Remarks by the President to the State College Borough Council at their February 8th, 2021 Meeting

9:09 P.M. EST

MAYOR FILLIPELLI: Now we’ll move onto UPUA and Zach McKay. Zach?

PRESIDENT McKAY: Hello! Good evening everyone, 

I have to admit, Alex, that was a pretty solid report. I think that we have some catching up to do, especially in terms of responding to January 6th. Awesome work. I also want to just briefly welcome Clarissa and express my gratitude and excitement to work alongside you. Congratulations on your role. As usual, I have a few brief updates from the student body which I’d like to provide—the undergraduate student body—which I’d like to provide about recent and upcoming events.

As was just alluded to, on January 27th, 2021, 51 individuals interrupted the Penn State Black Caucus’ virtual involvement fair Zoom room. As the statement the Black Caucus later released indicates, “these individuals directed numerous racist and homophobic slurs at three Black Caucus Executive Board members. The chat was filled with anti-Semitic and white supremacist language and symbols. Several users screamed into their microphones, played loud music, and exposed themselves in a sexual manner. Present Black Caucus members reported and removed each intruder, and contacted Penn State administration immediately after.”

If you have not already read their statement, I highly encourage you to do so and would be happy to send it to anyone here to then distribute it to the council. It’s important that each of you read it as our elected officials and understand the toll that this event has taken on our Black students and fellow State College residents. It’s also important to note that this incident is not isolated. Over the course of at least 50 years alone, student members of the Black community here at Penn State and in the State College community have received death threats, have been assaulted, and have consistently been subjected to racial slurs and other direct notifications that they are not welcome here.

There’s a line in the organization’s statement which really stuck with me. It reads: “If we are not safe in our classrooms, on our campus, in our homes, in an online meeting, then where are we supposed to go?” This has to end. 

As a student government, we’ve worked alongside members of the Black Caucus to introduce a Resolution condemning the perpetrators of this attack, and calling for the levying of legal charges against them. Yesterday, joined by Black Caucus Representative Blake Toliver and College of the Liberal Arts Representative and Chair of the Committee on Justice and Equity Najee Rodriguez, I signed the resolution and invited my colleagues to address the student body on the resolution themselves. You can find a link to this event on our Instagram or on our website at www.upua.org under Executive, and then by clicking News. I also encourage you to watch this video as these two student leaders join me in pushing our student government to stand up to racism, antisemitism, and bigotry in all its forms and fashions.

In light of this, I ask you to think of ways in which we can collaborate as a town and gown relationship to not only keep our students safe—and safer than they are now—but to build an environment which welcomes and truly celebrates the achievements, culture, and livelihoods of our Black students and community members. I encourage you to consider forming a group, or a task force, or something similar to analyze exactly where we as a community can be doing better to create this kind of environment and to include students in that planning process. I have to say that there are many students at our campus who surely have better ideas right off the bat than I could ever hope to offer tonight, but I hope you’ll at the very least take some time to commend the leadership of the Black Caucus which they, led by President Nyla Holland, have demonstrated through their response to this event, as well as reflect on how we and this council can contribute to the broader task of creating that safer environment. 

As we head toward the start of in-person classes and potentially dangerous events like State Patty’s Day, we will gear our messaging toward following all COVID-19 guidelines and using our common sense to avoid such large gatherings as we saw at the start of the fall semester. I’m confident that the majority—the majority—of my peers understand the awesome responsibility that they each have toward keeping their friends, family, and community members safe. Nevertheless, I am glad to hear that the University is prepared to take action against those who would choose not to put the health and safety of themselves and others first. As we approach that infamous holiday, please let me know if there’s anything specific which any of you or the council as a whole might wish that I add to an address to the student body which urges my peers not to participate.

As always, you can keep up with what we’re up to by visiting upua.org. Just today, we’ve started a newsletter which you can all subscribe to if you so wish, where you’ll get weekly updates about the legislation that we’ve passed, links to our meetings and recordings from the last week. You can find all of that on the website as well. You’ll pretty much be slapped with a reminder to sign up if you visit and you haven’t signed up yet. But that’s all I have for tonight. Thank you very much.

MAYOR FILLIPELLI: Thank you Mr. McKay. Are there any comments or questions from Council? Mr. Barlow.

COUNCILMEMBER BARLOW: Yes, thank you very much for your report, Zach. By the way, I issued a statement last week as part of my President’s report condemning this action and agreeing with the statement that the Black Caucus made about the event on January 27th. It was, there have been… I have heard about racist Zoom-bombings before, that attacked even particular professors of color, some of them in my own department. But this is probably the worst incident that I’ve heard about on campus and was truly… it was truly just one of the most appalling that I’d ever heard of. And there’s also a strong statement by the African American Studies Department on this that I think is also worth reading. And I commend you for taking a strong stand on this issue. And I would also ask that some of the links that you said, please feel free to email them to me or somebody else, or to the Borough and they’ll be circulated. Thank you.

PRESIDENT McKAY: I will, thank you very much. 

MAYOR FILLIPELLI: Mr. Marshall. 

COUNCILMEMBER MARSHALL: Yes. Comment. I learned a lot from those reports. I thought they were terrific reports. Very good. And another question. Is there… do we know who did that, what is it called, Zoom bombing? Do we… does anyone know who perpetrated that? 

MAYOR FILLIPELLI: Mr. McKay do you want to respond to that?

PRESIDENT McKAY: I can with the knowledge that I have which is only that there’s an investigation ongoing. I know that the—

COUNCILMEMBER MARSHALL: Okay.

PRESIDENT McKAY: —the University’s working with several different officials though I’m not familiar exactly with who. 

COUNCILMEMBER MARSHALL: Okay. Thank You.

PRESIDENT McKAY: Fifty-one people are hard to identify. 

MAYOR FILLIPELLI: Thank you. Ms. Lafer.

COUNCILMEMBER LAFER: I want to thank Zachary and the UPUA for their clear statement. I also want to thank Alex and Clarissa. All of you have faced the problems that are happening today at your schools and in the larger world. And we talk about what we want to do. My father was a World War II veteran, and I remember once saying “well you got rid of them, they’re gone, the haters don’t exist anymore,” and he looked to his child and he said, “no, the haters are always there.” But what the three of you have spoken for, and your groups have spoken for, is the most important thing we can do to counteract the haters, to stand up and say no. [Inaudible] said it very very well, and you have each done it in your own way tonight and have continued doing it and I strongly suspect will, it is the first, last, and with all the other things you do in the middle, most important thing to stand up and be counted. So I want to thank each of you and all of you. 

PRESIDENT McKAY: Thank you very much.

MAYOR FILLIPELLI: Thank you. Ms. Yeaple.

COUNCILMEMBER YEAPLE: I think everybody said it all. Thank you for such great reports from the students. And I would like to see a copy of the Black Caucus report, so if you could forward it to me that would be very helpful. Thank you. 

PRESIDENT McKAY: I’d be happy to. Thank you.

MAYOR FILLIPELLI: Thank you Ms. Yeaple. Alright, thank you all, our student representatives, for excellent reports and good discussion.