At the start of Penn’s 278th academic year, I want to offer a special welcome back to all our students. I especially welcome those who are settling into the beautifully reborn Hill College House, a landmark building on Penn’s campus for more than half a century. Noted modernist architect Eero Saarinen expressed many important ideas through his buildings during the course of his too-short career. Hill House — his only work in Philadelphia — in particular promotes the importance of community in university life.
In 1958, scarcely a dozen years after the Allies defeated fascism in World War II, Saarinen captured the ideals of democratic community while anticipating the needs of students today through his groundbreaking design. From Hill College House’s welcoming communal atrium to the abundance of renovated study rooms, lounges, music practice rooms and even a project innovation room, this special space has helped forge lifetime bonds of learning and living for generations of Penn students. We are especially pleased to welcome Hill House back to complement the New College House that opened last year. Together, they foster a vibrant and inclusive community at the northeast gateway to our campus.
Across our campus, the ideals of inclusive and open community are fundamental to the Penn experience. All members of our community, representing a vast array of backgrounds, perspectives and identities, are not only welcome here. Every member is indeed essential to every major facet of what we hope to achieve here. Richness of diversity and the open exchange of ideas are fundamental to the preservation, creation and dissemination of knowledge, to life-saving and society-improving discoveries and innovations. Our welcoming and wonderfully diverse community is Penn’s greatest strength.
You return home to Penn’s campus after a summer of national and international developments that have left us feeling deeply troubled. The appalling scenes of unthinking hatred and violence in Charlottesville this past month especially contradict our University ideal of an inclusive and open community. As I said at the time, the racism, anti-Semitism and other bigotry expressed by the neo-Nazi, KKK and other white supremacist groups that demonstrated in Charlottesville are deeply abhorrent and call for universal condemnation. The hatred espoused is inimical to any decent society and anathema to the most fundamental ideals of our University.
At the beginning of this new academic year, I hope we all take a few moments to celebrate our campus community as the best and, ultimately, the only way forward to a better world. We stand for love, not hate; inclusion, not exclusion; compassion, not contempt; empathy, not antipathy; and the elevation, not the degradation, of the human spirit. Each time we begin the academic enterprise anew, we also reaffirm our commitment to one another — to fostering a campus culture that is ever more open, more intellectually vibrant, more inclusive and more warmly welcoming to all.
AMY GUTMANN is the 8th president of the University of Pennsylvania.
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