About 50 people attended the free event, which was open to the public. Anyone who submitted an RSVP had a seat for the conversation. Discussing a variety of topics were a mix of ethnicities and ages, students and members of the community.

While the ideas the participants came up with weren’t huge — some were as simple as recycling or listening to someone’s story — those ideas were given as small steps toward making the world a better, fairer place.

Patricia Curry, who retired from Sears as the first black female worker in the Altoona Sears auto center, sat at a table discussing the legal system.

Curry said she wanted to start a program for single mothers that teaches them the basics of running a household so they can avoid poor decision-making that might result in the foster system removing children from the home.

When it comes to identifying a social issue to take on, Rabbi Audrey Korotkin of Temple Beth Israel in Altoona said she was interested in first collecting knowledge from public information sources to advocate for policy change. Patterns of racial or economic disparity may be revealed by a closer look at public reports from state agencies, including the corrections system and the education system, she said.

Campus minister Heather Turnwall sat at the economic disparity discussion table, where she drew on her experience as a worker at a poor school in San Antonio, Texas.

“Schools aren’t as funded, which results in fewer resources for students to stay on track for a successful life in the work world. There are holes in the education system that lead to closed opportunities in the economic system,” she said.

The connections among the systems is what Aponte-Lee hoped participants would see.

“I hope people are seeing how things intersect — in education, the legal system, even the environment — all play a part when you talk about inequality,” she said. “I hope people consider that when they talk about these topics.”

After the lunch and discussion, Penn State Altoona students volunteered for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service event. Hosted by the Office of Student and Civic Engagement, the service project at the United Way of Blair County saw students helping to sort items donated during Blair County’s recent Share the Warmth drive, where items such as hats, gloves, coats and blankets were collected.

Other Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities this week include a showing of the film “Selma” at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Slep Student Center. The showing is free and open to the public.