Penn president accepts recommendations of Working Group on University connections to slavery

The Working Group was formed after an undergraduate student research project discovered that Penn’s ties to slavery were deeper than had previously been known.

This past fall, undergraduate students involved in the Penn Slavery Project, which was supervised by Kathleen Brown, the David Boies Professor of History in the School of Arts and Sciences, reported preliminary findings revealing the University’s early, far-reaching ties to slavery. As a result of the important research, in January, President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett announced the formation of a Working Group, to be led by Pritchett, who holds a Ph.D. in history from Penn, to outline additional research to be undertaken as well as immediate next steps.

On Thursday, June 28, based on the Working Group’s report, Gutmann released a statement accepting the Working Group’s recommendations designed to aid in more fully understanding this painful part of Penn’s past as well as its implications for the present and future. 

Specifically, Penn will support ongoing research of the Penn Slavery Project under the leadership of Brown, as well as research—under the leadership of Dorothy Roberts and the Penn Program on Race, Science, and Society—on the impact of the School of Medicine’s pedagogy, research, and medical practices on alumni and its lingering effects on medicine. Penn will develop a website to serve as a portal for a repository of research findings and other information, and join the Universities Studying Slavery consortium. In collaboration with schools and departments, Penn will offer educational and cultural programming that will inform the University community about its past and foster opportunities for learning on campus and beyond.

“Penn will continue to work to learn still more about its past, disseminate our findings, grapple with the implications for our present, and work to secure an ever more inclusive future,” Gutmann said in her message. “The power of knowledge advances our common good; it enables us to be stronger and wiser; and it is essential to our moving forward together.”

The Working Group, chaired by Pritchett, includes Brown; Heather A. Williams, Presidential Professor and Professor of Africana studies; Joann Mitchell, senior vice president for institutional affairs and chief diversity officer; and Roberts, the George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology, the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights, and professor of Africana studies. The Working Group received research support from Arielle Brown, a program manager at the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Alexis Neumann, a doctoral candidate in the Department of History. 

Read Gutmann’s statement here.