Nearly a year after its inception, Penn’s Campaign for Community has sparked a wide variety of conversations about campus’ toughest issues.
In April 2015, Penn’s administration launched the campaign, an umbrella initiative encompassing events, grants and partnerships that encourage discussion about issues that “may appear to be difficult or intractable,” according to the campaign’s website.
The campaign kicked off in April with a panel event titled “Having Difficult Conversations in the Academy,” and it has tackled various issues since with 12 additional events to date and four more coming in the next month. These have ranged from a screening and discussion of the film “Feminist: Stories From Women’s Liberation” to a Black Lives Matter Arts Showcase.
College senior and the co-founder and current chair of Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation Gina Dukes was a panelist at an event in late January called “Laws without Morals are Vain: A Panel on Open Expression.” She felt that the event fulfilled the campaign’s goals by addressing difficult topics, but she said she feels the conversation needs to continue.
“I think it was a good starting point, but I don’t think we were able to delve deeply into the issue,” she said.
The other panelists included Vice Provost for Faculty Anita Allen, Penn Law School professor Stephanos Bibas, current Daily Pennsylvanian President and Wharton junior Colin Henderson and College and Wharton junior Jennifer Knesbach, who represented Penn Political Coalition and College Republicans.
They also only had time to take five or six questions after the panelists were finished speaking, and Dukes wished more students could have been heard, even expanding to students who weren’t at the event.
“It would have been good if it was campus-wide dialogue,” she said. “It could have maybe continued instead of just the one time event, maybe through a series of events or maybe something online like a poll or voting, just something of that nature to get responses of what people were thinking.”
From Feb. 22-26, Gregory College House hosted a film series called “Difference, Division and Discussion,” with one issue-oriented film premiering each day in the house film lounge, followed by a discussion. The series spotlighted LGBTQ communities and stigma with “Paris is Burning,” the Black Lives Matter movement with “Fruitvale Station,” bullying among youth with “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” Islam and patriotism with “American Sniper” and suicide and mental health with “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
Dean of Gregory College House Christopher Donovan said the concept fit in well with Gregory’s regular screenings and discussions, but would also be “looking at film in a different way than we customarily do.” Namely, it wouldn’t be as focused on the films cinematically as it would be on the social issues at hand.
Donovan said a few films in particular sparked intense discussions. “Welcome to the Dollhouse” was one, and another was “American Sniper.”
“As you can probably imagine, ‘American Sniper’ was pretty divisive. That’s a film that can be controversial for the issues it raises without addressing, in certain ways, so that was kind of a difficult discussion,” he said.
In the future, if Gregory does another film series, Donovan said they may spread the screenings out throughout a month or a semester instead of doing them in such a short sequence to avoid so much heavy material in such a short amount of time. He also said they learned things as they went along; for example, rearranging the chairs in the film lounge into a circle helped make everyone feel equally heard in the discussions after the films.
The film series, and specifically the screening of “American Sniper,” even inspired one of Gregory’s residential advisors, Wharton senior Sneha Shashikumar, to do her own screening of “My Name is Khan” on the Saturday that followed and lead her own discussion.
“I think that’s a nice complement to the type of event we were doing, so it’s great if it inspires more events like that,” Donovan said.
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