On Oct. 11, Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett emailed undergraduate students “The Penn PULSE Survey,” with a stated objective to provide “an opportunity for you to provide confidential feedback about your own experiences and activities here at Penn.” The survey, which has since been emailed out by a variety of University offices, includes questions about sexual violence, experiences of bias, the availability of resources and other components of campus culture.
Days later, the University announced an event next Monday, Oct. 30 from 5 to 7 p.m. in Zellerbach Theater titled the “Campus Conversation,” at which members of the Penn community will “discuss what we can do, individually and collectively, to take care of ourselves and others and to foster individual and community resilience.”
The PULSE survey and Campus Conversation represent clear attempts by the University’s administration to delve into the feedback that Penn students have about life as a Quaker. However, these efforts are effective only if we, the student body of Penn, engage. We therefore call on every student to participate in the survey and the Campus Conversation event to the degree that they feel comfortable.
In different ways, each of these efforts represent an important step taken by the administration to address major areas of concern on campus. In a semester in which tragedy after tragedy has hit our community, we appreciate the willingness of high-level administrators to acknowledge the tragedies and discuss with us how members of this community — students, faculty and staff alike — can contribute to the mental wellness and resilience of our fellow Quakers. Through the PULSE survey, the administration is giving every undergraduate student a megaphone with which to shout his or her thoughts on the Penn experience, critical or otherwise.
We hope that administrators will take the ideas, concerns and critiques expressed through the PULSE survey and Campus Conversation seriously, but for either of these efforts to be of any use, we the students must participate heavily.
In an editorial last semester, we wrote somewhat critically of students’ approaches toward pursuing long-term cultural change — that “Far too often, campus has erupted into outrage over an issue and then moved on, leaving only a minority of activists to actually drive change.” Whether or not that systemic issue has been erased over the last few months is impossible to say. However, we do believe that students with strong opinions — and, as this is Penn, there are many such students — who do not take advantage of this opportunity to discuss, explore or even submit them are cheating themselves and their peers of the opportunity to actually enable cultural growth.
Especially in the advent of a new provost, we believe that sharing honest feedback and forward-thinking ideas with the campus community can only be positive for the direction of the University. Provost Pritchett is showing a willingness early in his tenure to engage with students on the issues that plague our campus, and he needs our voices now as he lays the groundwork for his years atop the University.
This being said, the logical ask in return will be that Pritchett, Gutmann and other University administrators and leaders take seriously the feedback and ideas we present. There is ostensibly an attitude of apprehension toward the administration coming from a significant chunk of the student population, particularly in the aftermath of recommendations made last semester by the “Task Force on a Safe and Responsible Campus Community.” While we appreciate the degree of time and thought that went into those recommendations, we hope that the results of the Campus Conversation and especially the PULSE survey are transparent, far-reaching and effective.
Indeed, we wish that it had not taken this long for such a Campus Conversation to occur. It is unacceptable — and, frankly, baffling — that, after years and years of campus discussion regarding mental health, the administration at the highest level is only now spearheading this sort of dialogue. We appreciate the current degree of willingness to engage being displayed, but there are years of ground to make up.
Perhaps the biggest complaint that we hear from other students is that Penn’s administration is too inaccessible or too out-of-touch with the campus community. Regardless of the merit of the statement, the sentiment has fueled the skeptical reactions that Quakers have had toward various University actions, from the various task forces to the communication choices made after serious campus events, and so on. While we acknowledge — and often share — the skepticism, our number one priority is the betterment of campus culture. We hope that a great deal of good can come out of the Campus Conversation and the PULSE survey, but that good will only come if we get involved.
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