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Penn's LGBT Center moved to its current Carriage House location ten years ago.

Credit: Courtesy of Bob Schoenberg

Although Penn has seen an increase in minority hires since the Action Plan for Faculty Diversity and Excellence was launched two and a half years ago, some faculty members felt LGBTQ issues were glossed over.

In response, the LGBT Center launched its own LGBTQ Diversity Task Force — composed of faculty, professors and students — to address the lack of attention that the community received in the plan regarding diversity.

At the beginning of the University’s five-year plan to address faculty diversity on campus, all 12 schools were mandated to carry out their plans individually. While some included gender identity and sexual preference in their definitions of diversity, others did not. Of the four undergraduate schools, only the Wharton School and the School of Nursing identify gender identity in their definitions, although they all mention sexual orientation. Additionally, LGBTQ issues are only highlighted twice in the University’s Action Plan: once in the introductory definition of diversity, and again in a feature of an LGBTQ-identifying Engineering professor, Robert Carpick.

According to the Action Plan findings, over half of LGBTQ-identifying faculty agreed they need to work harder than colleagues to be perceived as legitimate scholars.

“I think that it states that many faculty feel that being queer is not as accepted in some schools and departments at Penn,” Senior Associate Director of the LGBT Center Erin Cross said. “As a result they feel that they need to go the extra mile to do ‘real valuable’ research.”

The task force is also expanding to include a resource group new hires can talk to so they can learn more about the experiences of LGBTQ faculty members at Penn.

Cross added that being on the task force poses a dilemma for some faculty members. “Some of the people who work with us in the working group only feel comfortable to do so because they have tenure,” Cross said.

Since faculty members are not mandated to report their gender identification to the LGBT Center, there is therefore no concrete data regarding trans faculty members. However, to Cross’ knowledge, she said, there are no transgender faculty members at Penn.

College junior and Lambda Alliance Chair Erich Kessel explained the importance of having LGBTQ faculty members.

He cited his experience taking a class with an LGBTQ-identifying professor during his freshman year. He enjoyed being taught by a faculty member who approached the subject with a different perspective, he said.

“I felt like it was a special experience because it just provided a specific insight and expertise that I found very inspiring in my first semester at Penn,” Kessel said.

“It is Lambda’s role to advocate for faculty diversity because it benefits students by providing role models who they can look up to and identify with,” Kessel said.

In the past, the LGBT Center hasn’t addressed hiring practices at Penn. However, in recent years, as the University is releasing its diversity reports, faculty diversity has become an increasingly pressing issue.

Cross also said that the presence of LGBTQ-identifying faculty members benefits students by providing role models.

“It’s important to see LGBTQ professors so students can say, ‘Ok I can be queer and a chemist too, cool,’” Cross said. “It is incredibly important to have these role models so [students] don’t have to worry, ‘Oh my gosh, am I going to be graded down because I’m LGBTQ?’”

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