In light of recent killings of George Floyd and many other Black individuals, Penn’s Black Pre-Law Association compiled lists of resources and recommended courses related to Black issues for Penn's Black students and non-Black allies.
BPLA aims to provide Black undergraduates who are interested in law school with encouragement, mentorship, and networking opportunities to expand access to the field of law with professionals who are underrepresented minorities. The list aims to help Black students find classes where they are safe to explore Black issues and their identities, and to help non-Black students learn about Black history and white supremacy, according to BPLA board members.
In addition to releasing a statement on Instagram in support of Black Lives Matter and of Black students at Penn, BPLA shared a compilation of resources for students, including recommended Penn faculty and staff, courses focusing on Black issues, Black LGBTQ courses, and Black movies for white allies.
Rising College junior and BPLA President Maya Hairston said the idea to release the statement came about when she and her fellow BPLA board members were brainstorming ways to help students during this time. Hairston said she was personally inspired by the organization's alumni, who had put together a similar list for new board members in the past.
Former BPLA Conference Director and 2020 College graduate Franchesca Ramirez recommended two courses on the list, EDUC 202: Urban Education and EDUC 522: Psychology of the African American, both of which she took to complete her Urban Education minor.
EDUC 522, which Ramirez said is challenging to get into as an undergraduate, is taught by professor Howard Stevenson, whose brother, Bryan Stevenson — the founder of Equal Justice Initiative — spoke at Penn's 263rd commencement ceremony.
“The class was basically a safe space for Black students," Ramirez said. "I think a lot of people that experienced racialized experiences, or just any traumatic event in general, try to move on from them really quickly, or even undermine the validity of their impact on them, but this class really empowered us to speak our truth and to own whatever reactions we had as a result of those experiences."
After they realized that not all courses mentioned in their initial post would be available in the fall semester, BPLA quickly shared a second post with a list of course recommendations with classes available in the fall for Black students, and a list of recommendations for non-Black allies. Hairston said the courses for Black students center on topics that would make them feel safe and proud to be Black, while the courses for non-Black students were more educational and history-based.
“Our shared history in America has white supremacy written all over it, and unfortunately, too many high school curricula ignore that," Hairston said. "Now that we're in college, we're able to take matters into our own hands and find courses and outlets where we can educate ourselves on these topics because they're so important in understanding the world that we live in today."
Because many students are also reaching out with their own recommendations, BPLA is currently compiling a master document with further recommended courses, Hairston said. She added that they hope to share the document before the upcoming fall semester so students can add courses.
Both Hairston and Ramirez said that taking PSCI 231: Race and Ethnic Politics with 1979 College graduate Julie Beren Platt and Political Science professor Daniel Gillion had a profound impact on them. Hairston said Gillion, the only Black professor in the Political Science Department, was the first Black professor she had at Penn. Black Penn students gravitate towards Gillion because he lives on campus and makes sure his students know that he is accessible, Ramirez said.
This past semester, Hairston took ENGL 101: Toni Morrison and the Adventure of the 21st Century, taught by English and Africana Studies professor and newly appointed Civic House Director Herman Beavers, and said she appreciated learning how to apply themes in Morrison’s work to the real world.
“Something amazing about that class was that Professor Beavers said to us, ‘Let’s hear some personal testimonies, if you’re willing to share. What is it like being Black at Penn?’” Hairston said. “That was the first time a teacher has ever asked me that in a classroom setting, and I will never forget that conversation.”
Rising College sophomore and BPLA Conference Chair Joelis Paula said she did not take any courses on the list during her first year, but that she plans to use them as a guide for what to take in the future. She added that she is very happy with the online responses to BPLA's posts.
“BPLA, especially our BPLA board, is relatively new, so we don’t feel like a lot of people even know about it. The fact that we had such a positive response was heartwarming, and it proves that people definitely want to be proactively involved in the Black Lives Matter movement on campus,” Paula said.