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Protesters demonstrate outside of Philadelphia's City Hall in May 2020 following the police killing of George Floyd.

Credit: Chase Sutton

Days before the verdict is expected to be announced in the trial of Derek Chauvin, Penn administrators released an email affirming the University's commitment to advancing racial equity. 

The email was sent on April 19 to the Penn community and was signed by 45 members of University leadership ahead of a verdict in the Chauvin trial, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in the killing of George Floyd. The trial entered closing arguments on Monday, and a verdict is expected to be released this week

“As the country continues to grapple with enhancing racial equity, and as the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd concludes in Minneapolis, and the emotions it touches rise ever more in people’s consciousness, we want everyone in the Penn community to know that there are resources available to support you if you are feeling stress, anxiety, or have any other concerns that this case has brought to the surface,” the email reads.

Top University administrators and school deans — including Penn President Amy Gutmann, Provost Wendell Pritchett, Board of Trustees Chair David L. Cohen, Board of Trustees Vice Chair Scott L. Bok, Division of Public Safety Vice President Maureen Rush, and University of Pennsylvania Health System CEO Kevin Mahoney — signed the email.

The email emphasized initiatives Penn has implemented in recent years to address social inequity. Initiatives include the creation of the Office of Social Equity and Community, the promotion of Joann Mitchell to senior vice president and chief diversity officer, the creation of the Campus Iconography Group to address the presence of certain statues on campus, and the commissioning of an independent review of DPS to ensure a "physically and emotionally safe environment on campus." 

The email also pointed to initiatives led by members of the Penn community, such as the Penn & Slavery Project and the Paideia Program’s panel conversations on racial disparities.

As America braces for the verdict in Chauvin's trial, city and state officials have taken measures to prepare for potential unrest in Philadelphia. On Saturday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf activated more than 1,000 members of the state's National Guard to Philadelphia, where they will remain for 90 days unless Wolf rescinds or extends their stay.

Last summer, thousands of demonstrators protested in Philadelphia against the police killing of Floyd and other Black individuals. The Pennsylvania National Guard was deployed over the summer following civil unrest in the city, and again in the fall during demonstrations against the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr.

Gutmann released a statement last May following the police killing of Floyd, in which she condemned Floyd’s death and affirmed the contributions of Black students, faculty, and staff to the Penn community. Gutmann later released a follow-up statement after receiving criticism from students that her email failed to address institutionalized racism and mention roles of the police and police brutality.

“Talking about race can be difficult,” the Monday email read. “But we should never let that difficulty stand in the way of speaking up for fairness, equity and compassion for all Americans, and for every member of our Penn community.”

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