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Protesters marching up the lawn of the United States Capitol before some breached the building. Credit: Kylie Cooper

Penn students and professors expressed disappointment with the Jan. 6 breaching of the United States Capitol and the University's failure to condemn President and 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump's incitement of the mob. 

On Wednesday, an armed mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building in Washington to disrupt the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's election victory. The insurrection, encouraged by Trump, resulted in five deaths. Across campus, professors and students decried the actions of the rioters and condemned the president’s instigation, with some noting that Penn's Jan. 7 statement failed to explicitly condemn Trump for encouraging the insurrection.

In a statement released Thursday morning, Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett called the efforts to undermine the election “assaults on the political freedom of all citizens.” They wrote that Americans must unify in protecting democracy and facilitating a “peaceful transfer of presidential power.” 

But the statement did not include any explicit condemnation of Trump, whose false claims of election victory prompted the chaos. Despite a lack of evidence of voter fraud, Trump has falsely asserted for months that he won the 2020 presidential election. On Wednesday, he encouraged thousands of supporters to march to the Capitol building to protest President-elect Joe Biden's victory. 

When asked whether Penn condemns Trump’s incitement of the insurrection, University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy referred The Daily Pennsylvanian to the University’s original Jan. 7 statement, which did not mention Trump.

Unlike recent University statements, including those made after the police killings of Walter Wallace Jr. and George Floyd, the Jan. 7 statement on the Capitol mob was not emailed to the Penn community. 

Wharton sophomore and Penn Democrats Communications Director Holly Anderson criticized the University's “radio silence” regarding Trump's actions, adding that they must denounce his violent rhetoric.

College junior and Penn Dems President Cassy Ingersoll said academic institutions have a responsibility to condemn the wrongful actions of the president. “Penn has an even greater responsibility [compared to other institutions],” she said, citing his alumni status.

The DP Editorial Board urged the University on Wednesday to condemn Trump's inflammatory actions.

“Penn must forcefully speak out against Trump in order to completely repudiate the president’s actions from any connection to the school,” the Editorial Board wrote.

Wharton first year Xavier Shankle, who hails from Georgia, felt disillusioned watching the storming of the Capitol just hours after celebrating the Democratic victories in the Senate runoff elections Tuesday night.

On Tuesday, Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff both won historic victories in the Georgia Senate runoff elections: Warnock became Georgia's first Black senator, and Ossoff became the state's first Jewish senator. Their victories will flip the Senate from a Republican to Democrat majority, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris able to break tied votes.

“In [more than] ten years, we went from electing the first Black president of the United States to Confederate flags running through our Capitol,” Shankle said. "The events of [Jan. 6] were a culmination of the four years of Trump’s presidency. It was four years of the president continually denying the truth.”

Shankle's sentiments were echoed by Penn Political Science professor Rogers Smith, who said that the unrest was prompted by political division exacerbated by Trump, whom Smith called “ill-equipped for the office.”

“It will be listed amongst the days of infamy in U.S. history,” Smith said. He noted that while he would not go as far as to call the riots seditious or treasonous, they were unlawful and violent.

Notable campus political groups published statements on Wednesday evening condemning the insurrection. Penn Dems released a statement on Twitter, calling the storming of the Capitol an act of “domestic terrorism” and condemning Trump for instigating the events by spreading false accusations of voter fraud in the 2020 election. College Republicans released a statement on Facebook, writing that the breaching of the Capitol was “unacceptable” and a threat to democracy.

Jamie-Lee Josselyn, associate director for recruitment for Penn's Creative Writing Program, said that Gutmann and Pritchett fell short of condemning the president and adequately comforting Penn students in their statement.

“Words matter,” Josselyn said. “You don’t need to be a DP reporter, or a [Kelly] Writers House student, or a Creative Writing major to know that words matter, and those words fell short.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated that four people had died during the assault. The article was updated on Jan. 9 to reflect the recently confirmed death of a U.S. Capitol police officer.

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