Africana Studies and English professor Herman Beavers has been appointed faculty director of Civic House and the Civic Scholars program.
Provost Wendell Pritchett and Vice Provost for Education Beth Winkelstein announced Beavers' appointment on May 21. Beavers will succeed Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History Walter Licht, who served as the Civic House faculty director since 2002 and the founder of its Civic Scholars program. Licht announced in February that he would step down from his position on June 30.
Civic House provides Penn students with civic engagement opportunities in West Philadelphia. Since 2007, it has been the home of the Civic Scholars program, a four-year certificate program involving public interest internships, seminars, and a capstone project for a cohort of 10-15 Penn undergraduates from each class.
“It's a little daunting. Walter Licht has done a fabulous job as the faculty director of Civic House and Civic Scholars, and his legacy is something that I want to make sure continues into the future,” Beavers said.
Beavers has taught at Penn since 1989 in the English and Africana Studies departments, and has made the West Philadelphia community an integral part of his teaching. Beavers said his course AFRC 325: August Wilson and Beyond, an academically-based community service course, brings together Penn students with West Philadelphia community members to study the works of playwright August Wilson, and write an original theater piece.
“Our guiding principle in the August Wilson class is that West Philadelphia is not broken, and I'm going to carry that attitude with me into Civic House. It's not the task of Civic Scholars to fix West Philadelphia, and it would be arrogant of us to try and do that,” Beavers said.
Rising College senior and Civic Scholar Danielle Miles-Langaigne said she previously took ENGL 101: Toni Morrison and the Adventure of the 21st Century with Beavers, and expects he will bring his teaching approach to his work at Civic House. She said she hopes Beavers will work to improve the Civic Scholars program, and give students more autonomy in deciding the direction and components of the program.
“I know there are ways that [Civic Scholars] can be improved. I hope that [Beavers] doesn't come in and just leave it as it is, but really has plans to take it to another level,” she said.
Licht said he “could not be more pleased” that the University has appointed Beavers to the role.
“Herman has been a wonderful colleague in our shared commitments to civic engagement over the years, and I have admired him in so many ways – as a scholar, as a teacher, and very much as a mentor,” Licht said.
Founding Director of Civic House and the Civic Scholars program David Grossman said he feels excited about the experiences and perspectives that Beavers will bring to Civic House.
Rising College junior and Civic Scholar Brendan Lui said the Civic Scholars program and Licht’s mentorship exposed him to the “often contentious” relationship between Penn and the West Philadelphia community, and provided the Civic Scholars with opportunities to engage with a community where they are temporary residents.
“I think it's really important to understand that the school was not always here, and there were communities and neighborhoods well before the University came and expanded into West [Philadelphia],” Lui said.
Beavers said he will continue Civic House’s focus on the need to create mutually beneficial and non-exploitative relationships with the West Philadelphia community.
“I don’t think of being the faculty director as something that’s going to enlarge me personally,” Beavers said. “Rather, I think of myself as becoming the window that people will look through to see all the good things that our Civic Scholars are doing in West Philadelphia.”
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