The 5B | Evening the playing field

Guest Column | Representation in Penn’s administration is critical to creating a community in which all believe they have the same opportunities

· February 13, 2013, 12:18 am

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In track and field, the “California start” forces runners in a race to start at the same line. Typically, all of the competitors start at the same time, using the sound of the starter’s gun as a signal that the competition has started.

The foundation of this nation did not, however, allow different groups to start the race at the same time. Groups like women, Native Americans, blacks, Latinos, Asians, members of the LGBTQ community and essentially anyone who didn’t identify as a straight white cisgender man, were forced to stand at the line while the rest of their competitors took an outstanding head start.

It’s hard to explain how important representation is. It’s difficult to convey how it feels to sit in a classroom or attend a department event and see no one who looks like you or identifies the way you do in a position of authority. The fact of the matter is that to be a straight white cisgender male is to see yourself everywhere and to never question the countless opportunities that lie before you.

To be a member of an underrepresented group is to constantly see limitations placed before you. In the education sector, this can manifest itself in a lack of administrative representation in different institutions. How can a black student conceive the road to leadership in their chosen field if they don’t see any prominent black faculty in their department? How can a queer student imagine a path toward tenured professorship if they have never been taught by an openly queer faculty member? For that matter, what is a minority student applying to Penn to think if she can’t find anyone like her on the list of upper-level administrators?

As minority students, we have found a consistent lack of minority role models on the faculty and staff. Penn’s student body gets more and more diverse each year but we are still consistently greeted by a largely homogenous staff.

This is why we, as the 5B Coalition consisting of the United Minorities Council, Lambda Alliance, UMOJA, Latino Coalition and Asian Pacific Student Coalition, support the several senior faculty of Africana Studies in their appeal for a more diverse population of administrators, faculty and staff.

This isn’t about “discriminating” against straight white cisgender men. This isn’t even about giving preference to minorities. It’s about giving a fair shot to people who have historically had fewer opportunities due to institutionalized biases.

We’re currently at a turning point where nominal legislation declares minority populations to be “equal.” The fact of the matter is that practical measurements — like the number of upper-level administrators at Penn who identify as LGBTQ or people of color — demonstrate otherwise. Inequalities don’t vanish just because the law says they should. Inequalities vanish when champions for the cause actively engage in leveraging the foot race until those who were disadvantaged have caught up.

The Africana Studies department’s article on diversity in the Penn administration shed light on the absence of diversity amongst faculty. Although there has been progress, we still have a long way to go. We admire Penn’s commitment to diversity, but we want to see this commitment exemplified in the administration, faculty and staff who have the greatest influence on Penn’s educational and cultural environment.

The 5B is a coalition of umbrella groups of underrepresented and minority groups on campus including Asian Pacific Student Coalition, Lambda Alliance, Latino Coalition, United Minorities Council and UMOJA. You can reach 5B at lcurtis@sas.upenn.edu (Curtis Lee, APSC), dawnandr@sas.upenn.edu (Dawn Androphy, Lambda Alliance), carelle@sas.upenn.edu (Carelle Hernandez Ruiz, Latino Coalition), joycek@sas.upenn.edu (Joyce Kim, UMC) and hyattabr@upenn.sas.edu and azeru@sas.upenn.edu (Abrina Hyatt and Meron Zeru, UMOJA).

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