On Tuesday, April 19, The Daily Pennsylvanian published a guest column written by College of Liberal and Professional Studies student Christopher Abreu. In it, he described his run-in with two instances of racism on Penn’s campus and suggested that minority students shouldn’t come to Penn. The next day, more than 200 students and faculty members dressed in black joined hands on College Green in a silent protest against racism. Printed below are several letters we received responding to racism on campus, including one from Penn President Amy Gutmann.
Yesterday at noon, I stood in silent solidarity with students, faculty and staff on College Green. Looking around the circle, I saw men and women who represent the university I love — an inclusive community made up of many voices. Who belongs at Penn? We all do.
Each of us has a responsibility to cultivate mutual respect in both word and deed, every hour of the day and every day of the year. Is this a high standard? No. It is the highest standard, set because our community deserves nothing less.
By listening to one another with open minds and open hearts, we fulfill our promise not only as members of one of the world’s finest universities, but also as human beings. May each of us continue to listen carefully and to celebrate the differences that make our voices unique and our University strong.
Sincerely, Amy Gutmann Penn President
Christopher Abreu’s guest column has initiated the spread of many valuable opinions on racism at Penn. However, I question his message.
I believe this article on Abreu’s racial encounter to be an example of passive-aggression at its finest. For him to suggest that minority students should not attend a highly esteemed university like Penn in avoidance of racial prejudice exhibits a subtle cowardice that I feel is not characteristic of black Americans in the wake of racial conflict.
Taking into consideration the intellectual, professional and social benefits of attending this University, allowing racism to deter minority attendance would place victory right in the hands of those enacting this prejudice. Black people do not run from these types of problems; we conquer them.
Azani Pinkney Engineering freshman
Yesterday’s guest column was disturbing not for its unfamiliarity — because I, too, have been called a “nigger” on and off this campus — but because of the response that unfolded in the comments section under the article on theDP.com.
Rather than lament the experience of a fellow student, commenters distorted the words Abreu used to express disappointment in our campus climate, ultimately objecting more strongly to the minutiae of his reaction than to the incident itself.
While the concept is often applied in an anti-rape activism context, the struggle against victim blaming — not simply against epithets or violence — is one that needs to continue on this campus.
Echoing one commenter, I ask, “Can we please … focus on the people who are actually in the wrong here?”
Kaneesha Cherelle Parsard College senior and former chairwoman of the Penn Consortium of Undergraduate Women
I’m a white male from the Deep South. Thanks to my time at this University, I’ve broadened my horizons in ways I never thought possible. I’ve met folks of every color and creed, forging friendships that will last for the rest of my life. Whenever I return to the place I left behind, I’m disgusted by the ignorance I find, and I work hard to fight it. I owe this expanded perspective entirely to Penn.
This is why, although I’m appalled by Abreu’s experience, I can’t believe his claim that racism at Penn is a “way of life.” The actions of a few drunken dumbasses don’t speak for our student body, and they don’t speak for a university that has committed itself so strongly to the goals of tolerance and diversity. They don’t speak for the people I’ve encountered, and they sure as hell don’t speak for me.
Contrary to Abreu’s argument, minority students should still come here. You’ll find no better proof than yesterday’s rally, when hundreds flocked to College Green to link hands in silent solidarity. Events like this testify to Penn’s incredible richness of perspective, and show why — four years later — I’m still proud to call this place my home.
Emerson Brooking College senior
I am a doctoral student, and I wanted to share my experience with you all on the racism issue.
The School of Engineering and Applied Science requires students to show their PennCards before they enter the building. I have no problem with this requirement. It is a must-have security measure.
However, what hurts me the most is when I am asked to show my ID while students whose race and ethnicity shall remain unnamed are not asked to produce their IDs. I wonder how this is different from racial profiling?
I have never experienced any racism in United States. Penn is a great university and I always feel a part of the greater community. However, such small isolated incidents make me feel very sad.
I would not say that Penn is a racist institution. I would just say that there are some (in fact, very few) narrow-minded, stupid people at Penn.
Varun Aggarwala Ph.D. Student
The actions of the individuals who harassed Christopher Abreu are reprehensible. But I question the implication that the Penn community is largely hostile to minorities — so hostile, Abreu says, that minorities should be discouraged from attending.
I, too, experienced racial harassment on Penn's campus. One night during my senior year, a black man started following me and screaming that I was a "white European crusader," responsible for the repression of black people. He threw items at me and, had I not been able to get into my apartment, I have no doubt that it would have escalated into a physical confrontation.
But this isolated incident didn't lead me to draw any conclusions about Penn as a whole. In fact, when I read Abreu's column, I wonder if we both attended the same university. The Penn I know posted a sign during my sophomore year directing "admitted students of color" to a reception — a reception to which white students were clearly not welcome. The Penn I know has a policy of giving admissions preferences to students with "diverse" backgrounds — a policy from which Abreu very well may have benefitted. The Penn I know is home to the W.E.B. Du Bois College House, a self-described "center for Black intellectuals searching diligently for an African identity and perspective."
Isolated incidents of racism, while disgusting, are just that — isolated. To claim that Penn is not overwhelmingly welcoming to minorities — to the point where it sometimes infringes upon the rights of non-minorities — is to deny reality.
Scott Kahn 2008 College graduate
The headline “Penn stands up against racism” does not correspond with the main images the DP printed of only African Americans uniting against racism. These images mistakenly make the Penn community’s silent protest seem like it was only an African American struggle against bigotry. By showing cultural cohesion only within the framework of Rachel Zurier's editorial cartoon, the DP has diminished the power of the campus protest, which successfully unified across cultural lines.
Had the DP not focused only on African Americans, it would have accurately captured the protest’s message of cultural unity rather than perpetuating the idea of division among individuals on the issue of racism. Perhaps if prospective students could have seen clear images of people of all races and ethnicities united in Penn’s circle of tolerance on the front page of a copy of the DP, minority students’ possible fear of a racist campus (as is addressed in the article “Racism concerns may affect admissions yield”) could have been eased. And, if prospective students could have seen the campus’ joined effort, perhaps they, like the hundreds who participated in the protest on College Green, could have known that, at Penn, they belong.
Maya Brandon College sophomore
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