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Connectivity focuses on all things related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education. The publication will highlight thought leaders, promising initiatives, and other actions that promote diverse, equitable, and inclusive policies and higher education practices across the Commonwealth and beyond. Connectivity will be informative, inclusive, thought-provoking, and focused.

 Content Editor


Message from Vice Chancellor Denise Pearson

Autism Awareness Month - April

Did you know that autism affects one in 36 children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control? The Autism Society defines autism as a complex, lifelong, and developmental condition that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. Often referred to as a spectrum condition’, autism affects people differently and to varying degrees the experience is different for everyone.” While there is currently no known single cause of autism, persons diagnosed with autism can live full and productive lives.

The Autism Society reminds us that “The experience of autism is not one thing. It is many things. It’s dreams, talents, relationships, victories, hurdles, and everything in between. The connection between those experiences is you.” PASSHE universities are committed to providing an array of resources designed to support the success of autistic students.

Tess Fosse, executive director, disability services and ADA coordinator at Commonwealth University, shared that several of our university campuses offer specific skill building workshops, programming, and peer mentoring for students with an autism spectrum condition. At Commonwealth, the Disability Services office has the STRIDE peer mentoring program. STRIDE stands for “Stronger Together with Resources, Initiatives, and Disability Experiences.” This program aims at fostering a sense of belonging, easing the transition to college, identifying individualized initiatives, and providing social and co-curricular supports, while increasing motivation, accountability, and self-growth.

Mental Health Month - May

Did you know that Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in May in the United States since 1949? This year, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month with theMore Than Enough campaign! “It is an opportunity for all of us to come together and remember the inherent value we each hold no matter our diagnosis, appearance, socioeconomic status, background or ability. We want every person out there to know that if all you did was wake up today, that’s more than enough. No matter what, you are inherently worthy of more than enough life, love and healing. Showing up, just as you are, for yourself and the people around you is more than enough.”

Our campus communities have been busy offering space and opportunities to prioritize mental health and well-being. Speakers have visited and covered a variety of topics including “Getting Out of Your Own Way,” “Health and Wellness Tips for Busy College Students,” and “Eliminating Health Disparities.” Our students have “Stressed Less with Pets,” enjoyed some succulent planting, and engaged in Healing Circles. Tess Fosse says she is encouraged by the focus PASSHE is placing on supporting the whole student. Many of our identities, experiences, and circumstances influence our overall well-being and in turn our success.

Millersville University Campus Visit

Thank you, President Daniel Wubah and staff, for welcoming me to your beautiful campus on April 10! I sincerely enjoyed my time and valued the engagement with so many awesome students, faculty, and staff. A special thanks to Carlos Wiley, Millersville University’s chief diversity officer, for arranging such a meaningful visit. I look forward to returning in the future and learning more about all the ways the university breathes life into its EPPIIC Values: Exploration, Professionalism, Public Mission, Inclusion, Integrity, and Compassion!

Frederick Douglass Debates

Congratulations Drs. Joseph Croskey, Frederick Douglass Institute (FDI) executive director and PennWest associate professor, and Laura Kieselbach, FDI director and assistant professor at East Stroudsburg University (ESU), for hosting such an outstanding 2023 Douglass Debates event. I was so impressed by the students I met, as well as the commitment of faculty and staff who made such a high impact educational opportunity possible. This year’s debate theme was environmental justice; a timely and important topic for higher education to continue exploring. Thank you for allowing me to participate!

Congratulations President Kenneth Long

President Kenneth LongI had the privilege and joy of participating in festivities culminating in the inauguration of Kenneth Long as the 14th President of East Stroudsburg University on April 27. I especially enjoyed President Long and his family performing Karaoke to the song “My Girl.” Leadership matters and I am so excited for the future of ESU because of President Long’s determination for “Creating Opportunities: Community, Engagement, and Belonging.” The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion wishes President Long all the best.

Thank you, Dr. Santiago Solis, vice president of campus life and inclusive excellence at ESU, for your warm and generous hospitality! Your campus is pristine, and the student, faculty, and staff energy was palpable.

Closing Song

I usually close my message with a quote, but I thought I would switch things up by closing with one of my favorite songs by the O’Jays, titled Unity. Here are my favorite song verses:

Unity, we must have unity
‘Cause united we stand
Divided we fall.

They played a game
Of divide and conquer
Ever since the world began
Tried their best to
Separate the people so
We couldn’t understand
Now’s the time to come together and
Show our force
Now’s the time for all
The people to speak with one voice
I’m talkin’ ‘bout

Unity, we must have unity
‘Cause united we stand
Divided we fall

In service and partnership,

Denise Pearson, Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor and Chief DEI Officer


In this Issue

Featured Stories



Featured Stories


Culture Collective


Culture CollectiveThe Culture Collective is a supportive community of clinical mental health counseling graduate students striving to promote cultural awareness, exercise advocacy skills, and provide a safe and nonjudgmental space for growth and conversation. The Culture Collective was born out of a desire to continue the conversations started in our Multicultural Counseling class in which micro and macro levels of power, privilege, and oppression are examined, as well as affirming counseling considerations for diverse populations. Our mission is to provide a supportive community for counseling students from diverse backgrounds to share their experiences, explore their identities and cultures, and gain the knowledge and skills needed to work effectively with diverse populations. We strive to promote cultural self-awareness and understanding among our members, and to increase the cultural humility and competence of future counselors. By creating opportunities for dialogue and education, we aim to foster an inclusive and equitable counseling profession that is responsive to the needs of all clients.

Each month, the Culture Collective advisory board (student-led) hosts two events. The first is a guest speaker, and the second is a process group where students reflect on the guest speaker’s content, as well as other selected topics. The Culture Collective also has its own D2L shell where multicultural resources are shared, students can connect via discussion forum, and guest speaker resources are offered (e.g. recordings of presentation). The Culture Collective started in Spring 2023 and will continue in the 2023-2024 academic year.



Women In Focus Conference


A network of women gathered to discuss their experiences in higher education during PennWest University’s Women in Focus conference April 14 in Cranberry.

PennWest acting president Dr. Laurie Bernotsky was keynote speaker. She shared the importance of authenticity, which she has developed in her evolution from first-generation college student to her position at PennWest stating, “You have your inner critic that tells you You don’t belong here. You can’t do this.” She also advised women to refine their authentic voice by connecting with a role model seeking experiences that support their goals telling the group to “prepare in all different ways. Don’t miss opportunities to show your talents, adaptability and skills in other areas.”

Dr. Deborah Calhoun, professor emeritus of Notre Dame of Maryland University, emphasized the disparity that exists for women. She cited data from student evaluations of faculty, indicating reasons that women are not always well received. Dr. Calhoun stated that, “men have to be competent. Women have to be competent and warm.” Clarion student Grace Hansmann echoed this disparity during a PennWest panel with California student Tamiya Thomas and employees Dr. Candice Riley, Rhonda Gifford and Lynne Fleisher. Ms. Hansmann related that, “there is different terminology for men and women in the workplace. Men react, women overreact. Men are passionate and driven, women are emotional. There is a box, and you can’t be overly any one thing.”

Riley and Thomas, both Black women, said their race presents additional challenges. “As a woman you have to play catchup. As an African American woman, you have to do it harder,” Thomas said. “There’s a sense of not being too pushy or aggressive,” Riley said. “You don’t want people to think, She’s in this position because she’s a diversity hire.’”

Imbalance also exists in group work. Mattie Sloneker, California alumna and MBA student, discussed the tendency of women to take on the bulk of the workload in group projects. “Women agree that being a good team player means helping colleagues with what they need to get done, while men say being a good team player is knowing one’s position and playing it well,” Sloneker said.

Pittsburgh attorneys Marcia DePaula and Caroline Orrico, experts in labor and employment law and higher education, said supporting other women is key. “We all have to help each other,” DePaula said. “We should try to assert ourselves in our own ways.”

Orrico said that higher education isn’t a field where she thought women would face discrimination, but “we continue to have our eyes opened.”

In the concluding presentation, Lisa Hernandez, vice president of people and culture at Robert Morris University, said workplace stressors are physically and mentally damaging stating, “for so many of us, we’re in a chronic state of fight or flight. When the body stays in fight or flight, cortisol gets released. It’s inflammatory, and it leads to illness.” To combat burnout, Hernandez suggests self-care strategies such as meditation, journaling, physical movement, reading, or connecting to loved ones.

Dr. Laurie Bernotsky delivers the keynote address

Bernotsky keynote: PennWest University Acting President Dr. Laurie Bernotsky delivers her keynote address at the Women in Focus conference, developed by Dr. Stephanie Adam, associate professor at PennWest.

The PennWest University panel

PennWest Panel: The PennWest Panel fields questions from the audience at the Women in Focus conference.

Clarion student Grace Hansmann, PennWest staff member Rhonda Gifford, and Tamiya Thomas of California University

Grace, Tamiya, Rhonda: Clarion student Grace Hansmann (left) and PennWest staff member Rhonda Gifford (right) react to a point made by California student Tamiya Thomas during the Women in Focus panel discussion.



Kutztown University Honors Barbara Taliaferro


At the 2022 PASSHE DEI Summit an inaugural award was presented to highlight the contributions of State System employees and students for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in their communities. The award was PASSHE’s Keepers of the Flame. Keepers of the Flame are people who embody a commitment to creating and promoting diverse and inclusive environments that cultivate a sense of belonging.

For the inaugural year, we recognized “Foundation Builders” at each of the 14 campuses. Foundation Builders are employees (past or present), alums, or community stakeholders who are longstanding contributors to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at the university. Their work has contributed to the solid foundation that undergirds and motivates DEI work at their campuses.

Kutztown University nominated Barbara Taliaferro who retired in 2010 after serving KU for 21 years. Starting as coordinator of minority affairs, then assistant to the president for human diversity, associate vice president for diversity and inclusion, and then finally as vice president of diversity and inclusion.

During all those years she was a consistent voice for diversity and inclusion at Kutztown. She supervised the Office of Human Diversity, overseeing the Women’s Center, affirmative action, minority affairs and the coordination of the ADA. During her tenure as vice president, she over saw the expansion of the office of disability services, the creation of the Multicultural Center and PASSHE's first LGBTQ Resource Center.

Award winners were announced at the November virtual summit. On April 17, Ms. Taliaferro was presented the award at a small luncheon in her honor. Some of her past direct reports were present along with current staff and students.

BT Staff

Pictured with Ms. Taliaferro (front right) are Ms. Grace Hill, past director of the Women's Center, Ms. Rhonda Branford, past director of the Multicultural Center, and Dr. Deryl Johnson, past director of the LGBTQ+ Resource Center.

Barbara Taliaferro receives the Keepers of the Flame Award

Mr. Jerry Schearer, Kutztown University chief diversity officer, presents Ms. Taliaferro with the Keeper of the Flame award



PASSHE Sustainability Task Force Racial Equity Subcommittee


The term equity has faced a lifetime of confusion with equality. Equity, however, is defined through the lens of fairness, in that it asks does everyone have similar rights, opportunities, basic needs and so on to ensure and maintain a quality of life? Equity, combined with sustainability, only serves to cause more confusion as we struggle to understand the intersection between the two.

This intersection could be something as simple as impoverished and rural areas not having access to an affordable recycling program. The truth is this intersection is much deeper than that. Nearly 50% of the greenhouse gases produced come from the richest 10% of people [HK6][BA7][CC8][BA9]even though we see the most impoverished amongst us suffering the most impact from global warming. Heat related deaths are preventable and yet they are a leading cause of climate-related death. In some years, heat related death outpaces death by other natural disasters including hurricanes and tornados. The creation of urban cooling centers to fight these tragic losses is one way equity and sustainability overlap.

The PASSHE Task Force on Sustainability has made equity and social justice sustainability a priority by developing a subcommittee on the issue. A paper issued by the subcommittee states, “The Task Force also prioritizes social justice in order to affirm the core principles of inclusion at the heart of PASSHE’s strategic plan, especially the goals to adapt to growing student diversity and to align knowledge and skills with career and community. An emphasis on social justice not only reflects these goals but also broadens and deepens the PASSHE commitment to sustainability. Connecting the dots between social justice and the health of the planet will build greater consensus and commitment for the necessary changes needed to attain a sustainable society, while also drawing together diverse approaches to problem-solving and action.” The Equity and Social Justice Sustainability subcommittee believes that to be effective, we must strive to solve the “little” issues alongside the more complex issue of global warming. We would like to work with Universities across PASSHE to host awareness and programming around sustainability involving:


  • Students in projects to better our campuses
  • Faculty in conversations regarding ways to infuse various types of sustainability components into curriculum
  • Administration in committing to a sustainability initiative that would impact campuses, communities, students, and employees in a beneficial way


Please contact Amy Salsgiver (, executive director of social equity and Title IX at PennWest University, if you are interested in joining the Equity and Social Justice subcommittee and Paul Scanlon (, director of sustainability at Slippery Rock University, if you want more information on the task force.





New Graduate Research Assistant

John Omole-Matthew MBBS, MWACS.

John Omole-Matthew MBBS, MWACSDr. Omole-Matthew was born in Ibadan, Nigeria and obtained his primary medical degree in 2014. His began his residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital, Sagamu in 2018 and later moved to Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Lagos, Nigeria.

He became a member of the West African College of Surgeons in 2021 and his clinical interests is in gynecology- oncology. His desire to improve outcomes for women with gynecological cancers using a combination of clinical and public health approaches led to him enrolling in the Master’s in Public Health program at West Chester University in August 2022. He joined the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team at PASSHE in March 2023 and is currently engaged in efforts to promote diversity on our campuses.

He enjoys watching football and reading.



Campus Highlights


IUP - Celebration at the 2023 IUP Multicultural Festival
The IUP Multicultural Festival is an annual end-of-year celebration of IUP's multicultural affairs hosted by the IUP Student Government Association, in partnership with IUP Student Affairs, the Office of Social Equity and Title IX, and the Office of International Education. The annual festival highlights DEI-centered student organizations. This year the event was held on April 14 in the heart of IUP's campus, the Oak Grove. Sixteen student organizations participated in the festival, including the IUP Chapter of the NAACP, the Chinese Language and Culture Club, the Latino Student Organization, HER Campus IUP, the IUP House of Drag, and many others. Students also enjoyed five vocal and dance performances from IUP students, including the singing of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," dance performances from multicultural dance groups, and a showcase from IUP's student-led drag organization. In total, 250 IUP students joined in this annual celebration of IUP's multicultural affairs.

Multicultural Festival IUP campus photo 2023 IUP Multicultural Festival


29th Annual UMOJA Leadership Conference at Shippensburg
The Umoja/Unity Conference is a statewide initiative designed to bring leaders of color together to discuss issues that impede their success on predominantly white campuses. The goal is to empower, engage, and educate students to not only survive but excel in climates that are not always conducive to their personal, academic, cultural, social, and professional development. With the help of alumni, faculty and staff, and the community, the Shippensburg conference continues to promote equity and inclusion for all students.

UMOJA Workshop photo 1 UMOJA Workshop photo 2 UMOJA Workshop photo 3 UMOJA Workshop photo 4



Upcoming Events


Connectivity Live - June 21, 2023 2023 DEI Summit - November 8-10, 2023 Join the Student Committee - DEI Summit 2023



Frederick Douglass Institute

By Dr. Joseph Croskey, Executive Director, FDI

What a week for the PASSHE Frederick Douglass Institute. We had a wonderful Douglass Debate tournament on April 11-12, 2023. Robert J. Green, associate professor of communication studies at Commonwealth University-Bloomsburg did a fabulous job as the tournament director. The team from West Chester University took home the highly contested trophy.

Douglass Debate conference opening

2023 Douglass Debate Tournament opening

Douglass Debate semifinals

Douglass Debate semifinals

Douglass Debate finals

Douglass Debate finals

Douglass Debate winners from West Chester University

Douglass Debate winners from West Chester University


Sampling of Student Comments:


I had a terrific time learning how to debate. This was my first debate, and my major is CTM (Cinema, Television, and Media production). I had a nice experience venturing beyond my field of study, and I would absolutely debate again if the opportunity arose.” — Yannick Notin



When writing this essay, I noted my own experience with educational disproportionality. Although segregation has been outlawed, the presence of it in schools is something that needs to be noted. It is worrisome to see students alienate themselves on the basis of race, but there are things we can do to prevent this. I am so happy to have had the opportunity to share my essay and story with those in the conference.” — Debbie Campbell


I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to share my found passion in diversity, equity and inclusion work at the FDI conference. This conference was a great way to reach different campuses and share the importance of Black Studies curriculum on academic engagement and retention particularly for students of color. Institutions are responsible for providing enriching and engaging academic environments for all. Equity in higher education cannot wait!” — Claudia Corchado


I was extremely enlightened and inspired to hear my peer’s innovative ideas on local community change, from the promotion of bio plastics to black studies within curriculums, and it absolutely extended my own perspectives.” — Lindsey Beacher


Conferences are what help spread awareness of issues that we may have never knew existed. Now with this knowledge, we can initiate a change.” — Hope DeFazio


Students then presented the fruit of their work at the Research and Creative Arts Conference on April 13. Laura Kieselbach, Ed.D., education specialist at East Stroudsburg University, was excellent as the conference chair. Dr. Artress Bethany White, Ph.D., associate professor of English at East Stroudsburg University, opened with moving poetry from her book My America. Clyde Ledbetter Jr., associate professor at Cheyney University, gave a powerful and motivating keynote about human rights.


Keynote speaker, Clyde Ledbetter, Jr.

Dr. Denise Pearson, PASSHE vice chancellor, chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, kicked off both events with inspiring messages for students and employees.


FDI Fun Fact:

Frederick Douglass played the violin for his grandchildren and guests when they visited his home in Cedar Hill.



Veterans Affairs Network


Veterans Affairs Network logoThousands of veterans, service members, and their families are enrolled at State System universities. Each university provides support and services to address the unique needs of veterans, service members, and their families. A decade ago, administrators and leaders from across the State System decided to create a collaborative effort to support veterans. They created the Veterans Advisory Network (VAN). Representatives from the Chancellor’s Office and the universities come together to share, collaborate, and to discuss how to better serve veterans on campus. Several years ago, we created a dashboard that listed 14 services VAN would like all universities to offer to veterans. Among the services were single point of contact for veterans, their own space on campus, and military withdrawal policies. Members of the network are also active in their communities as well. The services are designed to help veterans and their families transition to college life, receive their education benefits, and to ensure they are successful students.

Not only are members of VAN looking to help students on campus, but also veterans in the community. Many members of VAN serve on local, regional, and national veteran boards and work activity with community partners to improve the lives of veterans. The community partners also provide vital services (like healthcare) that may not be available on campus. Members of the VAN have also engaged with lawmakers and have been called upon to work with lawmakers to discuss and advise on current legislation, possible legislation, and the needs of veterans across the State System. The current chair of VAN has testified before both the General Assembly and the Senate Veteran Affair Committee. VAN’s goal is a commitment to help, support, and to provide the best services to help veterans at each university.

If you have any question or want more information about VAN, please contact Dr. Cory Shay (, director of the Military and Veterans Resource Center at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP).