Last week, President Gutmann called on our community to join in grieving the deaths of George Floyd and too many others and to commit to being part of a positive change. I am writing today to reaffirm her call to duty and follow up with additional next steps.
Over the last week, I’ve looked at the Philadelphia streets where I grew up and have lived all my life and found a city that had changed. People have done the same in many other places across the country. What comes next, none of us know. But I hope it will be a fairer and more just country—a place where a person of color does not have to live each day in fear (a fear that I share, as I have been unjustifiably detained by police many times in my life) and where everyone can enjoy the resources and opportunities which are a basic human right.
I have researched and written about the uprisings of the 1960s, but I was not old enough then to fully feel them. I do fully understand today’s uprisings. They are an appropriate and understandable response to our country’s continuing systemic racism, violence, and repression—to a culture in which many leaders divide and inflame hatred—and they express a frustration with a society, the wealthiest in the human history, where poverty and economic inequality are ever-present. Like you, I’ve been shocked and saddened. Yet—probably also like you—unsurprised. The bill for injustice and inequality has come due. The shock was, perhaps, how suddenly it arrived. Yet amid all that: rays of hope. Across the country, peaceful marches erupted this weekend; and they represent the broadest possible cross section of America.
As members of the Penn community, and members of many other communities, it is our responsibility to make the change people are demanding happen. Like all institutions, Penn is a flawed place. And like all historic institutions, Penn has a troubled history of racial discrimination. We need to recognize that, acknowledge it, and work every day to atone for those flaws. Yet at the same time, because of our amazing students, faculty, and staff, Penn is a place that strives to get better, to work to alleviate our society’s and our world’s many ills.
Now more than ever, our tremendous stores of knowledge and creativity can, and will, help us create a more just, more equitable society. Here on our campus, I am proud to say that we have numerous ongoing programs that offer resources, information, discussion, and support on these critical issues, some of which are listed below. Going forward, as President Gutmann indicated, we also want to encourage all members of the Penn community to use funding and support from the Campaign for Community. The Campaign began five years ago to create ways to talk together about the deepest and potentially most controversial and intractable issues that divide us. Its goals are explicitly:
- To promote understanding of and respect for multiple points of view on important topics related to the University community
- To encourage dialogue and discussion among members of the community about issues with the potential for difference and disagreement
- To create opportunities for all members of the University’s community to participate in conversations about important topics
The Campaign for Community is available immediately for proposals—for projects over this summer or in the academic year ahead—in three primary areas:
- Projects and conversations about racial justice within the Penn community
- Projects and conversations about racial justice between members of the Penn community and members of our Philadelphia community
- Projects and conversations about racial justice by members of the Penn community in their own home communities, including students at home over the summer
We also encourage you to make use of and participate in some of our vibrant campus programs:
African-American Resource Center
Pan-Asian American Community House
Greenfield Intercultural Center
Spiritual and Religious Life Center
We are all living through a moment in our history that is turbulent and unpredictable across multiple dimensions. Yet from great disruption can come great change. President Gutmann and I look forward to working with all of you, across this summer and the year ahead, as we begin to shape the future of our University and our wider human community.
Let us be the change we seek.