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Dear Blaze,

The extraordinary poet Audre Lorde once wrote:

"You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other. I do not have to be you to recognize that our wars are the same. What we must do is commit ourselves to some future that can include each other and to work toward that future with the particular strengths of our individual identities. And in order for us to do this, we must allow each other our differences at the same time as we recognize our sameness.” — Audre LordeSister Outsider: Essays and Speeches.

You do not know me. You have exercised your imperative to speak. However, I disagree, with every core of my being, with your premise and your conclusions. I look forward to getting to know you.

Over the coming days, I hope to be able to tell you more about the extraordinarily multi-faceted, complex, compelling and critical work — over the course of many years — that I have had the privilege of implementing with fellow passionate, and deeply committed, students, staff, faculty and family partners to nurture the health, safety, wellness and care of our extraordinarily diverse and extremely vibrant, and to me, dearly beloved, Penn undergraduate, graduate and professional student communities.  

We have invested, and will continue to invest, with clear and present purpose, in every initiative, practice and program we can think of to promote student self- and community-care and to further decrease the potentially life-threatening incidence of sexual violence, alcohol and drug abuse and hazing on our campus. Clearly, no one intervention can be a solution. We must, as a community, be committed to continuous evolution and constancy in our certitude that the culture of community can indeed be changed.

Blaze, you don’t know me. However, as a survivor, as the mother of two Penn alumni and as someone who will continue to spend each and every hour of each and every day ardently committed to you and to the welfare of all Penn students, I look forward to getting to know you. I recognize, in your opinion, our sameness.



VALARIE SWAIN-CADE MCCOULLUM is the vice provost for university life at the University of Pennsylvania.