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The “Race Relations and Law Enforcement” event held at Penn last semester generated discussion between two often disparate groups and was a key inciter of the Campaign for Community.

Photo: Irina Bit-Babik

The beginning of the “Campaign for Community” was announced on April 1, creating a forum for discussion in the Penn community.

The Campaign is a Penn initiative that aims to create conversation and dialogue between different groups on campus, and to foster a more close-knit community at Penn. It is an attempt to “to provide a forum for constructive conversations about the most difficult issues facing our students, campus community and larger society,” according to Provost Vincent Price.

The bulk of the Campaign is aimed to be at least semi-crowdsourced, and as the announcement states, “Faculty, undergraduates, graduate students and staff will all have roles to play in these discussions.” In the fall, a steering committee will plan events and give out grants to individuals and organizations that wish to hold events themselves. The Campaign is intended to give resources and foster dialogue in communities where it already exists, as well as to create dialogue in places it doesn’t.

Programming for the Campaign has already begun, and the first event will feature “six Deans in an open discussion of the challenges, opportunities and importance of having difficult conversations in an academic environment,” according to Price. He added that the Campaign as a whole “will take shape as an ongoing series of conversations, in both smaller and larger contexts, designed to help us talk about our differences and our shared goals and values.”

The creation of the Campaign was inspired by both national trends and events on campus.

“Over the past semester and a half, watching what’s happening across the country and on campus, we were seeing indications of divided communities and people unable to talk to each other about things,” said Vice Provost for Education and Biology professor Andrew Binns.

“We believe strongly that a university bears a unique responsibility to provide a forum for constructive conversations about the most difficult issues facing our students, campus community and larger society. It seemed to be an important and opportune moment to place a spotlight on this commitment,” Provost Price said in an email.

On campus, events such as the “Race Relations and Law Enforcement” talk held last semester by the Division of Public Safety, The Office of the Chaplain and the Black Graduate and Professional Student Assembly inspired the creation of the Campaign. The event, which featured Penn Police Officers and various other community figures in a panel where open dialogue was held between the panelists and attendees, sparked the idea of creating a more official umbrella under which more of these types of events could be held.

“Most folks have been very positive. A lot of folks recognize it’s something that’s going on,” Binns said. “We’re a university, we’re a place where these conversations happen all the time.”

“The campaign is going to entail what the community feels it should,” Binns said “The key piece is that we don’t want to be [calling the] shots.”

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