A Message from Dean Steven J. Fluharty

November 16, 2016

The emotionally charged election cycle has exposed the harsh reality that our nation is deeply divided. These divisions were brought home forcefully by the disturbing social media attacks on Penn’s Black freshmen last Friday. The language and symbols of intimidation are an assault not only against the students targeted but against the values that Penn Arts and Sciences holds in highest esteem. 

To the students who were personally victimized by the racist social media postings, and to others who may feel threatened by the tenor of voices that have emerged in public discourse in recent months, we stand united with you. We affirm our commitment to the safety and well-being of our community. Our faculty and staff, along with CAPS, Penn’s cultural resource centers, and the Chaplain’s office, remain prepared to offer you their full support.

These events remind us all that what we stand for, as a liberal arts institution, is more urgent than ever. We reaffirm the importance of an education that offers students a pathway to become knowledgeable about the world; aware of moral, ethical and social issues; prepared to exercise intellectual leadership, and be enlivened by the use of their minds. As an institution dedicated to these missions, we recognize that we must redouble our efforts to facilitate constructive dialogue and to use the knowledge that we create to address the challenging problems facing our society. And we call for our nation’s leaders to join in repudiating attacks like these as antithetical to our country’s most fundamental ideals.

We are also committed to an active response in support of our values. Many of our faculty are at the front lines as their students process troubling events both intellectually and personally. To help faculty address student needs and make sure they have sufficient resources, we will continue to address this issue with department chairs, as well as undergraduate, graduate, and LPS program directors. And we will invite and support proposals from faculty to develop new pedagogical approaches that foster respectful open discussion in all learning environments.

However, it is essential that we sustain and expand these conversations and allow for the full participation of our community. To that end, Arts and Sciences will sponsor a number of public events in the coming months. Presidential Associate Professor of Political Science Daniel Gillion will discuss the political dialogue surrounding race, public policy, and inequality at a Penn Lightbulb Café on December 6; religion scholar and author Reza Aslan will deliver the February 23 Levin Family Dean’s Forum lecture, highlighting Islamophobia; the Penn Program on Democracy, Citizenship and Constitutionalism is planning a special forum, date tba; and we will run a series of faculty panel discussions this spring considering other critical challenges. We will share more details about our plans soon, and we welcome your suggestions on topics and venues around which to continue the dialogue.

Finally, speaking on behalf of myself and all my colleagues in the Office of the Dean, it is in times like these that I most appreciate the overwhelmingly positive nature of the work that we do. It is a privilege to stand with a community that aspires every day to advance knowledge, open up minds, and make the world a better place. I look forward to working together as we take on the challenges and opportunities that this era brings.