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Students answer questions from Penn President Liz Magill on notepads during the Red & Blue Advisory Committee's "Tomorrow, Together" forum in Irvine Auditorium on Jan. 13th.

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

The Red and Blue Advisory Committee held an open forum on Thursday, inviting members of the Penn community to share their thoughts on Penn's future. 

The "Tomorrow, Together" forum, which was held in Irvine Auditorium and open to the public, featured nine easels with large notepads where attendees were encouraged to answer questions from Penn President Liz Magill. The questions, such as “How do we accelerate the creation and application of knowledge?” and “How can we best advance our shared priorities of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging?” were geared around understanding what the Penn community wants to focus on when the committee builds its strategic plan for the University. The plan is expected to be announced in the summer of 2023.  

Around 40 students, faculty, and staff members were in attendance at the forum. 

Magill announced the formation of the Red and Blue Advisory Committee in October to “engage broadly and develop recommendations for a strategic framework for Penn’s future." The committee is composed of 16 students, administrators, and faculty. 

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication John L. Jackson, Jr. leads the Red & Blue Advisory Committee forum in Irvine Auditorium on Jan. 13th.

Thursday's forum served as a space for “high-level, strategic thinking about what Penn’s goals will be in the future,” John Jackson, the committee's chair and dean of the Annenberg School for Communication, told attendees. The conception of the forum was “all President Magill’s idea,” Jackson added.  

The initial announcement of the committee came after reports that Magill had begun meeting with and asking administrators close to her how to address community issues, such as its response to the sale of the University City Townhomes. 

Undergraduate Assembly President and College and Wharton senior Carson Sheumaker, a committee member, told attendees it was important to include the broader Penn community in conversations about where the University would “dedicate [its] dollars.” 

Engineering graduate student Joe Rummaneethorn, the former president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the forum was the “right move in the right direction.” He said that the opportunity for face-to-face communication with administrators was usually limited to high-level student executives, so the forum was “very valuable.” 

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi A student answers a prompt from Penn President Liz Magill during an open forum held by the Red & Blue Advisory Committee on Jan. 13.

Sheumaker echoed Rummaneethorn’s sentiments, adding that the last time the strategic plan was developed with “broad feedback” was before former President Amy Gutmann, under former President Judith Rodin. He said that he “deeply appreciated” Magill’s commitment to leveraging a broad range of perspectives in forging the path forward.

"I think the main thing I'd say is, we're hearing a lot of common themes," Magill told the DP in an interview on Jan. 10. "Nothing is crystallized to a particular proposal yet."

Magill added that there was a "lot of sentiment" that Penn should work harder on addressing complex societal issues, including climate change and sustainability. 

Gabriel Vega-Bellido, a graduate student in the Materials Science department, said he was not clear on the objective of the forum before coming but “came for the free food.” He said he stayed because he found that such gatherings were essential to building relationships between students and administration. 

Vega-Bellido said he had previous experience in graduate student government and found that a lot of his role was about “keeping the peace” between all aspects of Penn student life, which was made especially difficult because of COVID-19. He said these open meetings would help “restore” the relationship between these parties — “we’ll see what comes out of it, of course, but [this is] the right direction.”

The findings of the event will be compiled and shared at large with the Red and Blue Committee, which will be used in discussions with other data, Jackson said. He added that Magill is “excited” to see what comes out of such initiatives. 

Previously, the DP stated that around 40 people were invited to the forum. The story has been updated to reflect that around 40 people were in attendance, but the forum was open to all members of the Penn community.