While Gutmann highlighted the statue’s placement in a prominent location on campus, Black students said the artwork was largely meaningless if it was not accompanied by concrete action to support the Black community at Penn.
The sculpture, titled 'Brick House,' was created by acclaimed artist Simone Leigh, and features cowrie shells on the woman’s braids which symbolize wealth, femininity, and the African slave trade in which the shells were used as currency, according to Penn Today.
Students participating in the strike cited the cancellation of fall break, Penn’s failure to cancel classes on Election Day, and the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr. as causes of students' mental health struggles this semester.
In an email signed by Penn President Amy Gutmann and other Penn officials, Gutmann referred to Wallace Jr. as a neighbor of the Penn community, and his killing as a "death" with no mention of the word "police," escalating student outrage.
Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.) and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) sent a letter to 25 colleges and universities on July 10, requesting information regarding the participation of women and minority-owned asset management firms in the administration of endowment assets.
While some students said the virtual setting could not match the same exciting atmosphere of the in-person traditions, most students and faculty still deemed this year's online celebrations an overall success.
The Black Lives Matter movement inspires numerous comparisons to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. But some Penn alumni — who have marched on its bloodiest streets and decades later, remain committed to seeking justice — are not convinced there can necessarily be a direct comparison.