Students of color on Monday applauded the letter to the black community released by Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price, especially its inclusion of the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”
“I was very excited to see President Gutmann make a statement in solidarity with Penn’s black community," College junior Shelby Barlow said. "I was especially excited that she explicitly said, 'Black Lives Matter,' because enough people are resistant to that idea that to even say it has become controversial and political. Being on a campus where the leadership is willing to publicly support the sentiment and the movement is incredibly meaningful to me."
Some students who praised the letter, which was formally released on Thursday, still questioned why it was published now, given the volume of campus events themed around "Black Lives Matter" over the past few years.
“I’m confused why she did this right now," said College junior Destiny Bingham. "Students have been asking her to acknowledge this for a long time."
Throughout the past few years student groups such as Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation and UMOJA have led protests that included vivid reenactments of injustices against the black community, including police brutality and the disproportionate amount of violence committed against transgender women of color.
A series of race-related protests occurred at Penn in the fall of 2014 following the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
At Gutmann’s annual holiday party in December 2014, she laid down and joined a “die-in” to show solidarity with the black community and student protesters.
In January 2015, Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, came to Penn and spoke about racial profiling. Although her son was unarmed, he was shot by George Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watchman, while walking home from a convenience store.
In November 2015, Penn students stood in solidarity with Yale University and the University of Missouri in demanding a no-tolerance policy for bigotry on campus and an increase in the number of faculty of color.
Two months later, two of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi spoke on campus for an open discussion about the movement and racism in America.
Last month, cheerleaders Deena Char and Alexus Bazen protested during the national anthem of the Penn football opener, following the actions of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Despite all of these protests and demonstrations made on Penn’s campus over the past two years, this letter is unique for its inclusion of the phrase “Black lives matter.”
Stephen MacCarthy, the vice president for the Office of University Communications, said Penn decided to publish the letter in light of national events that brought race relations to the fore and direct concerns voiced by students of color. The University delivered its message directly to black student leaders and posted it on Gutmann’s webpage, mirroring what it did in 2015 with Muslim student leaders.
“While I think that Gutmann’s statement was overdue,” Barlow said, ”I am grateful to go to a university where black voices are heard and responded to accordingly.”
Students are hoping that this letter will set the tone for how Penn administration talks about race. “It’s about time,” said College junior Kellie Ramdeen, “This is a step in the right direction and I hope we hear more statements like this from Penn in the future.”
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.