Penn's 'Campaign for Community' invites constructive conversations about difficult issues

The Penn community is large and diverse, demographically, socially, and academically. This diversity is a great strength, creating the vibrant environment so essential to a great University. Yet recent national events that have divided communities call for our undivided attention and underscore the importance of Penn’s longstanding campus commitment to be a model of constructive conversations about difficult issues.

In an effort to meet this challenge, the University is announcing a “Campaign for Community” to come together and collectively address questions such as: Who are we? Who do we want to be? What do we share? How do we interact with one another? How do we value our differences? How can we best talk about those differences? 

Penn calls this a “campaign” to underline that it will be conducted across a significant amount of time and will require coordination and collaboration across many parts of our campus. Faculty, undergraduates, graduate students, and staff will all have roles to play in these discussions. A Campaign for Community Steering Committee will include faculty, staff, and students working collaboratively and in partnership with groups across campus. It will be jointly chaired by Andrew Binns, the vice provost for education, Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, the vice provost for university life, and the most recent past chair of the Faculty Senate.

The full Steering Committee will be assembled this spring and will begin planning a major campus event for the 2015-2016 academic year. It will also administer a program of grants for Campaign events, for which Penn faculty, students, and staff can apply, either individually or in groups. 

The inaugural event of the Campaign will be a town hall on the topic “Having Difficult Conversations in the Academy,” held on Tuesday, April 14, at 4:30 p.m. in Fitts Auditorium at Penn Law SchoolJohn Jackson, dean of the School of Social Policy & Practice, will lead the discussion with Michael Delli Carpini, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication; Steven Fluharty, dean of the School of Arts & Sciences; Pam Grossman, dean of the Graduate School of Education; Wendell Pritchett, dean of Penn Law School; and Antonia Villarruel, dean of the School of Nursing.

The Campaign may also spotlight ongoing programs and activities, such as the Academic Theme Year and Penn Reading Project, which for 2015-2016 are the “Year of Discovery” and “The Big Sea” by Langston Hughes. Published in 1940, “The Big Sea” is Hughes’ poetic memoir chronicling his self-realization as an African American growing up in the Midwest and New York before traveling the world.

Through such activities, the University hopes to strengthen our community, finding ways to discuss and understand key issues that are too often avoided because they appear to be difficult or intractable. All members of the Penn community are invited to join in this Campaign.

Campaign for Community