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Penn Spectrum weekend seeks to reach out to diverse alumni and engage them and current students in topical discussions and events.

Credit: Sam Eichenwald

On Sept. 25, the University’s third Penn Spectrum Weekend came to an end. Among this event’s three appearances on campus — the first two occurring in 2010 and 2013, respectively — this year’s was by far the best-attended. Though final attendance numbers are not yet confirmed, over 800 people registered. This group was made up of roughly half students and half alumni, with faculty and staff peppered in.

The weekend opened on Friday, Sept. 23 with a Diverse Women in Leadership March, cultural centers’ open houses, student group performances and “Campus Couches” put on by the student group Table Talk.

Saturday’s daytime events had heavy intellectual content. The day began with a panel on the presidential election and many panels covering diverse topics followed. In total, there were sixteen different panels on Saturday, covering a variety of issues including Black Lives Matter, behavioral health, how professional sports measure on diversity, Hollywood, affirmative action and increasing technology in society. This was followed by more student performances and a social event.

The weekend came to a close on Sunday with a brunch to honor Ms. Cora Ingrum in celebration of her more than 55 years of contributions to Penn Engineering and its students. There were also optional gallery visits to the Penn Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Executive Director of Alumni Relations Elise Betz expressed enthusiasm about the success of this year’s Penn Spectrum Weekend. “The feeling is that we moved the needle a little bit on this conversation about diversity and race,” she said.

Betz, who has been part of the management team for all three of Penn’s Spectrum Weekends also noted that, this year, there were by far the most volunteers and students in attendance.

Betz also spoke about how the Penn Spectrum Weekend came into existence. The Diversity Alliance within Penn Alumni Relations, which has been around for about 20 years, played a key role in the creation of the event. This alliance, which is made up of Penn Alumni who are of color or are LGBTQ, was designed for social and intellectual support, as well as for networking.

As this alliance saw Penn become more diverse, it — along with members of the Alumni Relations team — decided it would be good for the University to move its exploration of diversity forward with some kind of conference to discuss these issues in depth. Homecoming and other events designed to attract alumni failed to present the necessary amount of time to dive deep into these issues.

Betz also highlighted President Gutmann’s heavy involvement in Penn Spectrum Weekend. The President’s office subsidized the weekend so that students could attend cheaply; it was only $10 for students to come all-weekend. If students couldn’t afford this, they were given a scholarship to attend the weekend for free.

Aside from the President’s office, alumni volunteers and the Alumni Relations office made the largest contributions to the event. Every single idea for the panels was generated by alumni, and the alumni office then filled all of the panels with relevant speakers.

The Alumni Relations office recognizes that the demographic of alumni has shifted. University alumni are increasingly students of color and students who identify as LGBTQ. Betz acknowledged this, saying that “It’s important for us to offer them ways to connect based on those affiliations.”

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