From Humble Beginnings, Women of Color at Penn Marks 30th Anniversary

It started with lunch. On a spring day in 1988, a small group of women of color on faculty and staff at the University of Pennsylvania met for lunch at the Penn Tower Hotel. They were hosted by Marcia Rafig, the hotel’s general manager, one of the few women of color in high level hotel management positions in the country. It was the first-ever Women of Color Day.

Joann Mitchell was one of the ladies who lunched that afternoon. She was then director of Penn’s Office of Affirmative Action. Mitchell, who now serves as senior vice president for institutional affairs and chief diversity officer at Penn, recalls that “at that first luncheon we heard personal stories from several of the women gathered about family, friends and mentors who had been instrumental in their success and the ways that those present were trying to pay it forward.”

That lunch with co-workers was a catalyst to establish Women of Color at Penn with the mission of empowering members to promote education, cultural diversity and positive change in the Penn community and region. In the last three decades, it has become an integral part of campus life. WOCAP presents monthly lunch workshops, networking events and an annual awards luncheon held during the spring semester. WOCAP has expanded beyond Penn’s faculty and staff to include students, community members and allies.

On March 17, the 30th Annual Women of Color at Penn Day luncheon held at the Inn at Penn kicked off the beginning of a year-long celebration of WOCAP. Hundreds of members and supporters were in attendance.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney proclaimed it Women of Color at Penn Day across the city and issued an official proclamation at the luncheon. Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell was among other city leaders who came to the luncheon.

Penn’s African-American Resource Center, directed by Valerie Allen, provides support and continuity for planning the WOCAP Awards Luncheon each year. 

The luncheon honored those whose work has improved the quality of the lives of women of color and people of all backgrounds. The Women of Color at Penn 2017 honorees include members of the Penn community and the city at large.

The Community Award recipients are Karen Dunston-Carr of Transcending Life Community Lighthouse, cited for “her work to help rehabilitate former inmates, homeless man and women, sex workers and those who have had difficulty adjusting in society,” and Yvonne Jones, founder of Urban Solutions Incorporated, “who has dedicated her career to improving the health and quality of life of Philadelphians affected by poverty, adversity and limited access to resources.”

Graduate Student Award winner Leslie Kay Jones, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology in the School of Arts & Sciences is serving in her second year as president of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association. She was cited as “an advocate for those who face prejudice and discrimination because of race, gender and or sexual identity.”

Fariha Kahn, Asian-American Studies Program associate director, received the Staff Award for diligently working to significantly increase South Asian representation in the program. She was cited as “a strong change agent who connects with people from various, backgrounds, identities and experiences.”                                                      


The Undergraduate Student Award went to Anea Moore, a sophomore in the School of Arts & Sciences, for her “tireless work as a campus leader to address student needs, serving on the Netter Center Student Advisory Board, the board of Penn First and the Undergraduate Assembly.” 

This year the Joann Mitchell Outstanding Legacy Award was established, named after and conferred on Mitchell, one of the highest-ranking officials at Penn. Since that day 30 years ago when she invited women of diverse backgrounds to lunch and WOCAP was established soon after, she has served numerous times as the organization’s chair and was this year’s “chair of chairs.”

In June, Women of Color at Penn will host its annual Queen’s Tea. More information about WOCAP is available at 215-898-0104 or


Women of Color at Penn 2017 Annual Awards Luncheon