Black student union members pose with the LaGrone statue "University as Family". From left are:  Jaiden Wiggins, Joshua Brown, r Olasewere  Josephine Sesay  Ellisha Haley  Jaina Nortey  Keshawn Greene  Adia Douglas, Saige Duncan, Sheylla Romero, Quinise Armstrong and Jerome Warrick.

For over four decades, statue has served as a symbol of diversity and inclusion

For over four decades, Penn State Scranton has been home to a unique and curiosity-piquing statue that not only captivates the eye, but also embodies the spirit of unity and diversity. It is not only a unique work of art, is also a testament to a longstanding tradition of diversity at the campus.
By: Morgan Sewack

DUNMORE, Pa. – For over four decades, Penn State Scranton has been home to a unique and curiosity-piquing piece of art that not only captivates the eye, but also embodies the spirit of unity and diversity.

The “University As Family,” an ornamental and significant sculpture created in 1973 by Oliver LaGrone (1906-1995), a distinguished Black teacher, artist and poet, stands adjacent to the Dawson Building on a hilltop overlooking the campus, Lackawanna Valley and surrounding mountains.

LaGrone, born Clarence Oliver LaGrone in McAlester, Oklahoma, was the grandson of former slaves. In 1974-75, he served as the Artist-in-Residence for Penn State’s Commonwealth campuses and created the “University as Family” piece, along with a smaller piece, "The Dancer", which he gifted the campus.

LaGrone’s artistic vision was inspired by the panoramic beauty and cultural richness of northeast Pennsylvania. In his prospectus to Penn State Scranton’s Advisory Board at that time, LaGrone shared his inspirations and ideas for the sculpture.

“The community of Scranton and [the] Scranton campus, though miniscule in nature’s whole, nevertheless, when seen as a people project, is both typical and unique. They are significant in their roles of symbolic and realistic promise -- past, present and future. They are part of the age-old voyaging quest of man – a special page in the book of gifts man receives from earth,” he wrote.

His sculpture depicts a family of four drawn together in a common search for light, and was meant to symbolize unity and the collective pursuit of knowledge. LaGrone’s vision was to portray the University as an extension of the unified community, honoring the families whose lives were intertwined with the region's coal mining history.

“The University, it seems, is an institutional extension of that part of the family which, as a unified community concept, has the prime concern of bringing light into serving the growth and opportunity aspirations for generation ahead. So, the family, the miner relating to the great nature-pageant – the dialogue between earth and sun, fell into symbolic time and place as the architectural theme for ‘The University as Family’,” LaGrone wrote.

LaGrone’s masterpiece is not only a celebration of art, but also a milestone in Penn State’s journey towards diversity, equity and inclusion.

As one of the first pieces of artwork ever held at Penn State Scranton, the “University As Family” marked a significant step forward in embracing diverse perspectives and voices within the University community.

“As a Penn State student, this is my first exposure to the rich history behind the statue, and since my freshman year, I’ve always been intrigued by it,” said Black Student Union President Josephine Sesay.

“Learning that Oliver LaGrone, a distinguished Black teacher, artist and poet, crafted this piece as Penn State’s Artist-In-Residence in the 1970s adds a profound layer to its significance,” Sesay said. “The statue beautifully embodies LaGrone’s vision of the University as an extension of a unified community, paying homage to families connected to the region’s mining history. It’s inspiring to have such a powerful piece of Black art and history prominently displayed on our campus.”

Campus Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator Emily Glodzik also shared her insight on this significant piece of Black artistry and history on campus.

“In my previous role here at Penn State Scranton, I learned about the rich history of this statue, and I had always felt pride in the beauty of this campus,” she said.

“This statue holds so much meaning in the diversity, equity and inclusion ideology that this campus has always fostered -- even before its time. My hope is that instead of this piece being a part of the background in a commute to your class or office, it becomes a daily reminder of who we are together, and how supporting one other only makes us stronger,” Glodzik said.

LaGrone’s contribution to the campus extends beyond the iconic outdoor sculpture. A smaller piece of his, “The Dancer,” has graced the campus library, enriching the academic environment with its modernistic attraction.

At other campuses, LaGrone’s legacy also has been honored and celebrated, including at Penn State Harrisburg’s Rowland Sculpture Garden, where a smaller version of “University as Family” is housed, and in its Cultural Arts Center, where his sculptures adorn the walls alongside rotating art exhibits that celebrate cultural diversity. A bust of civil rights activist Paul Robeson is housed in Penn State’s Black Student offices of the University’s student union at University Park.

LaGrone’s journey from artist to educator left an indelible mark on Penn State’s history. His artistic skills, coupled with his dedication to diversity and education, continues to inspire generations of students, faculty, staff and visitors.

In the photo above, members of Penn State Scranton's Black Student Union pose for a photo at the "University As Family" sculpture. From left are:  Jaiden Wiggins, Joshua Brown, Zyier Olasewere, Josephine Sesay, Ellisha Haley, Jaina Nortey, Keshawn Greene, Adia Douglas, Saige Duncan, Sheylla Romero, Quinise Armstrong and Jerome Warrick.