From Scott: crappy weather not withstanding, it’s an exciting time – the beginning of the spring semester at Dear Old State.

SPRING semester? That seems so far off right now, like walking to California. Or China. My snow shovel is just getting warmed up for what could be an interesting two months – or three?

But May will come and with it beautiful flowers and trees, warmer temperatures – and thousands of new Penn State graduates ready to take on the world. And for too many, eventually their student loan debt. Can’t avoid it, even as many really tried during the pandemic. Back to reality, like all those who came before them.

But let’s keep this positive – we’re calling this series Noble Goals for PSU. Our outstanding university has found ways to be in the forefront on many occasions over the years. Not bad for a school that many thought was in the middle of nowhere.

Back in the early 1980’s legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant grimaced as his team had to land in Harrisburg and take a two hour bus ride up to State College. Maybe it was his complaints – and Joe Paterno’s urging – that eventually got University Park Airport (now State College Regional Airport) to expand. Thanks Bear. And Joepa. 

But that out of the way school has been in the lead in many other ways…

  • Fielding the first two black players to take part in the Cotton Bowl football game in Texas in 1948. WAY overdue.
  • The Penn State artificial heart, which helped to further that research into prolonging lives over 40 years ago. And also the first real pacemaker.
  • A microscope that was so fine it could see individual atoms. Yep, did that in the 1950’s. 
  • The first planet to be discovered outside our own solar system. That’s commonplace now, but it wasn’t when Professor Alexander Wolszczan did it back in the 1990’s.
  • When Penn State announced it was joining the Big Ten (back when it was actually TEN) in December 1989, it sent shock waves across the country. Other schools started jockeying for positions in other leagues. Remember the Southwest Conference? All that shifting killed it in 1996. 
  • Penn State won the football national championship, or at least part of it, after their undefeated 1994 season. Don’t let a bunch of ignorant reporter voters tell you otherwise – those buffoons handed it to Nebraska. But that embarrassment ultimately led to the Bowl Championship Series, then the four team college football playoff, and next year the 12 team version. PSU started that.
  • And then there’s THON, an absolute one of a kind event imitated across the country. But no one can ever challenge THON for its outreach, the largest student-run philanthropy on planet Earth. It’s stunning every year what those kids accomplish.

And on and on. PSU has been a leader in so many endeavors. And now – it’s time for something new, if the right people have the courage to try it. A noble goal…

First, the back story – in the prior PSU administration some activists took advantage of our recent tumultuous times to start what at first seemed like a good idea. Prior President Eric Barron apparently liked the idea so they signed on to eventually creating what was to be called the Center for Racial Justice. 

Sounds good, right? Who doesn’t want justice and fairness and equality and the like? Should have been a slam dunk in the post George Floyd era.

But then the new administration of Dr. Neeli Bendapudi came in and shot it all down. WHAT? Some people were, and still are, outraged. And a “woman of color”” at that, what is she thinking?

Maybe the same thing we’re thinking – that a “Center for Racial Justice” is a terrible idea. Yes, terrible.

Before the racist accusations start up, let’s explain…

The story begins several years ago when I was visiting Washington DC for a fun summer weekend. The Smithsonian museums there are a masterpiece, something every American should visit at least once in their lifetimes. A pilgrimage of history, art, music, entertainment and knowledge.

While visiting the Museum of Natural History I came across an exhibit and a number that has stuck with me ever since – 99.9.

What’s the significance of that number? 

Here’s the fact – if you look at every single person in the world, no matter their skin color or their point of origin or their home or their background, our DNA is 99.9 percent the SAME. What makes you a human in comparison to a dog or a tree or any other living thing. Our amazing and complex DNA is virtually identical, you and me and everyone else out there. American or Chinese or African or Finn or aboriginal Australian. Even those hidden tribes of the Amazon – 99.9 percent the same. 

That means that all of the “racial” talk you hear out there is just talk. On Earth their is just ONE race – the human race. We’re all on the same team. 

And I submit that we will NEVER get past this racial animus. NEVER – until we finally realize that simple fact that there is no white race, black race, Asian race, Hispanic race, etc. Doesn’t matter if the Encyclopedia Britannica claims there are 3 to 60 races. There’s ONE – and DNA proves it. No wonder no one buys Britannica’s books anymore. 

So a Center for Racial Justice would be a waste of space and lots of money if the fact remains that only one race exists. The idea is totally misguided. 

That word “justice” ‘is a tinged word. Some might think “revenge” is more accurate. The current debate over DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) on college campuses and in business is starting to reveal that such thinking won’t solve these problems and instead is making the situation worse with shaming and finger pointing.

Anti-racism? Won’t work and isn’t working. It’s because when we separate people into races they’ll ALWAYS be separated. Those walls will always be up, never to be eliminated. Instead of human you’ll always be white, or black, or Asian, or “of color,” or pick your favorite niche group. The problems will never be solved. NEVER. 

Instead it’s time for a new track of thinking, what we should have been doing all along. What divides us is not race, it’s culture. 

Think about it. With the old thinking about race it’s something you’re born into and you’ll never escape. If you’re black you’re always black. You’ll always be different from others and that’s what those others will always concentrate on, even when they don’t want to. You’re stuck.

But when we start to realize that all humans are actually brothers and sisters (drag out all of those old folk songs at this point,) now those walls start to come down. We ARE on the same team. Who cares about skin color, or height and weight, or how your face looks, or any physical features. 

What divides us is culture. And the crazy thing about culture is – you can CHOOSE your culture. You may be born into one but at some point if you’re disillusioned with it, you can decide to change up and try another. Now it becomes the CHOICES we make that determine who we are, not some artificial “racial” construct that you’re stuck with.

Dr. King was right about “the content of their character.” And that ultimately comes down to the CHOICES you make, not what you’re physically made of. “Race” is a false choice. 

And if Penn State wants to again lead into the future with others to follow, a new Center for Cultural Differences would be a groundbreaking way to start getting there.

Example: the current war in Gaza. Different races there? Some would believe so – incorrectly. It’s about culture, in this case primarily Jewish culture vs. Muslim culture. There are many differences – but there are also some similarities. We could start with Abraham from the Bible – anyone been to Sunday School? The Book of Genesis, each of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim religions has their version. 

A Center for Cultural Differences could examine those differences and similarities, put together programs and events to highlight how the two sides could live peacefully, and hopefully be a force for understanding and good to solve some of today’s problems.

A Center for “Racial Justice?” They’d just highlight those differences over and over, a flawed mosaic that would never truly unite. And the problems just continue. 

Of course for some people who see racial anything as a “career,”  why find real answers when we can keep arguing? Write more books about a problem with no real solutions. You’d be a best selling author and the issues just continue. Wouldn’t it be better to actually SOLVE problems? 

Cultural differences? Oh yes, anyone working at that center would be kept very busy. There are a host of cultural choices out there worldwide. This new center would work to study cultures, categorize them, find good points and yes, bad. Religious, national, political, even sports and entertainment. Cultures based on gender, on sexual preference, or just these crazy people who show up at football stadiums on Saturdays in the fall wearing white shirts with brats on the burner and beers in the cooler. Culture. 

So Penn State, here’s a noble goal for this year – for the people who wanted the “Racial Justice,” realize that it will never work because there’s only one race of humans everywhere and it’s culture that really divides. Something you can change if you wish. Grab onto this new idea and start to make actual positive momentum in this world. 

And for the Old Main brass, a unique new concept that I think would be destined to not only change our university and our town but maybe even start to change the world. Isn’t that supposed to be a goal of higher education? 

The rest of the Big 18 next year would be so jealous. Penn State did it again…

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