A Penn Statistics syllabus singled out Asian students, instructing them to follow "Western convention" when writing their names, prompting backlash among students in the class and in the wider Asian community at Penn.
"Asian Students: Please follow the Western convention of writing your family name last and in CAPS," read the syllabus for Stat 111, taught by Emeritus Professor Warren Ewens, who has held positions in both the Biology and Statistics departments. "Also, please use your correct Asian first name and not an anglicised first name/nickname."
The comment was included in a section regarding homework policies for the class.
Ewens declined to comment Thursday at approximately 1 p.m. on the story. A new syllabus was uploaded Thursday afternoon at 4:03 p.m., omitting the section addressing Asian students' names. An announcement notifying students of the switch was not made.
Asian Pacific Student Coalition Chair and College junior Kamal Gill, who took Ewens’ class as a freshman, said he remembered the same comment was on the syllabus two years ago. Gill said he believed Ewens should have "given a blanket statement instead of targeting Asians."
Wharton and Engineering junior Andrew Cui, who took a different statistics class with Ewens last semester, also said the professor should have given a more generalized statement that did not single out Asian students. Cui, the former executive chair of Asian Pacific American Heritage Week, said instead of saying "anglicised first name," Ewens could have instead asked all students to list their given first names.
Engineering junior Helen Liu said while she does not think a "grand apology is necessary," there are many non-Asian students who use names that are not officially listed on their college transcripts.
"I think maybe just asking everybody — no matter who you are, no matter what race you are, no matter where you’re from — to just use your official name on your transcript," Liu said.
College freshman Linda Wang said although she understands the professor's intentions of making the grading process more streamlined, she believed the comment had an "air of condescension.”
“Without pointing out Asians, we might feel less stigmatized and we might feel less targeted,” Wang said, adding that while she does not think the professor should be reprimanded, she believes Ewens should acknowledge the insensitive nature of the comment.
Cui said he believed Ewens' likely did not have harmful intentions, adding that he remembered Ewens fondly as a helpful professor.
“What’s crazy is that this has been in the syllabus for years and it has never really been brought up,” Gill said, adding that his respect and intimidation of Ewens prevented him from challenging his rhetoric in the syllabus.
“As a freshman, what authority do I have as a 19-year-old in the College taking this stat class,” Gill said. “Who am I to tell him what to do?"
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