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COUNCIL 2000-2001 Year-end Committee Reports

The following reports were presented at Council last spring.
Final reports for Community Relations, Facilities, Personnel Benefits, Pluralism, Quality of Student Life, and Safety and Security, were given to
Almanac recently for publication.


April 23, 2001,

Discussed at Council, April 25, 2001

Committee Charges, 2000-2001

During the academic year, the Committee met six times and divided into three subcommittees, which met independently throughout the year. The Pluralism Committee was asked to focus on three specific charges for 2000-2001:

  • Begin an investigation of religious pluralism at the University by gathering information about the presence and acceptance of different religious traditions at the University.
  • Assess the impact of the new resource centers and religious space.
  • Consult with the Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid (CAFA) regarding minority admission and retention.

The Pluralism Committee members amended the charges as follows:

  • The religious pluralism charge remained unchanged.
  • The Committee determined that it was premature to assess the impact of the resource centers on campus, since they have either: a) been operating for too short a time (PAASCH), b) been operating without a fulltime director (Casa Latina), or c) have not been created yet (the religious groups hub in the Veranda).
  • After consultation with the Chairman of the CAFA, it was decided that CAFA would focus on Minority Recruitment, and one subcommittee of the Pluralism Committee would focus on Minority Retention.
  • A group of committee members decided to create a separate subcommittee focused on the interaction of diverse student groups.

Therefore, the three subcommittees of the Pluralism Committee for 2000-2001 were as follows: Religious Pluralism, Minority Retention, and Social Interaction. The individual reports of each subcommittee follow.

Religious Pluralism Subcommittee

The Religious Pluralism Subcommittee met six times during the academic year, and also held a special meeting with the campus chaplains. The subcommittee was also asked to address an issue outside of its meetings, namely, the distress South Asian American students felt at the way South Asians were portrayed in an issue of Punch Bowl. University Chaplain Gipson arranged for a meeting between students and the Punch Bowl editors, during which the editors apologized. (They also sent a note after the meeting, thanking the students for meeting with them.) From all reports, the meeting was successful.

The Subcommittee also addressed the issue of religious holidays. After a review of the existing policy, the subcommittee and Committee found that the policy is satisfactory and requires no changes. There is a need, however, for greater education of faculty and students alike about their responsibilities. Students need to be more effectively informed that the onus is on them to notify professors of any conflicts during the first two weeks of a semester. Faculty members also need more information about religious holidays. A start would be to distribute Jewish Holy Days: 1998-2008, a pamphlet published by the Jewish Community Relations Council, to all faculty and lecturers. It would also be advisable to call attention to the University Chaplain's website, which includes a comprehensive list of holidays as well.

By far the major question for the Religious Pluralism Subcommittee was religious discrimination on campus. During the Fall, members of this Subcommittee informally surveyed many departments and centers, and the general finding was that positive experiences at Penn vastly outnumber negative experiences where religious questions are concerned. Some students express reluctance to state their religious beliefs in class, due to fear of being ridiculed; others believe that Jewish students are favored over other groups. On the faculty level, one reported witnessing discrimination against a (Jesuit) Ph.D. applicant, and another said he had just received a death threat with the subject line "for israel." He reported it to the campus police and has not, to our knowledge, received any more communications of this sort.

In February, Chaplain Gipson hosted a meeting for the Subcommittee with a large number of the campus chaplains. They, too, reported little in the way of individual discrimination due to religious affiliation. An area of greater concern was the Student Activities Council (SAC) funding policy, which embraces freedom of speech while denying funding to religious groups. This is clearly an important issue, and has resulted in a recommendation by the Pluralism Committee that an ad hoc committee on SAC funding be formed in Fall 2001, with the charge of examining the SAC policy on funding and making recommendations for possible revision. (See the Committee's recommendations at the end of this report for additional details.)

Minority Retention Subcommittee

The Minority Retention Subcommittee initially needed to determine what efforts were underway on campus regarding retention of minority students. They had planned to gather relevant data from campus sources and organizations (i.e., Affirmative Action focus groups, the admissions office, and CAFA). They then intended to supplement the findings with both quantitative and qualitative data, culled from an online survey and possibly a town meeting and/or focus groups. Data were to be compiled by the end of March.

Subcommittee members were in communication with the major umbrella organizations for students of color, and reported that they were eager to work with the Subcommittee in their endeavor. Groups contacted include: United Minorities Council, Umoja, Latino Coalition, and Asian Pacific Student Coalition.

To date, part of the survey creation was completed, but the data has not been compiled, and the efforts will need to be carried out by next year's Pluralism Committee.

Social Interaction Subcommittee

The Social Interaction Subcommittee's charge was to examine social interaction among students across various aspects of diversity, including racial/cultural/ethnic backgrounds, religion, and sexual orientation. The specific objectives set by the Subcommittee were:

  • Explore and describe student experiences regarding social interaction;
  • Benchmark in this regard with other institutions, if time permits; and
  • Report changes students suggest and discuss what might be done institutionally to accomplish these changes.

To achieve these objectives, the Subcommittee collaborated with several groups who had already explored or were exploring social interaction on campus, who generously agreed to share their findings with the subcommittee, and who allowed the subcommittee to develop recommendations based on their findings.

These groups were:

  • A seminar on the improvement of undergraduate education offered by Drs. Ira Harkavy and Lee Benson; one of the projects in the class involved students developing a survey that would ask Penn students to evaluate their interactions across groups;
  • Cross-campus research and a set of on-campus focus groups conducted through the "Seeking Common Ground Project" (co-sponsored by the Greenfield Intercultural Center and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center [LGBT]), that looked at the way that student organizations at Penn address diversity; and explored how to use these data to create opportunities to bring the communities on campus together;
  • A pilot study done by Drs. Douglas Massey and Camille Charles (Sociology) that explored college experiences among first-year undergraduate students at Penn in 1998;
  • A survey of international students by the Office of International Programs (OIP) regarding the quality of services and programs delivered by OIP that offered some tangential information on students' experiences with interaction on campus.

Some key findings from these groups:

Seminar Survey on Social Interaction

  • Students' perceptions/opinions regarding diverse interaction on campus change from their time as freshmen to their senior year. Students had stronger opinions the more time they spent on campus. They offered more specific examples of tensions on campus, held stronger views about how administration responds to students, and identified more opportunities to interact but less realization of those opportunities, as they moved through their four years.
  • There is a divide between Jewish and non-Jewish students. Many non-Jewish Whites, Blacks, Asians, and Latinos perceived Jewish students to be more favored by Penn's administration. Many for example, believe that Jewish students receive preferential treatment for holidays, speakers, events, and funding.
  • There is also a perceived divide between South Asian and Eastern Asian students. When asked to check racial identity, a fair number of South Asian students refused to check the racial category as Asian for themselves, and checked "other" and wrote in South Asian as their race. This also speaks to an interesting dynamic on Penn's campus, which should be explored more extensively.

Seeking Common Ground Project

  • Most colleges and universities researched had some form of resource for LGBT students and/or students of color and/or multicultural/diversity affairs; however, very few offered programs that were designed to unite the communities and to discuss overlapping issues of discrimination/prejudice.
  • When such a program did exist on other campuses, lack of institutional support made it difficult to sustain the program, and there was little continuity in programs designed to unite communities.
  • While it was recognized by Penn students of color organizations that there are LGBT students of color on campus, the issues of LGBT students were seen as totally separate from their own.
  • Some student of color organizations function through a "safe space" framework. Therefore, while they welcomed the support of members from outside their own community and interaction at public events, they felt that to include in their organizations any student interested in joining might be detrimental to their goals and undermine the "safe space" framework that helped them build community and find support on a predominantly white campus.
  • All organizations participating in focus groups expressed the importance of alliances among minorities on campus, but they were unable to articulate how those alliances should be built. Many groups expressed desire for more mechanisms to be in place to foster cross-cultural social interaction. Examples of existing mechanisms mentioned were the Office of Student Life Leadership Training retreats offered twice a year, the PACE class, the Seeking Common Ground program, the United Minorities Council, The Alliance and Understanding program, and the Interfaith Council. However, students felt that such programs currently reach only a small number of students.

Pilot Study of First-Year Undergraduate Students

For the pilot, a total of 336 students were interviewed. A wide variety of questions were asked related to both their lives leading up to college, and about their experiences during the first year of college. Questions about cross-race friendships, interracial dating habits, and the number of professors of different racial groups that students had during their first year yielded some interesting insights regarding cross-race social interaction.

  • Whites are most likely to report that all of their closest friends are of the same race (22.2%), followed by blacks (17% have all same-race friends). Fewer than 10% of both Hispanics and Asians say that all of their friends are same-race.
  • On average, non-whites have between 2 and 5 white friends, non-blacks have fewer than one black friend, non-Hispanics have fewer than one Hispanic friend, and non-Asians have between 0.6 and 1.5 Asian friends.
  • •Hispanics--the only group that is not racially distinct--are the only group for which more than half report ever dating across racial lines. Whites, blacks, and Asians are least likely to date interracially, in that order. Overall, these students appear open to the idea of interracial dating; however, they may be selective regarding who an appropriate non-same-race date is.
  • As expected, white professors are the norm. Overall, it is clear that the average Penn freshman is not being taught by non-white faculty, since the mean for non-white professors were always below 1.
  • Both black and white students seem to view Penn as a segregated place, and think that the source of the segregation is institutional, not the result of personal preference. Moreover, many of these students believe that the way that they select housing is a major source of the problem. In the end, while this is seen as hindering interaction, neither whites nor blacks think that the housing process should be changed to random assignment in the freshman year.

Survey of International Students

In Fall 2000, approximately 4700 questionnaires were distributed to all international students and scholars at Penn. Given the specific purpose of the survey (it was part of OIP's self-study, in preparation for an external review in Fall 2002), it is not surprising that the open-ended comments in the responses include virtually nothing about social interaction with American students or professors.

  • Some students found helpful programs such as the campus hosting and mentoring program (CHAMP) that fostered interaction with American students and asked for more such activities and programs.
  • Some graduate students found graduate housing, i.e. Sansom Place, to be very unsociable.

Subcommittee Conclusions and Recommendations:

  • The explorations of the Subcommittee document perceptions as well as actual experiences that social interaction among diverse groups at Penn is limited.
  • There needs to be institutional discussion and agreement that social interaction among diverse groups is a worthy goal at Penn.
  • Research in progress should continue, and additional research could be undertaken to understand the issues involved in social interaction among diverse groups, and to formulate specific programmatic steps to increase social interaction.
  • The University should increase financial resources to support further research and recommended programs to increase social interaction among diverse groups on campus.

Examples of possible programmatic efforts:

  • A mechanism and related resources could be created to encourage and support student leaders in cosponsoring events (social and educational) that foster interaction across groups.
  • More programs and opportunities could be created for students interested in cross-cultural collaborations.
  • Produce a New Student Orientation (NSO) brochure that focuses on how students can maximize their experiences of diversity at Penn. The brochure would outline different venues and give suggestions on how to explore beyond one's comfort zone.
  • Develop a research-oriented course on multiculturalism. The course could teach students how to create a strong bibliography, conduct a survey, and explore ethnographic information related to diversity on campus.
  • Explore additional opportunities to foster interaction between international students and their American peers.

Recommendations for Council and the University Community

  • The Committee recommends that the Director of Affirmative Action and the Director of the Greenfield Intercultural Center be reinstated as ex officio members. Their participation as "invited guests" this year was critical to the Committee's work.
  • The Committee recommends that both students and faculty be better informed of the obligations of the religious holidays policy.
  • The Committee recommends that an ad hoc committee be formed in Fall 2001 to examine SAC funding policies, and make recommendations for possible revisions. This ad hoc committee should have representatives from a variety of student religious and political groups, as well as at least two representatives from the executive committees of both SAC and GSAC. It should also be advised to seek help from the campus chaplains, especially Newman Center, on benchmarking funding policy statements at other universities.
  • The Committee recommends that the recommendations provided by the Social Interaction Subcommittee be pursued aggressively, including the encouragement and financial support of all programs which encourage interaction across student groups.

Recommendations of Charges for 2001-2002 Committee

  • Minority Retention: complete the work begun by this year's Minority Retention Subcommittee: gather relevant data, hold focus groups, etc., and determine what is being (or should be) done to strengthen minority retention.
  • Social Interaction: encourage and monitor follow-up on the 2000-2001 Social Interaction Subcommittee's recommendations regarding interaction across student groups.

-- Stephen N. Dunning, Chair

2000-2001 Council Committee on Pluralism

Chair: Steve Dunning (Religious Studies). Faculty: Camille Charles (Sociology), Julie Fairman (Nursing), Nabil Farhat (Electrical Engineering), Howard Goldfine (Microbiology/Medicine), Mitchell Marcus (CIS), Thomas Ricketts (Philsophy), Louis Thomas (Management). Graduate Students: Kimberly Harrington. Undergraduate Students: Eric Chen, Sarah Feuer, Raymond Valerio. PPSA: Erin Cross (LGBT center), Rhonda Minyard (Center for Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics). A-3: Loretta Hauber (Health Education), John Hogan (Biddle Law Library), Audrey Smith-Bey (African American Studies). Ex officio: Jeanne Arnold-Mann (African American Resource center), Elena DiLapi (Penn Women's Center), William Gipson (Chaplain), Joyce Randolph (International Programs), Scott Reikofski (Fraternity/Sorrority Affairs), Robert Schoenberg (LGBT center), Terri White (Academic Support Programs). Invited Guests: Valerie DeCruz, Valerie Hayes. Staff: Judi Rogers

Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 6, October 2, 2001


October 2, 2001
Volume 48 Number 6

Dr. Lerman appointed associate director for Cancer Control and Population Science and director of the Tobacco Research program at the Leonard & Madlyn Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute
$2.1 million grant to introduce advanced security features into standard office PCs.
Dennis DeTurck, Srilata Gangulee and Alton Strange will serve the Colleges Houses this year.
The new director for public serves at the Library is Sandra Kerbel.
Wharton as appointed Steven Oliveira as associate dean for External Affairs.
UCD has announced it's new executive director.
Deadlines are announced for Pilot and Feasibility Grants, Trustees' Council Grants, Robert Bosch Fellowships and Luce Scholars Program
Year-end Council reports: Community Relations; Facilities; Personnel Benefits; Pluralism; Quality of Student Life; and Safety and Security.
A new Temporary Staffing Services has a new vendor; EHRS has Training for October and Annual Tuberculosis Screening is now available.
Steinhardt Hall, the new Hillel Center breaks ground.