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Penn State Abington Sued for Discrimination Against White Professor

Zack De Piero started his dream job as an English and writing professor at Penn State Abington in 2018. But now he says it’s become a nightmare of racial harassment, discrimination and violations of his First Amendment rights.

According to a lawsuit he recently filed in federal court, De Piero claims he was required to watch racially-biased videos, including “White Teachers Are a Problem.” He was also told he had to hold his breath until it hurt so he could feel what it’s like to suffer, and he was told the goal of the training was to “assure that all students see that White supremacy manifests itself in language and writing pedagogy,” the suit said.

De Piero complained to his supervisors to no avail, filed reports about the harassment with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, and finally resigned in August 2021.

De Piero, 40, is the son of first-generation Italian immigrants. He taught in inner-city schools in Philadelphia, earned a master’s degree from Temple, then a Ph.D. in education from the University of California Santa Barbara before starting as an assistant professor of English and writing at Penn State Abington.

Zack De Piero

De Piero told DVJournal he has a state-mandated obligation to report workplace harassment, including that he was harassed.

“Apparently, it doesn’t work that way,” De Piero said. “Apparently, they like to be selective about who is and is not allowed to be discriminated against.”

De Piero noted that Penn State receives taxpayer funding.

“They should be owning this,” he said. “They should be apologizing to students, apologizing to faculty, to Penn State alumni. I don’t know why they aren’t doing that. It makes no sense to me.”

When De Piero was first hired, his supervisor expressed surprise that he was not registered to vote as a Democrat but as an independent.

“They peddled and enforced race-based ideology in addition to imposing other forms of political orthodoxy and race-based dogma,” the suit said.

He was told to grade students equally no matter how they performed.

“Outcomes alone, regardless of the legitimacy of methods of evaluation, mastery of subject matter or intentions, demonstrate whether a faculty member is racist or not,” the suit said. “They called this ‘social justice and ‘antiracism.’”

“They demonstrate a bigotry of low expectations and ‘do not expect Black or Hispanic students to achieve the same mastery of academic subject matter as other students and therefore insist that deficient performance must be excused.” And “accurate assessment of abilities if it happens to show disparate performance among different racial groups is therefore condemned as ‘racist,’” according to the lawsuit.

Also, “overt discrimination against students and faculty who do apply consistent standards, especially white faculty,” was imposed.

De Piero said his supervisor “emailed him and two other White faculty members to say ‘racist structures are quite real in assessment and elsewhere regardless of good intentions that teachers and scholars bring to the set-up of those structures. For me, racism is in the results if the results draw a color line.’”

Penn State pressured him to “ensure consistent grades for students across ‘color lines,’ otherwise, his actions would demonstrate racism. He would be condemned as a racist,” the suit said.

But De Piero rejected this and used an assessment methodology (that) all students, regardless of race, can achieve success if they put in timely work.


However, after George Floyd died, the antiracist training “reached a new fever pitch,” the lawsuit said.

Penn State held a video conference on racism on June 5, 2020. The Penn State trainer expressed her intention to cause Penn State’s White faculty to “feel the pain” that George Floyd endured. “Apparently, at Penn State, the only acceptable method to right historical wrongs is to visit additional ‘pain’ on other racial groups,” the suit said. De Piero and other non-minority faculty were “thus singled out, caused to experience discomfort and feel ‘the pain’ on the basis of their skin color.”

The trainer also “encouraged illegal activity, such as looting.”

“‘What we call looting, I think of as just getting what you’re due,’” the suit quotes her as saying.

The next morning another professor “hectored De Piero about ‘history and White male privilege,’ telling him that resistance to wearing masks is “‘is also more likely to be led by White males than in classrooms taught by women and people of color.’”

Later that week, Aneessah Smith, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Penn State Abington sent an email to the entire faculty and staff instructing them that “Black and Brown people are calling on White people’ to ‘stop being afraid of your own internalized White supremacy.”

She “sent an email to all Penn State Abington faculty, staff, and administrators, instructing all Penn State employees that ‘Black and Brown people are calling on White people’ to ‘stop being afraid of your own internalized White supremacy.’ She instructed White employees to ‘stop talking’ while simultaneously directing members of the white Penn State community to ‘hold other White people accountable.’ She promoted a hostile environment on the basis of race by instructing Penn State’s White employees to ‘feel terrible,’” the suit said.

De Piero’s supervisor told the writing faculty to teach “that White supremacy exists in language itself, and therefore, that the English language itself is ‘racist’ and, furthermore, that white supremacy exists in the teaching of writing of English, and therefore writing teachers are themselves racist White supremacists’ and that ‘reverse racism isn’t racism.’ In doing so, (she) expressed her view that racism practiced against white faculty and students is legitimate,” the suit said.

Penn State did not respond to requests for comment. The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism  (FAIR) is representing De Piero, with local attorneys Michael Allen and Samantha Harris.

In addition to monetary damages as determined at trial, De Piero is seeking to have his Penn State disciplinary records expunged. De Piero lives in Bucks County with his wife and 4-year-old daughter. He’s teaching at Northampton Community College now.

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PA Freedom Caucus Says No to Funding Puberty-Blocking Drugs for Children

Should taxpayer dollars pay for experimental drug treatment for children experiencing gender dysphoria? The 24-member Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus says no.

The legislators released a letter saying their members oppose state funding for health institutions that provide pediatric puberty blockers. They include the state-related university healthcare systems of Penn State, Temple University, and the University of Pittsburgh.

“This opposition comes on the heels of the discovery of a Penn State Health Children’s Hospital policy that would prescribe puberty blockers to children under the age of 10,” the lawmakers wrote.

That policy reads, “The clinic’s pediatric endocrinologist provides puberty-blocking medications, cares for people with differences of sexual development, and cares for patients who are young than 10 years old.”

Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R-Butler/Lawrence) sent a formal inquiry to all three healthcare systems on May 15 requesting data about pharmacological intervention and medical procedures of “gender-affirming care” provided to minors.

Penn State, Temple, and Pitt are state-related institutions and are listed to receive more than $882 million in the 2023-24 budget. They require two-thirds votes in the House and Senate for this funding.

“The Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus will not even consider a yes vote if policies that endanger the health and welfare of children remain unchanged,” said PAFC Chair Dawn Keefer (R-York). “To sit by and allow public funds to be used in experimental activities causing irreversible harm to children, some under the age of 10, makes lawmakers complicit in this abuse couched as health care.”

Rep. David Rowe (R-Snyder/Union/Juniata/Mifflin) said the two-thirds threshold for approval means “House Democrats will be unable to push through continued funding for non-preferred institutions with Republican support.”

“Our constituents can rest assured that the PA Freedom Caucus will lead the effort to unite Republicans in opposition to such funding as long as any policy remains in place that endangers the health and welfare of our most vulnerable and valuable demographic, our children,” Rowe said.

Keefer told DVJournal she was concerned about doctors providing puberty blockers to children “as young as 5 years old.”

She said experts testified about it to a House Health Committee subcommittee, which she serves on, so she knows what clinicians are doing in this field.

“Puberty blockers, hormone therapies, surgeries, chest surgeries, bottom surgeries were rarer in children,” said Keefer. “We had professionals coming to us and saying, ‘This is not a good practice; this is not a good standard of care. There are many adverse consequences to it…one being that your bones aren’t developing properly.’ So it’s poor structural development. With hormone therapy, that’s a huge issue. You’re messing with the (child’s) endocrine system, which is a whole other issue.

“So you take these kinds of irreversible actions on children as young as five years old, and that’s abuse,” said Keefer. “Somebody has to start raising a red flag here and saying, ‘You’ve got to step back from this.’”

“You know we wouldn’t do this with anything else,” Keefer said. “This is all experimental. These are off-label uses of drugs on children.”

And once someone has taken these steps, “they become patients for life,” said Keefer. “They’re on a whole cocktail of therapies they have to remain on, and they have, again, skeletal issues, muscular issues, infection issues. It runs the gamut. When you stop the hormone therapies, their body will go back (to the opposite gender).”

There are also social and psychological challenges.

“How do you tell a 10-year-old child you’re helping transition that they will never be able to have an orgasm? How do they even know what that is? How can they know or appreciate it?

“It’s one thing to provide psychological care for individuals that are dealing with gender dysphoria, but when you start taking these drugs and having surgeries, I think it’s a line too far.”

DVJournal previously reported on activists who have undergone transgender treatment and are now speaking out against allowing it for children. Chloe Cole, who is suing the doctors and hospital that treated her, said she began transitioning at age 13 and had her breasts removed at 15. She realized a year later that she had made a dreadful mistake and now lives as a woman.

Recently, author Gerald Posner wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Finland, Sweden, and Norway, which pioneered the use of puberty blockers for children, are now cutting back on the practice because of long-term side effects.

Penn State shared this defense of its medical care: “Penn State Health provides appropriate and proven care for a wide range of pediatric medical conditions, and none of the funds appropriated to Penn State University flow to Penn State Health clinical activities.

“Penn State Health does not use puberty blockers in children under 10 years of age with gender dysphoria. Penn State Health adheres to the international guidelines that do not support irreversible changes to children as it relates to gender dysphoria care, and there are no plans to change this position.

“Puberty-blocking medications (gonadotrophin-releasing hormone agonists (GnRHA)) have been in use for more than four decades to treat a wide array of medical conditions. In pediatrics, the effects of these medications are fully reversible and are commonly used with children under age 10 to treat premature puberty (medically termed precocious puberty). The medications are used to delay puberty until the child reaches an appropriate age for puberty to begin. In these cases, puberty-blocking medications are the widely accepted standard of care.”

Neither Temple nor Pitt responded when asked for comment.

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In State College, a Failed Racial Justice Center Creates Tension at PA’s Biggest University

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, Pennsylvania State University announced the creation of a new Center for Racial Justice.

The university called it “part of ongoing efforts to address the challenges of racism, racial bias, and community safety that persist in our nation.” The center was set to advance the work of fighting racial inequalities on campus and academic work around racial biases.

But just a year after its announcement, PSU scrapped it.

What came next was outrage from students and faculty who advocated for the center’s creation. A campus protest campus quickly followed the decision, and 400 faculty members signed a letter criticizing the move.

“The decision to no longer proceed with funding for the Center for Racial Justice was certainly a shock to many,” PSU student body president Sydney Gibbard said. “This decision certainly felt like a step in the wrong direction.”

Gibbard said there was a lot of hope among students when the university’s new president, Neeli Bendapudi, the first female and person of color to hold the position, was announced and that there had been improvements in race relations and equity at the school.

Bendapudi explained in a press release announcing the decision she viewed it as more important to invest in already-existing efforts to make PSU more equal, like improving graduation rate gaps and diversifying the faculty, rather than in a new venture.

But Breslin Toles, who chairs the Justice and Equity Committee within PSU’s student government, said she doesn’t believe that argument is sufficient. “I get the point of monetary restrictions, but Penn State is a school that has repeatedly let down students of color. When a promise is made to those students it should be done in complete confidence that the promised act is obtainable.”

Both Toles and Gibbard said the announcement came during an already tough period for the university when an event that featured a founder of the far-right Proud Boys group led to a protest against his presence on campus that turned violent. The event was eventually canceled.

Following the center’s cancellation and uproar, Bendapudi hosted a town hall detailing the other ways she is working to improve equity on campus. She also hinted she would entertain conversations this year about reigniting the development of a Center for Racial Justice or something similar to it.

Toles and Gibbard were both pleased with the efforts by the president to reach out to the community. However, Gibbard said to gain more trust among students Bendapudi needs to say more about her plans.

“One of Dr. Bendapudi’s goals is the retention of students of color, and she has been challenged to not just have that as a goal,” she said, “but to clearly outline the metrics she hopes to achieve over a very specific timeline.”

That looks like detailing the steps she plans to achieve the goal and who will be included in making decisions surrounding it, Gibbard said.

Toles believes that Bendapudi is genuine with her goals, but doubts how familiar the administration is with how to develop policies to actually achieve them. What she is certain about is that PSU could be doing better.

And Toles hopes that now is the moment when PSU can start making improvements to make the campus in her eyes more welcoming for students of color.

“I am certainly disheartened at the center being cut, but I think this offers Penn State an opportunity to reassess, listen to students and work with us on a campus that will be better for all.”

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