Inaugural State of State conference opens dialogue, ideas

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — More than 300 students, community members, faculty and staff gathered Sunday (March 30) to talk about a variety of topics that concern the Penn State and surrounding State College communities.

“It was really encouraging to hear other people say, ‘Yes, I’ve been waiting for something like this. I think there’s a need,’ ” said State of State co-director Suzanne Zakaria. “It’s hard to fill a room at all, but especially hard to fill a room on a Sunday morning, so I think that a packed Alumni Hall is a testament to the need people recognized in the community to gather around a conference that promotes dialogue.”

The conference consisted of 15 student, faculty and community speakers on several key issues, including the importance of constructive dialogue in the community, diversity, institutional trauma resulting from the Sandusky scandal and the future of Penn State education.

After a series of speakers presented on each topic, there were four breakout discussion sessions moderated by trained facilitators to allow all conference participants to engage in the conversation. Participants were seated at round tables with members from different parts of the community and spent the entire conference talking with each other. Zakaria said that conversation element of State of State is what people left the day talking about.

State of State 2014 conference

More than 300 students, community members, faculty and staff gathered Sunday (March 30) to talk about a variety of topics that concern the Penn State and surrounding State College communities during the inaugural State of State conference.

  • Penn State junior Britta Schumcher speaks during a roundtable discussion.

    State of State conference roundtable

    Penn State junior Britta Schumcher talks about the importance of learning about different cultures other than your own during a roundtable discussion with State of State conference participants.

    Image: Adam Stavely
  • Penn State junior Bret Turner talks about discrimination within the LGBT community

    State of State conference 1

    Bret Turner, a junior at Penn State, discussed internalized discrimination within the LGBT community and issues that face LGBT students in relation to the Penn State community as a whole.

    Image: Adam Stavely
  • Penn State senior lecturer Sam Richards talks about dialogue as the starting point for action.

    State of State conference 3

    Sam Richards, a senior lecturer of sociology at Penn State, was the first speaker of the State of State conference and talked about dialogue as the starting point for action.

    Image: Adam Stavely
  • Senior Emma Gregory talks about THON.

    State of State conference 2

    Senior Emma Gregory talked about creating a platform for constructive dialogue about THON, its size, and its effect on the rest of the university. Gregory has served both as a morale and public relations captain for the organization.

    Image: Adam Stavely

In its first year as an officially recognized Penn State student organization, State of State was the idea of Zakaria and co-director Patrick Boynton, both seniors at Penn State.

“There wasn’t a forum that was well-attended, that was consistent, that wasn’t reactionary and that was always there for students, faculty, administrators, community members and alumni to gather, not only hear what was happening at Penn State, but then to discuss and push their own ideas,” Zakaria said.

State of State organizers are hoping to expand the conference dialogue to other smaller salon events in addition to an annual conference next year. Applications to be on the 2014-15 executive committee are available on the State of State website, and the deadline to submit an application is 5 p.m. on Wednesday, April 9. Videos of the conference speakers also will soon be available on the website.

“Hopefully this conference will get bigger and hopefully this outreach will be greater,” Zakaria said, adding that State of State is encouraging people to send in their own ideas to improve an issue at Penn State and the group will try to help implement some of those ideas. “We really want to encourage actionable ideas,” she said.

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