The History of Diversity at Penn

How does one distinguish between diversity and inclusion? Penn, in partnership with the James Brister Society, examines the question, and provides a snapshot of diversity at Penn since its founding in the short film “Towards Inclusion: Diversity at Penn.”

After its founding in 1740, Penn relocated to its current location in 1872—establishing its campus on 40 acres of farmland west of the Schuylkill River from central Philadelphia. It wasn’t until 1881 that the first student of non-European descent—James Brister—graduated from Penn, with a degree from the School of Dental Medicine.

Beginning in 1910, more international students gained admission, and over the past century Penn’s commitment to diversity has continued to grow. With double-digit increases in applications from African-American and Latino students over the last seven years, the number of traditionally under-represented minorities in Penn’s undergraduate student body has grown to about 15 percent.

The Class of 2015 is Penn’s most diverse ever: the number of African-American and Latino students increased 22 percent over last year's freshman class, and 12 percent of this year’s incoming students are of international origin—representing 66 countries.

“What diversity means today is also meaningful for the whole history of racism, sexism and classism in this country: It’s working at breaking down the barriers to opportunity, to a really excellent education and to really open leadership in our society,” President Amy Gutmann states in the film. “Those barriers have been many. A commitment to diversity, to me, means a commitment to struggling against those barriers.”