Racism Allegations Tear Open Old Wounds at Penn

By Daniel Denvir
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 12 | Posted Apr. 26, 2011

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“Racism at Penn is usually subtle,” wrote Abreu, who declined to comment. “It is a way of life, something that minorities come to accept. In class, it’s usually sly comments about us. In the dining halls, it’s people talking really loud, complaining about us to their friends. I overhear it. But this was the first time it was so blatant. ... I don’t know which experience was worse that night. Being called a ‘nigger’ or being questioned about belonging here.”

Class, of course, also plays a role at a wealthy school like Penn.

“You have to understand that Penn is extremely different from most schools, in that the vast majority comes from a much wealthier background,” writes Abreu. “I grew up in the projects, surrounded by crime and drugs.”

Chad Dion Lassiter, who lectures about racism at Penn and West Chester University, criticized the whole notion of “belonging” at Penn. Lassiter is president of Black Men at Penn, which does anti-racism and violence prevention work throughout the city.

“He [Abreu] buys into his own privilege by saying ‘I’m a Penn student.’ You might be a Penn student, but they didn’t recognize you as part of the exclusive club,’ Lassiter says. “I understand what Chris is going through, but you don’t get a pass because you’re a Penn student, as if, ‘I’m a part of this elite group.’ In the eyes of some, you are still rendered invisible.”

For Lassiter, the bigger question is how this elite institution operates in the world around it, particularly in neighboring black West Philadelphia.

The students have come up with a list of things they want to change, including the recruitment and retention of minority faculty members and cultural competency events during orientation.

“The response was really a product of the fact that [Abreu’s] story really resonated with us on campus. A lot of students of color and other marginalized groups felt like it was important to take a stand,” says Ryan Jobson, a senior anthropology and Africana Studies major. “We understand that we have the support of the administration on this issue. ... We know that we have their ears, so we just want to bring our agenda and demands to them.” But to date, University officials have yet to respond for comment.

Even so, University president Amy Gutmann took her place amidst the clasped hands at Wednesday’s vigil.

The circle continued to grow as curious onlookers like Raya, a white student and sophomore, joined in.

“One thing that surprised me about Penn was that it’s a lot less diverse than I thought,” Raya said.

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Comments 1 - 12 of 12
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1. Anonymous said... on Apr 27, 2011 at 01:14PM

“Wow somewhat agree see it every day @ work and although it's not the majority, it's a major portion involved. It's sad to see people still think we only get where we are because we're minorities and not hard working, educated human beings. But as the saying goes you can't teach an old dog new tricks if that's how they were raised to think and believe minorities are. With that way of thinkin nothin is ever going to change for the better.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Apr 27, 2011 at 03:10PM

“UPenn kids are usually so kind and considerate. No attitudes there!”

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3. Anonymous said... on Apr 27, 2011 at 06:40PM

“Sad and pathetic and unnecessary that people have to act this way.
Everyone should mind their business and not say anything to provoke anyone! And a little kindness could go a long way for humanity.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Apr 27, 2011 at 08:36PM

“penn kids love the scent of their own shit.”

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5. jj said... on Apr 28, 2011 at 07:16PM

“a blck rep in hburg called a white rep a cracker where was the big story then? didnt jesse jackson come to penn?”

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6. dh said... on Apr 29, 2011 at 01:14AM

“a bunch of privileged ivy leaguers being racist? blows my mind...

Temple all the way. Diversity University”

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7. hellifknow said... on May 2, 2011 at 11:05AM

“I live near Penn and walk on the campus all the time. I haven't had that situation, but I'm not SURPRISED AT ALL. I can just imagine what its like when these entitled elitist kids get a little liquor in them....and its' sad that they will take those same racist feelings out into the world as their celebrated and praised as Penn grads. If Penn wants to do more for it's West Philly neighbors, help more of their children prepare for and afford to go to their University. Yeah, I know. There's Penn Alexander. But look at how the eligibility lines were drawn for that school Very interesting line of demarcation t cuts through the neighborhood.”

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8. PA abroad said... on May 3, 2011 at 07:28PM

“I've been living in the UK for a while, and I've managed to avoid my fellow American classmates (mostlymiddle to upper class white kids), who seem to enjoy a bit of racist banter. After visiting home last month for the first time in several years, I honestly forgot how much racist commentary I used to hear on a daily basis. At Wawa. While waiting in-line at the supermarket. From other white people on the street, who assume I'm "in" on the joke. At a Phillies game. So, drunk shitheads at UPENN spouting racial abuse with impunity? Not a big surprise. It's not just a UPENN problem, it's a much wider cultural disease, with unavoidalbe clinical signs for the foreseaable future. I miss Philadelphia, but I do not miss such despicable shit.”

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9. Jim Russo said... on May 4, 2011 at 07:44AM

“Gee, I was raised on the tenant that the actions of an ignorant few don't represent the "whole." My West Philly days behold a number of such incidents with both black neighborhood residents AND UPenn college students. Strange how such simple logic gets swept aside when a social or political agenda is, perhaps, the real motivation...”

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10. CrystalClear said... on Jun 11, 2011 at 12:44AM

“Look, hellifknow. I did a class at Penn Alexander. All of the 7th grade kids made me feel prideful that America had kids like these on their way to being adults. One day a couple of kids were loud and annoying at one point. But at the end of the period 4 kids,( white and black), came up to apologize for the loose ones. Seeing this kind of racial harmony was head spinning for a man that recalls his days on a racially ice cold Penn campus.”

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11. Anonymous said... on Jun 15, 2011 at 07:11PM

“I spot a really cool kid in this photo - no joke!”

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12. Anonymous said... on Aug 9, 2012 at 07:25PM

“Check and see if he is from Yonkers. If so this guy and his family are deadbeats. I am still after over a year continue getting phone calls from creditors. If not then I apologize.”


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