The Coalition for a Just University (CJU) joins the authors of the “More Rivers to Cross” reports and the local chapter of NAACP in questioning both Penn State’s apparent failure to treat the recent attack on a Black employee as an incident of racial harassment and violence, and the laxity of charges filed against the perpetrator by University police. On September 3, 2021, Centre Daily Times reported that a Penn State employee was attacked by another Penn State employee for not wearing his mask or wearing it incorrectly. Subsequent reporting revealed that Robert Wahl, a white Penn State lecturer, is accused of physically assaulting a Black professor. According to Penn State’s Daily Crime Log, on September 1, 2021, Wahl was charged with harassment; his offenses are listed as “simple/other assault, not agg, and disorderly conduct.” In a follow-up story dated September 11, The Centre Daily Times reported that “Interim Director of African Studies Sinfree Makoni alleged the professor was ‘racially attacked’” and that a Penn State student who assisted the professor at the scene said that the professor mentioned “he was called a racial slur.” This same article posed the question of why, despite the initial crime log entry, a charge of harassment, (rather than the more serious charge of simple assault) had been filed.

Penn State policy AD91 Discrimination and Harassment and Related Inappropriate Conduct insists that “discriminatory conduct and harassment violates the dignity of individuals, impedes the realization of the University’s educational mission, and will not be tolerated.” In keeping with policy AD91, we ask that the incident be reported to the Affirmative Action Office, the Office of Human Resources, Employee Relations Division, and the Office of Ethics and Compliance. We call on the Penn State administration and University police to conduct a thorough, transparent investigation into the claim that the attack was racially motivated and accompanied by racial epithets, and we insist that both the seriousness of the charges and Penn State’s response to the incident reflect the findings of such an investigation.

We call upon the university to immediately issue a public statement explaining its actions or lack thereof regarding this matter.