We are today announcing that a statue of George Whitefield that was erected in the Quad in the early twentieth-century will be removed from our campus. We make this change after careful consideration of what it means for our campus community, both now and into the future. The case for removing Whitefield is overwhelmingly strong. He was a well-known evangelical preacher in the mid-eighteenth century, who notably led a successful campaign to allow slavery in Georgia. This is undeniably one of Whitefield’s principal legacies. Honoring him with a statue on our campus is inconsistent with our University’s core values, which guide us in becoming an ever more welcoming community that celebrates inclusion and diversity.
Whitefield’s connection to Penn stems from a church meeting house he owned at 4th and Arch streets in Philadelphia which was purchased by Ben Franklin to house the Academy of Philadelphia, a predecessor to the University of Pennsylvania. Given that Whitefield prominently advocated for slavery, there is absolutely no justification for having a statue honoring him at Penn.
Over the past few years, members of our community involved in the Penn & Slavery Project have done important research that has helped the University better understand its early history, and we are grateful for their work. It is important that we fully understand how the institution of slavery—a profoundly shameful and deeply tragic part of American history—affected Penn in its early years and that we reflect as a university about the current meaning of this history. Penn recognizes that some of its trustees, including our founder Benjamin Franklin, had owned enslaved persons. Importantly, Franklin changed course in his life and went on to become a leading abolitionist.
To ensure that we have a more complete understanding of the history that is reflected on our campus, we are also announcing the formation of a Campus Iconography Group. This group will engage in broad outreach across our community and advise us on further steps to ensure that the placement and presence of statues and other prominent iconography better reflects our achievements and aspirations to increase the diversity of the Penn community. We want to do our best to fulfill our firm commitment to being the most inclusive, innovative and impactful university.
The Campus Iconography Group will be co-chaired by Joann Mitchell, senior vice president for Institutional Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer, and Fritz Steiner, dean of the Weitzman School of Design. Members of the CIG will include: Barbara Savage, the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought in the Department of Africana Studies; William Gipson, associate vice provost for Equity and Access; Chaz Howard, vice president for Social Equity and Community; Anne Papageorge, vice president for Facilities and Real Estate Services; Lynn Marsden-Atlass, executive director of the Arthur Ross Gallery; Medha Narvekar, vice president and Secretary of the University; and Wendy White, senior vice president and general counsel with University Architect Mark Kocent serving as senior staff.
While as a University we are currently addressing many pressing issues and multiple exigencies related to the COVID-19 pandemic, we intend the Campus Iconography Group to move forward expeditiously this summer so we can be in a position later this year to begin enacting its recommendations.
These past months have made our country and our community more aware of the systemic racism that has infected so much of our society for so long. It is critical that we take the needed steps at Penn both in how we operate, and also in who we celebrate and commemorate. We believe the steps we are announcing today are important ones in moving us forward on this path.