Diversity Conference Offers
|In the first gathering of its kind at the University, Penn Alumni and the Office of the President are sponsoring Penn Spectrum: An Alumni Conference on Diversity and Community October 1-3, a weekend of activities—from parties to panel discussions to performing arts—for Asian, black, Latino, Native American, and lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) alumni. The conference is modeled on similar gatherings at Harvard, Stanford, and other peer institutions, and was developed by a steering committee of alumni representing the constituencies involved, supported by Penn Alumni’s Office of Multicultural Outreach.
Lolita Jackson EAS’89 is one of three co-chairs of the conference, along with Maria Chu Ho W’81 and Cecilia Ramirez C’05 SP2’10. She recalls hearing colleagues and friends who had graduated from other Ivies “gushing” about how moved and energized they were by similar programs at their schools and being convinced that the University should do something similar.
“We are Penn—all of us are Penn,” says Jackson, adding that the conference should appeal to alumni of every age group as well. (Members of the conference’s steering and host committees ranged from classes of the 1940s through 2000s.) For those who haven’t followed University developments since leaving campus, it may be an especially eye-opening experience.
Penn Spectrum represents “a way to approach diverse alumni who may have been otherwise unengaged with the institution, educate them on the Penn of today, and show that this is a very engaging, welcoming, and dynamic place that is probably different than, in many cases, what they remember,” explains Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations F. Hoopes Wampler. “We hope that, as a result of bringing them back to campus to talk about very important issues as they relate to Penn and also the world, that they will start to become engaged in other” alumni activities in their regions, with their schools and classes, and by joining existing alumni organizations that represent the targeted groups.
Some of those organizations, like the Black Alumni Society (BAS) and the Penn Gay and Lesbian Alliance (PennGALA) have been active since the 1980s, while others like the Association of Latino Alumni (ALA), Association of Native Alumni (ANA), and the University of Pennsylvania Asian Alumni Network (UPAAN) have formed within the past decade or so.
The increasing diversity of Penn’s alumni makes it more important than ever that the programming and services Penn Alumni offer appeal to all constituencies, Wampler adds—and it is also essential that the University’s volunteer leadership reflect the makeup of that changing population.
“We want this to be a beginning,” says Nicole Maloy W’95, director of multicultural outreach. Penn Spectrum offers alumni who were interested and active in issues of cultural identity as students the chance to reconnect with others with similar interests, she says. They will also be able to see how much Penn has developed with regard to diversity and sample the range of activities available to students today through Penn’s cultural resource centers, performing arts organizations, and political groups.
For alumni who are already active volunteers, the weekend will provide “yet another opportunity to come back, to celebrate diversity in particular,” she adds. But Maloy acknowledges that some diverse alumni may not remember Penn as a welcoming place. “We recognize the truth” of those negative feelings, she says, but, while the University still has far to go, “it is not that way now. Penn has changed significantly over time.” For these alumni, she suggests that Penn Spectrum could represent a kind of closure, allowing them to experience that change and “learn how they can contribute to making it better in the future.”
Organizers are looking to attract 500 attendees, which Wampler says would be a “great success.” The packed schedule includes a mix of activities—some of which bring the five groups together for shared experiences, and others allowing time for discussion and socializing within each group. (For full details, and to register, visit pennspectrum.com.)
Highlights include performances by a variety of culturally focused Penn performing arts groups, from the dance troupe African Rhythms to PennYo, a Chinese a capella group; remarks and a Q&A by Penn President Amy Gutmann; and a series of panel discussions featuring prominent alumni covering issues such as educational access, civil rights in the 21st century, and community and public-health initiatives, as well as highlighting the experiences of Penn graduates in entertainment, politics, and government.
On Saturday night, each group will hold its own gala dinner with keynote speakers, then come together again for a post-dinner party with dessert and cocktails. The weekend wraps up with a brunch on College Green on Sunday morning, and several optional activities, including discounted tickets to see jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard perform at the Annenberg Center.
Besides the gala for the Black Alumni Society, Jackson has high expectations for the performing arts night on Friday. For alumni of the 1960s, 1970s, and even 1980s, she says, the “explosion” of ethnically based performing arts groups should be a revelation and a mark of how far Penn has come toward true diversity. Similarly, a panel titled “Penn and the Importance of Community Involvement”—where she will speak in her capacity as chair of the West Philadelphia outreach committee for the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts—will highlight the University’s steps to repair its historically “fraught” relationship with its neighbors.
For co-chair Maria Chu Ho, “working on Penn Spectrum has provided a very different perspective.” As a Penn undergrad, Ho was involved with the Chinese Student Association, where she met many of the “friends that I remain close to today.” Though she’s stayed very much involved as an alumna—last year she won the Alumni Award of Merit, Penn Alumni’s highest honor—her volunteer work has generally not been related to diversity. Penn Spectrum afforded an “opportunity for me personally to go back to my roots,” she says.
She’s particularly looking forward to “the gala celebrations on Saturday night,” and to “meeting other Asian alumni across the generations and hearing about their experiences [as students] and how it differs or is the same as my own.” Overall, she hopes Penn Spectrum will leave attendees “feeling reconnected with Penn, with each other, and even prouder to be Penn alumni,” she says. In addition, the event will “have a powerful impact in drawing attention to the needs of these targeted communities with regard to increased scholarships, diversified curricula, and enhanced programming for Penn alumni and future generations of Penn students.”
Jackson, who has chaired her class’s 10th, 15th, and 20th reunion committees, emphasizes the hope that conference attendees will become involved in the full range of alumni activities, from attending Homecoming and Alumni Weekend to taking advantage of the services offered to legacy applicants by the Alumni Council on Admissions “so that people can really get a sense of our significant contributions and presence at the school.
“Penn is what you make it now,” she says. “If you want a diverse reunion, join your reunion committee.”—J.P.
| ©2010 The Pennsylvania
Last modified 8/25/10