Penn prides itself on being a diverse and welcoming campus, but some black students question how the campus’ racial diversity — or lack thereof — influences their college experience.
College senior Camden Copeland, who identifies as black, said her experiences at Penn began mostly with students of color. In her freshman year preorientation program, however, she was overwhelmed by the number of white students in the program.
“It shocked me. It was weird. It was very strange,” Copeland said.
According to Penn’s 2014 diversity study, 45 percent of undergraduates identified as white, and 7 percent as black. Among graduate students, 45.6 percent identified as white, and 5.1 percent identified as black. In addition, 77 percent of faculty were white, and 3.6 percent were black.
Copeland got used to being one of few blacks or the only black student in various groups, like her field hockey team. She said she came to Penn with a strong sense of identity, which helped her remain confident in herself.
“Growing up, I felt I had the right to be in any academic environment,” she added.
Copeland noted that although Penn can be somewhat isolating, she has found communities of people she identifies with and that allow her to feel comfortable on campus. Incidents like Phi Delta Theta’s photo with a black blowup doll, however, offended her and made her feel marginalized.
“I understand the University cannot fix structural racism, but it should make more of an effort to say this is not okay,” she continued.
She acknowledged that black students have varying experiences on campus, but most detect the systematic racism.
“[Black students] are forced to think critically about how their race impacts their interactions on campus, whether social or academic,” she said.
On Nov. 13, President Amy Gutmann sent an email to the Penn community in the wake of national and local racial debate. Approximately 300 students from colleges like Penn and Drexel University marched on Nov. 12, from 30th Street Station to Penn’s campus in solidarity with students of color at Yale University and the University of Missouri. They demanded that the presidents of area colleges acknowledge the racism that students of color face.
“Racism has a long and terrible legacy in our country. It can take many forms, both subtle and overt. Whatever form it takes, it is wrong. It creates an unacceptable added burden to the college experience of students of color and it has no place at Penn,” Gutmann wrote.
Mariano Gomes, a College of Liberal and Professional Studies junior from Guinea-Bissau in West Africa, said racism doesn’t bother him much, though he knows racism is alive and well.
“We cannot deny that racist people exist,” he said.
He pointed out that many Africans experience double racism in the U.S. from both black and white Americans, and that he has dealt with racism in the U.S., but not at Penn. He wants Penn’s administration to continuously engage the University in discussions about race because pretending that they don’t exist worsens the situation.
“Everyone’s perspective is valuable in this conversation,” he said.
Jazmyne Simmons, a College senior who identifies as black, voiced a similar thought.
“Penn administration should acknowledge that there are racial issues on campus and on the national level,” Simmons said.
She explained that her genuine desire to learn about other people led her to immerse herself in diverse circles at Penn since her freshman year. But both her architecture major and her soccer team include very few people of color, she said.
“I am very aware of my race in these circles, but I’ve gotten to know the human race better as a whole, and I’ve learned more about myself in the process,” she said.
She added that a white faculty member mentored her during tough times.
Glen Casey, a College junior and a black student, said he has experienced microaggressions on Penn campus, which he describes as racist statements, interactions or reactions. He noted that sometimes Penn staffers question his presence in certain buildings and insist on seeing his PennCard.Comments powered by Disqus
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