In light of campus-wide tensions around subjects like race, sexual assault and mental health, the University’s Campaign for Community is attempting to make difficult conversations easier.
The Campaign, which, according to its website, “aims to strengthen our Penn community by finding ways to discuss and understand key issues that may appear to be difficult or intractable,” launched last spring, and will focus on addressing issues among students that may cause disagreement.
Students or faculty can become involved in the Campaign by submitting an application for event funding or an endorsement. Events can receive up to $1,500 in funding, of the $50,000 available, and there is no limit on the number of endorsements that the Campaign can give.
“[The Campaign is] a way to signal the value we place on freedom of expression and on fostering a lively exchange,” Provost Vincent Price said. “University communities are unique and, I think, ideal kinds of settings to have these kinds of conversations.”
Claire Finkelstein, a member of the Campaign’s steering committee, said that there is no preconceived notion of what a Campaign event should look like, and that the committee “would be glad to consider any application that helps to foster conversation and communication around contentious issues.”
So far, Campaign events have included “Ayad Akhtar: A Conversation on Religion, Class, and Race” on Oct. 13, “A Conversation with Jon Batiste” on Oct. 17, and “From Setback to Success: The Virtues of Failing” on Oct. 20. “Academic Freedom Now: A Symposium Marking the 100th Anniversary of the ‘Scott Nearing Affair’” will take place on Oct. 27.
The symposium will focus on the topic of academic freedom in honor of the “Scott Nearing Affair,” an event in which a professor was fired by Penn’s Board of Trustees after his activism against child labor. The discussion will include Finkelstein, Florida International University Law Professor Stanley Fish, President of Wise Results LLC and former Staff Counsel of the American Association of University Professors Ann Franke, and Penn history professor Bruce Kuklick. The symposium’s focus will be on contemporary issues of academic freedom, such as the nationwide trend of shrinking professor tenure.
Moderator Peter Conn, a Penn English professor, explained that “what we’re attempting to do here is just bring together people with different backgrounds, different professional credentials, and hope that among them... we may have a provocative and certainly very instructive discussion.”
Students who wish to receive funding or endorsement from the Campaign can apply on their website, and should expect to hear back within two weeks but no later than two weeks before the event. Applications do not necessarily have to involve a speaking engagement — events like exhibits are also acceptable — but all must somehow present a way to engage the community.
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