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Credit: Chase Sutton

As universities across the nation address their role within America's history of racism, Penn’s four undergraduate schools are each implementing and building upon their own anti-racism initiatives. 

The School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Wharton School, the School of Nursing, and the College of Arts and Sciences are all implementing initiatives to listen to student voices and understand how they can do better.

The School of Engineering announced its first Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on Monday. 

The position will be filled by Engineering professor Camillo Jose Taylor, who was recently named the Raymond S. Markowitz President’s Distinguished Professor for his “outstanding research contributions to the fields of robotics and computer vision.”

According to the announcement, Taylor and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will have three main goals: improving the school's climate, creating and strengthening pipelines and faculty recruiting, and establishing diversity, equity, and inclusion goals and assessment tools. 

On June 9, Vice Dean and Director of Wharton's Undergraduate Division Diana Robertson sent an email to the school's undergraduate students encouraging them to reply to the email with ideas on how the school can further achieve its diversity and inclusion goals. 

Wharton's Undergraduate Division co-hosted a forum with Black Wharton Undergraduate Association and the Wharton Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Group on the Black Lives Matter movement and the national protests. The goal of the forum was to “amplify and listen to the voices of [Wharton's] Black students” on June 5, Senior Director of Wharton Media Relations Peter Winicov wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. 

Rising Wharton junior Nia Robinson, who is a board member of Wharton Undergraduate Advisory Board and co-founder of WEDIG, said that while she trusts the Wharton administration, she believes it is one thing to request suggestions and another to implement them. 

“Action is the strongest way to actually have anti-racism initiatives, not so much, sending emails and support,” Robinson said. 

School of Nursing Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusivity Lisa Lewis wrote in an email to the DP that the school has been in the “anti-racist fight for quite some time.” 

Lewis wrote that the school appointed a Director of Diversity Affairs in 2002, and established the Office of Diversity and Inclusivity headed by an Assistant Dean in 2007. In 2016, the Nursing School also established a Diversity and Inclusivity Advisory Committee that is composed of members of the Nursing School including students, faculty, and staff, she wrote.  

She added that the Nursing School was already evaluating their current diversity plan and expanding their inclusion and equity initiatives prior to the police killing of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes, prompting worldwide calls for racial justice and an end to systemic racism. 

“We do not believe a strong plan will be a reactive one,” Lewis wrote. “Rather, this work will take time in order for it to be sustained.”

On June 12, the College Dean’s Advisory Board and the First-generation, Low-income Dean’s Advisory Board sent a joint statement to Provost Wendell Pritchett and Penn President Amy Gutmann, as well as to students, faculty, and staff at the College. In the statement, both boards declared their support for UMOJA's Demands

UMOJA — the umbrella organization for Black student groups on campus — sent a letter on June 4 to University administration demanding Penn create a house for Black students on Locust Walk, end its relationship with the Philadelphia Police Department, donate to West Philadelphia organizations, and provide academic and mental health resources specifically for Black students.  

The two Boards also announced that they will take concrete steps to create a joint task force, titled the Committee on Racial Justice, collect anonymous data from College students about issues affecting minority communities, and advocate for a review of Penn's hiring and dismissal processes for tenured and tenure-track professors. 

The Committee on Racial Justice will meet weekly and listen to students, advocate for student issues on racial equity at the administrative level, and facilitate discussion between student groups. According to rising College junior and co-chair of the Dean’s Advisory Board Joshua Kim, the task force will be made up of members of both the Dean’s Advisory Board and the FGLI Dean’s Advisory Board who choose to apply. 

The joint statement also urged the University to “examine its practices towards readily dealing with tenured faculty who deliver racially insensitive comments” — and directly condemned the University’s inaction in response to tenured Penn Law professor Amy Wax’s discriminatory comments. 

Kim said that given the diverse nature of the College, the Dean’s Advisory Board felt it necessary to do something to take action, so College Dean Paul Sniegowski connected them to the FGLI Dean’s Advisory Board. 

“As an advisory board, we have a duty to make sure these unheard voices are finally heard and underrepresented voices have a platform,” Kim said. 

Sniegowski cited various anti-racism initiatives happening in the College including conversations hosted by the Paideia program and the two Dean’s boards, the 60 Second Lectures held by the School of Arts and Sciences, and efforts to engage College students in conversations to face “hidden biases in their own attitudes.” 

Snigeowski added that the University still has work to do.

“I would put the major goal very simply, a campus where a student of color doesn't feel somehow singled out in a hostile way in their interactions with anybody. A campus that belongs to every student. Equally and equitably,” Sniegowski said. 

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