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Professor Camille Charles sitting at her desk Credit: Madeleine Kronovet , Madeleine Kronovet

Professor Camille Charles is getting $100,000 to do research on exactly what she’s passionate about.

Charles, a sociology professor and director of the Center for Africana Studies, is currently commuting daily to New York as one of 10 fellows for the Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law & Justice at New York University — an opportunity she received earlier this month. The institute’s research theme this year is racial, ethnic and economic segregation.

As a fellow, Charles now has a chance to complete a book on the diversity of black students at selective colleges and universities in the United States – a project she had put aside for time with her family and after assuming both the role of director of CFAS and chair for the department of Africana studies.

Ingrid Ellen, co-director of Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at NYU, said Charles was chosen for the fellowship because she is a “terrific scholar who is a leading thinker on racial attitudes and their contribution to segregation.”

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“She is known for asking tough questions, and thinking both creatively and rigorously,” said Vicki Been, another director of the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, in an email.

“This is actually part of what brought me to Penn,” Charles said about her planned research for the book. Penn is one of the colleges and universities included in her research. “It is one of the best places to be for studying urban inequality, intergroup attitudes, education and related issues in sociology.”

Though her research included Penn, it was really her collaboration with Douglas Massey, a Princeton professor who is affiliated with Penn’s Populations Studies Center and other colleagues that ultimately led her here in 1998.

Her colleagues were “persistent in suggesting that [she] come,” Charles said in an email, and she has not looked back since.

At the University, Charles is a prominent figure and has worked a lot on minority issues concerning faculty. By becoming director of CFAS in 2009, she said she also became representative of the interests of her colleagues and students. Three years later, with the help of former School of Arts and Sciences Dean Rebecca Bushnell, she established the Department of Africana studies.

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Charles may also be known for her role in co-writing the op-ed “Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner” along with other faculty in the Department of Africana Studies. The op-ed criticized President Amy Gutmann for not appointing a person of color to any of Penn’s 12 deanships.

“Whatever the reason, the sad truth is that her stated vision for a more diverse administration and faculty at the University has yet to be matched by actions taken by her and those she has appointed,” the faculty wrote.

Charles was also chair of the Faculty Senate, where she and her colleagues developed the Action Plan for Faculty Diversity and Excellence to address the low percentage of faculty who are black or Latino. “We were able to move the university in the right direction,” she said.

“Everyone is affected by racial inequality and racial segregation, and at the end of the day it isn’t good for anyone,” Charles said.

Charles added that she “really loved, and still love” the fact that W.E.B. Du Bois wrote The Philadelphia Negro — a famous work of urban sociology — while here on Penn’s campus.

Charles explained that her experiences as a “biracial, middle class person who grew up in the immediate post-civil rights era in an all white community in southern California” really helped to shape her current interests and perspective.

“Ultimately, fairness and equality and honesty are important to me, and they are things that we espouse as important to us as a nation,” Charles said. “But the project of creating that ‘more perfect union’ is an ongoing one that I want to be a part of.”

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