Susan Russell: 2015 Penn State Laureate


Susan Russell
Susan Russell, associate professor of theatre and 2014-15 Penn State Laureate.
Photo by Bill Zimmerman

The Penn State laureate, an honorary position established in 2008, is a full-time faculty member in the humanities or arts who is assigned half-time for one academic year to bring an enhanced level of social, cultural, artistic, and human perspective and awareness to a broad array of audiences. As this year’s laureate, Susan Russell, an associate professor in the School of Theatre, has focused on dignity.


We recently spoke to Susan about her role and what it means for Penn State World Campus students.

You have spoken at 15 of Penn State’s campuses and will complete the remaining visits this spring. How is your message different when speaking to Penn State World Campus students?

We all have the same core challenges, such as economics, ethnicity, gender, identity, media, nonviolence, politics, race, religion, rights, sexual orientation, etc. Youre not alone in these challenges! We all want answers. The strategies for conquering these issues are reinvesting in basic communication skills. Because of technology and our attraction to separation, we have invested so little time in face-to-face communication. We have to circle back to the basic skills of talking to one another. My mission as laureate is to help use dignity to find voices on any issues that beckon to us for more answers. To see our futures, we must communicate in the present.

What does the Penn State laureate mean to our Penn State World Campus students?

I want to be an inspirational leader who motivates you to ascend to your greatest potential. You have a voice and your participation is just one click away at my dignity website. I’m in it with you 100% and I’ve shown up for this conversation.

I’m interested in solving society’s hardest problems and finding ways to prevent systemic errors. This begins by repairing our basic communication skills.

Your message as laureate is dignity — changing comments into contributions. Can you explain what that means for our student population?

Dignity is one word that translates well with any culture. From Aristotle to Martin Luther King Jr., humans have talked about what dignity means and how we can achieve it for ourselves and others. To define dignity is to unlock what peace means. We must teach communication practices that present themselves as the better option to violence, such as respectful communication, eye contact, active listening, etc.

Is the impact of your message different for our students who are so widely geographically dispersed?

Human beings are human beings. Location doesn’t matter.

Do you think Penn State World Campus students have more or less opportunities to be inclusive and practice dignity?

Take a look at your world and ask yourself what you want to do to change it? Do you want to participate in a form of social change? Then, take action to become part of the solution. Do you want to increase your communication skills with your family? Then, take the steps to become a better communicator. Look at your challenges and find ways to answer what dignity means for you in your situation.

Do you have a short phrase or word that Penn State World Campus students could say in their heads when they feel themselves being judgmental or building up walls for others?

We’re in it together!

With so many articles and videos on your website right now, tell our audience something that we dont already know about you.

I’m a big gardener. I like to plant things by hand and by seed. I love being in the earth.

When 2016 rolls around and your role as the laureate comes to an end, what do you want people to remember about this year? What do you want to remember about this year?

It’s not over. In 2016 the walk continues. I want people to know that the possibilities are limitless.

 Additional Resources

If you’d like to learn more about Susan, please check out these additional resources:

Dignity Website

You may submit articles, clips, music, and videos for inclusion on the topics of discussion.

Penn State News Article

Read more about Susans perspectives on the topic of dignity.

Daily Collegian Article

Read Susan’s interview with the Daily Collegian.