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Photo from Karen Redrobe

Penn professor Karen Redrobe is the new director of the Wolf Humanities Center, and she has plans to make Penn's humanities research hub more inclusive than ever.  

Redrobe, who is a film professor, plans to extend the center’s outreach to include more academic disciplines and underrepresented student groups, beginning with collaborations with the Penn American Sign Language Program and Penn Global.

The Wolf Humanities Center, in partnership with the American Sign Language Program, will be featuring signed interpretations of all future talks in an effort to extend the center’s services to Penn’s deaf community.

Redrobe described the center’s commitment to “cultivating research in the humanities at Penn” and in the Philadelphia area as motivators for her proposed initiatives. 

“If we have an audience of people who are being held back from participating in humanistic conversation because of a disability, we should do what we can to take that barrier down,” Redrobe said.

The Wolf Humanities Center and ASL Program previously collaborated once a semester, including at last March’s Story Slam. Director of the ASL Program professor Jami Fisher said  the new initiative to increase the number of signed talks was inspired by Redrobe’s desire for all future Wolf Humanities Center talks to be more inclusive. 

“We felt that to make something truly accessible, you have to make it accessible whether or not somebody requests an interpreter,” Fisher said.

Redrobe, who is also an LGBT faculty associate, has said that reaching out to the deaf community at Penn has inspired her to connect other minority groups to the Wolf Humanities Center’s resources.

“It’s now making me start to think about, who else can’t come here for whatever reason, and what can we do to lower the bar on that?” Redrobe said. She is looking forward to reaching out to the LGBT community and the first-generation, low-income communities at Penn to continue to expand access to the center’s programs. 

The Wolf Humanities Center will also be collaborating with Penn Global to boost the presence of the humanities within the discussion of global affairs, beginning with a roundtable at the Perry World House this October. Redrobe was inspired to pursue this partnership after taking a lecture tour in China with the Penn China Center. 

“There have been very few humanities professors who’ve been involved in the Penn China Center, and in general, there is less participation in Penn Global by humanists than other areas of scholarly research,” Redrobe said. She sees the upcoming roundtable as a “starting point for a multidirectional conversation” about global issues, consisting of input from voices from “different areas of the university.”

Redrobe’s new initiatives as the center’s director are guided by the center’s topic for this academic year, which is “stuff.” The annual theme serves as the fundamental base of the center’s events each year. Upcoming talks this October include “Design and the Stuff of Everyday Life” about the importance of interior design and “Segregation: The Stuff Social Media is Made Of."

“What I became interested in with this word is the way in which it speaks about the material things that are around us, that fill up our lives,” said Professor Julie Davis, who is this year’s topic director. “Then there’s a couple other meanings of the word — to be stuffed, to be totally full …This kind of full feeling was something I was interested in.”

Redrobe described the term as an “inclusive term that can refer to ideas” as well as “material objects.” She related the topic to her passion for inclusion and diversity, and is looking forward to the discussions the theme and her new initiatives will foster.

“Universities should be a place where we can have a high-level conversation about things that we…have varying opinions on, and improve how we think about whatever that thing is by doing so, and I’m hoping that we can start to build an interesting conversation and see where it goes,” Redrobe said.

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