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Charles Howard will begin his role as Penn’s first Vice President for Social Equity and Community on Aug. 1.

Credit: Ethan Wu

University Chaplain and 2000 College graduate Charles Howard has been named Penn’s first Vice President for Social Equity and Community.

In a University-wide email sent on Tuesday, Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett announced that Howard will start the brand-new position on August 1. As Vice President for Social Equity and Community, Howard will oversee programs and initiatives that foster social equality, inclusion, and diversity at Penn through various research and collaborative efforts.

“I hope to help us all toward this greater mission that is shared by students, faculty, and staff to push Penn to do the greatest amount of good that we can, and to grow together along the way,” Howard said.

As part of his new role, Howard will design and oversee the University’s newly proposed Projects for Progress, a $2 million fund created to support pilot projects on research that addresses social issues and inequities. The initiative, which Gutmann announced to the Penn community in a June 3 email, will focus on "eradicating or reducing systemic racism, achieving educational equity, and reducing health disparities based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and/or social determinants of health."

Howard said Gutmann called him a few weeks ago to discuss the position and ask whether he would like to take it. While Howard said he is excited to take on the position of Vice President for Social Equity and Community, he said that it was very important to him that he still be able to serve as University Chaplain, as he sees the Vice President role as an extension of his original position.

Howard said that he is looking forward to working closely with student groups, such as the cultural resource centers and activist groups like the Student Labor Action Project, an initiative of Jobs with Justice that engages student organizations across the nation in campaigns related to economic justice. 

In the midst of nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism, Howard said that it is important to have conversations about these issues in order for Penn to affect change both locally and nationally. Howard said that as a Black man, activism has always been a part of his life, and said he participated in recent protests in Philadelphia against the police killing of George Floyd.

Howard said he understands the frustration Penn students feel today, especially regarding issues like police brutality and climate change, because he was once a Penn student himself.

“When students are protesting at trustee meetings and in front of College Hall, it's like I see me,” Howard said. “Back then, it was sweatshops and racism and violence, and now it’s violence, policing, and fossil fuels. I feel like if I was a student today, I’d be right there with them.”

As VP for Social Equity and Community, Howard will work with Senior Vice President for Institutional Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer Joann Mitchell and the Vice Provost of University Life, which is currently an open position, to expand on Penn’s current social equity and community initiatives, including Campaign for Community

Campaign for Community, a University-funded campaign launched in 2015 to support dialogue about important topics on campus, recently announced that it is seeking proposals for projects and conversations that focus specifically on racial justice.  

Howard has served as University Chaplain since 2008, and will continue in this role while taking on his new position. Senior Associate Chaplain Stephen Kocher will take on a larger role in the everyday administration of the University Chaplain’s Office, Gutmann's email read.

After graduating from Penn two decades ago, Howard worked as a chaplain in Philadelphia hospices and hospitals, and as a street outreach worker to people facing homelessness in Philadelphia. He has taught in the College and Arts and Sciences and in the Graduate School of Education, in addition to teaching at The Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia.

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