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Penn’s Graduate School of Education is taking a critical look at how inequities in education may prevent some students from achieving their fullest potential.

Earlier this month, GSE professor Shaun Harper launched the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education.

According to Harper, “the Center will bring together the best and brightest thinkers in the country to do research, pursue grants and write collaboratively on problems concerning equity and education.”

The Center is currently housed in office space in GSE, though Harper believes it will “eventually outgrow the current space.”

“We don’t have a corner of the building that is entirely dedicated to the Center, but hopefully someday we will,” Harper added.

The Center was created in order to consolidate the research Penn professors and students are conducting on the issues of racial equity and social justice, according to Keon McGuire, a research assistant for the Center and a third-year GSE graduate student.

Moving forward, the Center — which is staffed by a director, a post-doctoral research fellow who will join in July, two Ph.D research assistants and 17 faculty associates — will mainly function through the collaborative efforts of its faculty affiliates, who come from all schools, departments and disciplines at Penn.

These affiliates plan to routinely meet to talk about opportunities for the collaborative function of scholarship, according to Harper.

“I very much appreciated that Penn has a wide interdisciplinary focus and that there were folks across campus that were studying education-related problems and topics, not just people in GSE,” Harper said. “I am of the mindset that problems in U.S. education cannot be solved through a narrow set of research approaches.”

The Center has recruited faculty from GSE, as well as the Nursing, Law and Wharton schools and the Annenberg School for Communication, among many others.

“These people will bring what I believe to be a very sophisticated array of lenses,” Harper said.

Nursing professor and faculty affiliate Terri Lipman agreed that “the interdisciplinary nature of the Center will bring a breadth and depth to the study of equity that is critical in influencing educational outcomes.”

According to Harper, the Center has a number of new initiatives planned for the near future.

Beginning in the fall, the Center will launch a doctoral fellows program that will provide a space for doctoral candidates to do “some version” of what the faculty affiliates do, Harper said.

“In many ways it will be a hub for students that have these interests, but have not had the space to get together with other like-minded students,” Harper said.

The Center will also launch a similar program for undergraduate fellows in fall 2013. This program, Harper explained, will provide research opportunities for undergraduates interested in the study of race and equity in education.

Additionally, through tasks like work on conference proposals and papers for co-authorship, undergraduate participants will be paired with the doctoral fellows in a relationship Harper hopes will promote synergy between the two.

The Center will also be launching a national annual survey of campus climates that will “study college students’ experiences and perspectives on the campus climate at their respective university,” Harper said. “It will focus on students’ sense of belonging, as that sense of belonging may vary by many social, cultural and racial factors.”

The survey will target 500,000 students a year.

In addition to these up-and-coming initiatives, Harper has several other larger goals for the Center.

“My overall dream is that I want this center to be the place in the country that people who care about race and other equity issues come for sophisticated interdisciplinary research and for sensible implications and recommendations for policy and practice,” he said.

Harper also added that the Penn community should care about the Center because, “despite all that is good about the University, Penn itself struggles with many of the issues on which the Center’s projects will focus.”

According to McGuire, the Center also has the potential to affect real change.

“It has the most potential to be a hub of sorts for critical dialogue and can influence educational policy that relates to issues of equity,” he said.


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