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The Color of College: Three freshmen show no fear

Amid questions about prejudice at Penn State, we'll follow fledgling students

Sunday, October 14, 2001

By Edward G. Robinson III, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Black Life at Penn State
First in an occasional series

It's an intriguing year for a black student to start school at Penn State University. Last year, the school's Black Caucus president received anonymous death threats, and black students staged protests and sit-ins that attracted national attention. The university promised to start new programs, hire new professors and take other steps to fight discrimination. To find out how this is affecting black students, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will follow three black freshmen from the region through their first year at the University Park campus. Today's article introduces the trio.

Marcus White, Alicia Scales and Richard Moye, right, started their freshman year at Penn State's University Park campus this year. The three students, who hail from Pittsburgh-area high schools, have agreed to document their experiences as they adjust to life on a campus where racial tension drew national attention last year. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

Richard Moye is aiming for perfect grades. Alicia Scales is trying to adjust to the sheer size of the campus. And Marcus White plans to keep an open mind about everything he hears and sees at Penn State.

The three freshmen, from Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill, Wilkinsburg High School and Central Catholic High School in Oakland, have agreed to be interviewed throughout their freshmen year, and to keep diaries of their experiences.

Here's a look at who they are.

Richard Moye

About the only thing Richard Moye won't strive for is making the Penn State fencing team.

At Allderdice, from which he graduated last year, he learned to use an epee, but a college team is too "serious" to try out for.

Grades are another matter.

"My goal is a 4.0. I think I can get it, too," he said. "A lot of people don't believe me, but I'm set on it. I'm working on it."

Moye, 17, started life in the Hill District and moved to Point Breeze with his family when he was 9. He is the middle child. He has a sister, Alana, 19, a sophomore at Shippensburg University, and brother, Steven, who's in high school.

His mother, Carol Moye, said her son had high self-esteem, but was reserved.

"There's no more laid-back person in the world," she said. "He knows what he needs to get done, and he doesn't worry. He is concerned that he does well, but he doesn't stress himself out."

Moye graduated with a 3.5 grade point average and was president of his church youth group.

He acknowledges that he slacked off during his senior year, but said he tended to put his best effort into the classes he thinks will do him the most good.

In high school, he devoured calculus while barely staying awake for Biology II and Spanish. But Moye said that was mainly because his advisers told him college calculus would be rough.

In his first year at Penn State, Moye is indeed breezing through calculus.

The Color of College

Black Life at
Penn State

Penn State U. says to report discrimination


He's also taking a comparative literature class, and said his hardest course was Spanish III.

Moye has wanted to attend Penn State ever since he went to a summer engineering program there before entering 10 th grade.

The following summer he came back for a weeklong program sponsored by the Agriculture Department, which was trying to recruit minority group members interested in science.

The summer after his junior year, he returned again to Penn State for a monthlong program called BEST (Business, Engineering, Science and Technology), which was sponsored by the university and Eastman Kodak Co.

He was among 24 students who took math, English and introductory computer courses. They all earned $400 at the end of the program.

At the BEST program, he learned of a scholarship offered by Penn State called the Bunton-Waller Fellowship, named after the first male and female African-American graduates of Penn State.

He applied and received a full scholarship to Penn State.

Many subjects interest him, but he selected business management as his major. To keep his scholarship, he'll have to maintain a 3.0 grade average and take 12 credits per semester. He's taking 16 credits this semester.

"I want to be the boss," he said of his business major. "I've never been an extroverted person that takes charge of everything -- but I can."

Knowing Penn State was his first choice, Moye watched the news reports about racial problems closely last school year.

While the news concerned him, it never changed his mind about the university. Moye said it actually challenged him to be open-minded and acknowledge that all students aren't racist.

Reports of discrimination weren't "going to stop me from coming here," he said. "I don't know why. I'm aware that it might happen [to me], but I never fear it."

Alicia Scales

Alicia Scales misses signing her name in her textbooks and then getting them for free at Wilkinsburg High.

New books at Penn State cost too much, she says. After purchasing her second round of books for nearly $300, she began looking at them like sponges she wanted to squeeze dry. "I'm going to get all of the knowledge in these books," she vowed.

It's the response you might expect from this level-headed valedictorian of last year's senior class, weighing the cost against the return on her investment.

That kind of thinking is nothing new for Scales.

Since ninth grade, she's stockpiled knowledge, reading and studying as if a scholarship depended on it, which of course it did.

"Alicia set a standard early in life," said her mother, Rosiland Scales. "A light bulb went off in her head. She never liked C's."

When Alicia did receive a C once in grade school, she starting crying in the middle of the classroom. "I don't know what that C did to her, but ever since then she's made straight A's," Rosiland Scales said.

Alicia Scales, who is 17, accepted a full scholarship to Penn State.

She is the baby of her family and the only girl. Her four brothers include 20 year-old triplets Lamont, Lamar and Lonnie.

"They're super overprotective," she said, remembering how they gave "the big talk" about watching out for boys in college.

Scales said moving two hours away to Penn State made her nervous, because 41,000 students and large class sizes wouldn't be ideal.

And she would miss her family, especially the Friday night outings where she tagged along with her parents for a movie and dinner.

Scales is undecided on a major, but is leaning toward business.

This summer, as part of a national scholars program, she worked as a teller at PNC Bank. The program is designed to prepare college students for business management positions after graduation. The courses taught her about business etiquette, job interviews, time management, and what is expected of college students.

Those lessons have served her well as she concentrates on 16 course credits. Calculus has started off fine and she's received an A on an English paper, but her dislike of big classes caused her to transfer out of an economics class with 373 students in it.

Evidence of her sense of organization is found in her dorm room, where books are nicely stacked and there is actually some open desktop space left around her computer.

But being organized doesn't necessarily keep her from procrastinating. She often puts off assignments until the last minute, including writing her valedictorian speech.

"It took me a while to find a quote off the Internet," she said, conceding that she doesn't like public speaking. "I did it, and it worked out well, too. It wasn't the best thing I've ever written, but it was close."

She worried that coming from a predominantly black high school, she might have difficulty adjusting to a campus with a large majority of whites.

Her fears were put to rest after she arrived at Penn State and found how inviting it was.

And while she is aware of last year's racial conflicts, they don't distract her.

"I feel so comfortable," she said. "I don't really think about it."

Marcus White

Marcus White, like the journalist he wants to become, observes things before reacting or expressing his opinion.

If you told him the sky was blue, he might believe you, but glance upward to verify it for himself.

It's an attitude that keeps him from making too many assumptions about what Penn State will be like for him as a student.

White, 18, thinks a major in communications will best suit his low-key, highly observant approach to life.

He is a graduate of Central Catholic High School and grew up in Allison Park, with his parents, Dorothy and James White, who are both Pittsburgh Public School teachers.

He also has a sister, Ursula, 28. They have a close bond despite their age gap. Growing up, White played with his sister's friends, and as result, developed a level of maturity beyond his years.

"We didn't give him an opportunity to be a baby," Dorothy White said.

There also weren't many opportunities to mess up in school. Marcus White graduated with a 3.8 grade point average and superior study habits, thanks to the fact that his parents were teachers. They drilled into him what teachers expect from students

"My parents always made sure I had my work done," he said. "They didn't want to hear the excuses because they heard them every day."

He didn't slack off in school, partly because he was a strong student, and partly because his parents would have revoked basketball privileges.

Nothing could have hurt him more. He loves basketball.

White played basketball throughout high school and was the starting varsity point guard last season. Outside of volunteer activities, basketball occupied the majority of his time, whether it was practice or games.

His parents thought he handled his responsibilities in school well enough to buy him a car on his 16th birthday for transportation to and from practice.

"Basketball kept him focused," his mother said. "If you didn't stay on the honor roll, you couldn't play sports in this house."

That maxim will apply in college as well. While Marcus White won't be trying out for the Penn State basketball team, he plans to play intramural basketball. But he knows school comes first.

He is thinking about majoring in communications because he likes to read newspapers and magazines, and has a passion for political science and law, which comes partly from reading true crime books and watching the "Law & Order" television show.

Penn State was his first choice for college and an enticing option because it was away from home, but still inside the state. That was important to this youngest child, who rarely wandered far from home.

"And Central Catholic is an all boys school ...," he said, smiling at the fact Penn State is coed.

When the subject turns to racism at Penn State, White pauses to collect his thoughts, then says calmly:

"You have to deal with that all your life. I certainly have," he said. "I wasn't coming in here thinking I would be threatened. ... If you let stuff distract you from your education, it doesn't make any sense to me."

About the author and photographer

Staff Writer Edward G. Robinson III, 24, is a sports reporter at the Post-Gazette. He joined the newspaper in July 2000, after graduating from American University in Washington, D.C. with a bachelor's in journalism. This is his first major project for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Staff Photographer John Beale, 43, joined the Post-Gazette in 1984. He is a 1979 graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Beale this year was awarded first prize for Community Service Photojournalism by the American Society of Newspaper Editors for a special section he and staff writer Erv Dyer produced in December 2000 on religious diversity in the region. Last year he won top honors for feature photography from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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