As Penn opens its doors for another year and a new batch of incoming freshmen, here are some of the biggest stories from last semester.
Steve Wynn's sexual misconduct allegations
In February, a week after dozens accused Penn graduate Steve Wynn of sexual misconduct, Penn rescinded the former Penn Board of Trustees member's honorary degree. This was the first time in over a century that Penn has rescinded an honorary degree. Bill Cosby's honorary degree was rescinded as well.
After the signage of Wynn's name was defaced, the University removed his name from the common area outside Houston Hall. The plaza was named for Wynn in 1995 after he donated $7.5 million to Penn. It is now named "Penn Commons."
Mental health at Penn
Penn’s administration made concrete steps toward improving mental health and overall wellness after seven students died in 2017.
To streamline access to Penn's resources, the Wellness website was launched in January as a response to the first Campus Conversation that took place in October 2017. Students gave mixed reviews to the initiative's effectiveness; some praised the amount of information, while some said it was only a first "step in the right direction."
In March, Penn Wellness held the University's second Campus Conversation, which showed less student and administration participation than the first.
In April, Penn President Amy Gutmann announced in an email that there would be a new position of Chief Wellness Officer who will oversee a new department called Student Wellness Services. Recently, the University announced that Benoit Dubé will occupy the position. Gutmann also outlined changes that will be implemented in Penn’s Counseling and Psychological Services come the fall, including increased capacity and accessibility. The hiring process should be finalized this semester.
Professor Kurzban sexual misconduct allegations
In April, The Daily Pennsylvanian reported on two alleged relationships that psychology professor Robert Kurzban had with female Penn undergraduate students under his direction in 2016 and 2017. Kurzban, who was the director of Undergraduate Studies during both of these instances, was allegedly acting against official University policy by engaging in these activities.
On July 22, an email from Psychology department chair Sharon Thompson-Schill confirmed that Kurzban had resigned from Penn earlier in the month. Thompson-Schill stated that although Kurzban denies the allegations that he violated University policy, the publicity surrounding the incidents made it imperative that he leave the school. The University accepted his resignation.
Earlier in the semester, Penn’s administration introduced changes to the policy on student-faculty relationships. As of March 27, all sexual relations between students and faculty are prohibited. The former policy disallowed relations only when the professor was actively teaching the student.
Death of student Blaze Bernstein
The campus mourned the death of College sophomore Blaze Bernstein, who was found dead in January, two weeks after he went missing while home in Orange County, California. OC officials arrested Sam Woodward, who knew Bernstein from high school and was reportedly a member of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division. The Bernstein family has visited Penn's campus and has worked with people on campus who knew Bernstein, who was a talented writer, on the pre-med track at Penn, and who also had a great passion for cooking.
On Aug. 3, the OC Sheriff’s Department added a hate crime charge to the allegations against Woodward, stating that the prosecution will try to illustrate that Woodward killed Bernstein because he was gay. Woodward will appear in a pre-trial hearing on Aug. 22.
Spring Fling reformed
Social Planning and Events Committee condensed all Spring Fling festivities into a one-day event held in Penn Park, breaking a 45-year old tradition of having Fling take place at least partly in the Quad. The main Fling concert was a “throwback show,” featuring JoJo and the All-American Rejects, which elicited mixed responses from students.
Twenty-three out of 41 student groups were accepted to perform, marking a significant reduction from the 44 student groups that were able to perform in 2017.
Three days before the concert, students who purchased public tickets were informed that — for the first time in recent history — they would “no longer be honored,” though full refunds were issued.
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