Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price authored a letter voicing support for the University’s black student community on Friday.
In the letter, which was distributed to black student leaders and posted on Gutmann’s webpage, Gutmann and Price proclaimed that “black lives matter.”
“Our nation has confronted far too many profoundly troubling incidents, including deaths in communities across the country, that highlight the continuing and pervasive challenges faced daily by Blacks in America,” the letter began. “In the face of this struggle, we believe it is critically important to remind Penn’s entire Black student community that they are a treasured and respected part of our University.”
The letter went on to emphasize the diversity of the University’s student body and the school’s efforts to reach out to and meet “regularly with student leaders.”
“Black lives matter, and as we have emphasized on so many occasions, at Penn everyone belongs,” Gutmann and Price wrote.
Vice President for University Communications Stephen MacCarthy said Penn chose to publish the letter after concerns brought forth by black students about national events that had occurred earlier this year. The University chose to deliver its message directly to black student leaders and post it on Gutmann’s webpage, as it had done similarly with Muslim student leaders last year.
Earlier this month, a group of black students participated in Penn’s first University Council meeting of this academic year. According to Penn’s “Almanac,” a representative from UMOJA (Penn’s black student coalition) read a statement out loud to the Council while students filed into the room silently to “emphasize their stance.”
“A number of Black students have recently expressed concern about events that have occurred nationally over the past year,” McCarthy said in an email. “This was a way to communicate to them that they are supported by the University and that they have a valued place in our campus community.”
While it is relatively rare for university administrations to comment on national social or racial issues, a few colleges have directly addressed the topic of Black Lives Matter along with Penn.
Last month, the University of Vermont penned a letter to its student body encouraging freedom of expression on campus after individuals stole a Black Lives Matter flag from its pole on campus. The school said that it “vigorously supports freedom of inquiry” and noted that “the flag was displayed in accordance with University established procedures.”
Princeton University came under fire earlier this year when student protestors demanded that the school remove the name of Woodrow Wilson from a building due to his questionable, racist legacy. Princeton declined to remove Wilson’s name, but “called for an expanded and more vigorous commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
At Yale, administrators set forth a plan to ”“build a more inclusive Yale” after students protested the treatment of racial minorities and women on campus. In one instance, a fraternity had banned black women from one of its parties, and in another, an email sent out by a Yale administrator characterized culturally appropriating Halloween costumes as an infringement upon freedom of expression.
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