Continuity of Operations planning information for the College of Education: Click here

College of Education > News and Publications > 2018: 04-06 news > No Hate Penn State: Student-group promotes inclusivity and awareness in community

No Hate Penn State: Student-group promotes inclusivity and awareness in community

In the midst of a controversy involving prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer and the University of Florida, Jacksonville native Elijah Armstrong decided enough was enough — it was time for him to take action.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In the midst of a controversy involving prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer and the University of Florida, Jacksonville native Elijah Armstrong decided enough was enough — it was time for him to take action.

Elijah Armstrong
In an effort to promote diversity and inclusivity at Penn State, Elijah Armstrong worked with fellow students to create No Hate Penn State.
In August 2017, Armstrong and three friends teamed up to create No Hate Penn State, an organization with the goal of creating a Penn State experience that is safe and inclusive for all students.

Armstrong, a junior studying education and public policy, became an activist after experiencing harsh backlash from administration during his junior year at a college prep school in Jacksonville.

Armstrong experienced seizures at school and asked for accommodations as simple as changing the type of light bulbs used in a classroom, but ultimately was told that no accommodations could be made.

Very little was done for Armstrong while at school in Jacksonville but a legal settlement in which he received $80,000 was reached in the case during his sophomore year at Penn State.

No Hate Penn State organized a concert at Webster's Cafe on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to raise awareness and gather support.

"The first event we had was incredibly successful," Armstrong said about the MLK Day concert. "Even the people that couldn't make it saw the video and were very impressed and wanted to be a part of the next one."

The concert, which consisted of multiple performers as well as a collaborative art installation, was a way to unite the State College and Penn State communities and show all the good things being done by No Hate Penn State and Equal Opportunities for Students.

Equal Opportunities for Students, a blog Armstrong created as a result of the discrimination he faced in high school, is a place where people can share educational resources and tell their own stories.

As far as involvement goes, there seem to be many supporters of the cause and even more who want to get further involved.

"I get, every so often, people asking me how they can help, how they can be involved and when the next thing that we're planning is," Armstrong said.

Support has thus far been strong for Armstrong, his friends and their ideas. They've faced very little backlash from the community, other than tiny bumps in the road, such as difficulties with event venues.

"Someone disagrees with everything that you can do," Armstrong said, acknowledging that it is surprising that his group has yet to face very much hate.

"There have been bureaucratic roadblocks along the way, like we wanted to host [events] in various places and we couldn't get permits and sometimes we needed insurance," Armstrong said.

The student activist said that there has yet to be a situation in which a person or group outwardly disagreed with what No Hate Penn State stands for.

"Creative advocacy is a very useful tool against many forms of hate and violence. Hate and violence can come in many ways, but finding meaningful ways to combat them is something I intend on continuing in the future."
— Elijah Armstrong, education and public policy student

"It's been very positive," Armstrong said. "I know that a lot of other people have tried to do, not necessarily similar things, but similar in the outlet of forwarding acceptance and peaceful protesting, and received much more vitriol than I have."

In a divisive time when schools have begun to turn away certain types of speakers and events, No Hate Penn State aims to unite people against those who want to spread non-inclusive, hateful ideas.

The group, which began almost immediately after Richard Spencer spoke at University of Florida early last fall, was created in response to that event. Although Penn State has prohibited the white supremacist from speaking at the University, there still are other, similar threats that could be posed in the community.

Armstrong and his fellow advocates participate in activities and spread awareness because they want to make sure that, while there is a possibility of someone like Richard Spencer speaking at Penn State, "that there was a constructive way to resist if something were to happen." 

One way Armstrong and his friends were able to spread their message was by putting on a play. The play, written by Ellis Stump, is called "Sacred Trauma" and aimed to spread awareness of the issue of sexual assault.

Armstrong helped as assistant director of the play and made a brief documentary showcasing play attendees giving words of encouragement to sexual assault survivors.

"Creative advocacy is a very useful tool against many forms of hate and violence," Armstrong said. "Hate and violence can come in many ways, but finding meaningful ways to combat them is something I intend on continuing in the future."

 Looking forward, Armstrong shared that the coordination of a town hall discussion is in the works.

The focus of the discussion will be on the history of student activism and is set to take place in early fall. Topics to be discussed include how to get involved with activism both on campus and in the surrounding community.

By Abby Fortin (April 2018)