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The funding from Penn Student Government will support academic, social, and mental health resources for Black students.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

On Aug. 13, Penn Student Government pledged to donate $250,000 to the umbrella organization for Black student groups at Penn known as UMOJA, Makuu: The Black Cultural Center, and the Center for Africana Studies. Both PSG and UMOJA say, however, the monetary boost is just the first step for the University to commit more funding toward Black student programming at Penn. 

PSG's $250,000 contribution, which was announced in an email to undergraduate students last week, will support academic, social, and mental health resources for Black students on campus. $200,000 will go to Makuu. $150,000 of the $200,000 is allocated for UMOJA and its coalition groups, which are housed under Makuu. The remaining $50,000 will go to the Center for Africana Studies at Penn to fund research by Black undergraduate students.

College senior and UMOJA co-chair Martha Gakunju said UMOJA has been calling for increased funding from the University for years. UMOJA, which consists of over 30 Black student groups on campus, received $10,000 in University funding last year, which Gakunju said is not enough to cover programming for all Black students on campus.

Interim leader of the Undergraduate Assembly and rising College senior Jude Dartey wrote in the Aug. 13 email that the money will come from the Student Activities Council Reserve Fund, which consists of unused money by student groups at the end of each year. At the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year, the fund held approximately $1.1 million.

“We are thankful for the Penn Student Government leaders who spearheaded this effort, and we look forward to working with UMOJA and our students to make the best use of these funds,” Director of Makuu Brian Peterson wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Gakunju said the funding from PSG will help UMOJA provide tutors and more academic resources for Black students. This funding is crucial for Black students who are underserved and face discrimination from professors at Penn. She said some Black students lack academic resources before coming to Penn. Once at Penn, professors have told some Black students to switch into a less difficult major or drop post-graduate plans due to academic performance.

UMOJA Co-chair Martha Gakunju. (Photo from Martha Gajunku)

Gakunju added UMOJA will also use the funds to provide more robust mental health services and recruit Black graduate students to offer mental health resources to Black undergraduate students, citing the small number of Black clinicians at Counseling and Psychological Services.

Gakunju said UMOJA will also use some of the money to fund social events for Black students when it is safe to do so. College senior and Undergraduate Assembly representative Kristen Ukeomah added that predominantly white groups on campus, such as many Greek Life organizations, have more money and can afford to regularly host large social events, whereas UMOJA and Makuu lack such funds.

“There's a disparity in what social life looks like,” Ukeomah said.

Ukeomah, who also serves as president of the Penn Black Student League — an organization that connects Black students at Penn through academic support, social mixers, and programming — praised the UA for including Black student leaders in deciding how the money should be allocated.

College senior and Student Committee on Undergraduate Affairs Chair External Carson Eckhard praised all six branches of PSG for backing the donation.

“We wanted to show people that we could put action behind our words and our desire for change, and we definitely hope that administration will join us in supporting this initiative long term,” she said.

The UMOJA Board sent a letter to members of Penn administration on June 4 listing the group's demands, which included cutting ties with the Philadelphia Police Department, providing Makuu with its own house on Locust Walk, and providing academic and mental health resources specifically for Black students.

For years, Penn's main minority group coalition, known as the 6B, have been pushing for the cultural centers located in the basement of the ARCH — Pan-Asian American Community House, Makuu, and La Casa Latina — to occupy a more prominent space on Locust Walk.

Dartey said both PSG and UMOJA will continue to lobby for consistent increased funding for UMOJA and Makuu.

“It’s not a one time thing — it’s an ongoing process,” Dartey said.

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