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Messages from the Dean's Office

Message from Dean Pam Grossman

July 15, 2020

Dear Penn GSE Community,

Over the past years, and even more intensively over the past month, the Penn GSE Community has been engaged in how we, as a school, can confront the racist legacy of our nation’s history – which has resulted in anti-Black violence and systemic structures of racial oppression. The dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice have made ever more visible the deep inequalities in our society. We are here because we share a belief that education can be a powerful force for lasting change and contribute to a more socially just society, and our school’s commitment to social justice demands that we not lose the sense of urgency of this work. We remember George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other Black Americans killed by police, how communities of color have been disproportionately devastated by this pandemic; and how institutional racism has shaped so many aspects of our daily lives.

I am grateful that so many of us came together in our recent community meetings to share ideas about how we individually and collectively can take actions that move this work forward. I am heartened by how many have agreed to lead or contribute further to our efforts. After conversations with many of you, I’m writing now to share some of the steps Penn GSE will be taking in the coming year to make our community a more just, equitable, and welcoming place, and how we can extend that to education more broadly.

As a school, we are committed to doing the work to address racism and other forms of oppression, including:

  • Preparing anti-racist educational teachers, leaders, counselors, and researchers.
  • Ensuring that our community reflects the diversity of our city, our country, and our world.
  • Ensuring that schools become places where students of color, and Black students in particular, can flourish.

These ideas were all raised in a pair of community convenings hosted by Penn GSE’s Committee on Race, Equity, and Inclusion in June, which brought together students, faculty, and staff members for frank conversations about race and identity in Penn GSE, in education, and in our society. Here are action steps for following through on these commitments in the coming year:

Committing to preparing anti-racist educators and researchers:

Every educator needs to develop racial literacy and an understanding of the history of race in America. This understanding is crucial for both participating in a pluralistic democracy and for educating and leading in our racially diverse society.

  • Dr. Ed Brockenbrough will be leading an effort to explore how best to provide preparation in anti-racist pedagogy and racial literacy training for all students, faculty, and staff at GSE. The group aims to create content that is applicable to all our community members, and information that will be specific to different stakeholder groups.
  • In the coming year, we will work to ensure that curricula for our teacher education, counseling, and leadership preparation further strengthen – and make more explicit – our practitioner preparation around issues of race and racial justice.

Committing to ensuring that K-12 schools become places where students of color, and Black students in particular, can thrive:

Schools should be places of human flourishing, in which every child is treated with dignity by adults in the building, and adults support the development of social-emotional and academic skills as well as civic engagement. Schools are also hubs for their families and communities. To create such environments, schools need adequate counselors and social workers to support students’ development, while a police presence in schools would seem antithetical to creating such environments.

  • In the fall, HEARD will be convening an on-going community of inquiry around the topic of police in schools, led by Dr. Jessie Harper, Assistant Dean of Faculty and Diversity and Co-Director of HEARD, and Dr. Gerald Campano, Chair, Literacy, Culture, and International Education. Taking a broad definition of how police and policing ideologies harm Black and other students of color, this group will seek to read and learn from scholars and activists to maintain an ongoing dialogue about these issues. We will also collaboratively explore how we, in our capacity as teacher educators, can better prepare our students and faculty at GSE to dismantle racism in schools and create more just teaching and learning environments. More details will follow in an email from HEARD.
  • In the coming year, GSE will engage with community members in West Philadelphia to hear their hopes and desires for their children and how GSE can best support these community-driven goals through educator preparation and GSE’s ongoing work in schools and communities. Dr. Caroline Watts, Director of the Office of School and Community Engagement, will help lead this work.

Committing to become a more diverse, inclusive, and anti-racist community:

  • Diversity in hiring: GSE is proud to have one of the most diverse schools at Penn, but we always strive to do better. In our community conversations, the question was raised of how we assure diversity among not just our standing faculty but our full-time professional faculty as well. In response, we will be drafting new proposals and changes in practice to better ensure diversity among faculty hires, including both standing and professional faculty. Dr. Nelson Flores, who worked with the Faculty Senate on a similar initiative at the university level, will help lead this work.
  • Create and support affinity groups for members of the Penn GSE community: Perhaps the most powerful part of our community meetings were the small discussions held by members of affinity groups. These groups have expressed a desire to continue to meet with the support of the school. This fall, HEARD (The Hub for Equity, Anti-Oppression, Research, and Development), — which was formed by GSE in 2016 to focus on anti-oppression work — and the Office of Student Services will continue to host these intentional, facilitated affinity group conversations.
  • Learning together: This fall, we are launching an annual “One Book, One GSE” event to engage the community in discussions around race. This year’s book will be How to Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi.
  • Confronting racism and bias in our community: Penn GSE remains deeply committed to supporting any members of our community who have witnessed or have been the targets of bias-related incidents. As a reminder, we have bias reporting policies, procedures and resources for any members of our community.

Strengthening the work of HEARD and the Committee on Race, Equity, and Inclusion:

This work will build on past efforts at GSE to address issues of race and inclusion. As you can see, many of these initiatives will be led or co-led by HEARD or Penn GSE’s Race, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (REI), a standing committee of GSE that brings together students, staff, and faculty interested in issues of race and equity, and strengthening policies and procedures for dealing with sexual harassment and racial bias. The REI committee will be looking for new members for the fall. If you are interested in joining – whether you are student, staff, or faculty – and helping to set the agenda for this work in the coming year, please reach out to Assistant Dean Jessie Harper.

In the coming year, Leland McGee, GSE’s Diversity and Inclusion Fellow and doctoral student in Higher Education, will be working with HEARD to support some of these new initiatives, including support for the affinity groups and book discussions. This will provide additional capacity to HEARD as it seeks to support work on anti-racism and anti-oppression across the entire community.

We feel these actions are important steps, but we recognize they are just the beginning of our ongoing work as a community. Through this school year and beyond, Penn GSE will continually examine how we can get closer to eliminating policies and practices that are anti-Black, exclusionary, and inequitable, within our own community, our city, and in education.

Please continue to work with us, talk with us, and bring us your ideas as we work together to move our community forward.

Wishing you peace while working for justice,

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work.
But neither are you free to abandon it.


Message from Dean Pam Grossman - May 29, 2020

Dear GSE Community, 

My tradition teaches that above all “justice justice shall you pursue.” People across the country are raging at the injustice of the death of George Floyd, yet another Black man killed by police in Minneapolis. Yet another Black man crying “I can’t breathe,” as he dies at the hands, or knee, of the police.

With so many deaths, how can we not be filled with anger at the Black lives lost to police violence? How can we not ache for the loss of yet another soul, the grief of his family, the collective grief of those who have suffered oppression for so long? How can we not recoil when our president responds with threats of more violence? How can we not fight against the racism and oppression that have been a part of our country from its very origins?

People are calling for peace in Minneapolis. But as a religious leader warned us long ago, “If you want peace, work for justice.” I am proud to lead a community that has worked for educational justice for decades, but there is still much work to do right now and in the future. Perhaps it is only beginning as we grapple with the inequities and injustices laid bare by the pandemic and history of oppression, as we face the emotional trauma caused by the legacy of racism.

As we deal with the potent combination of our collective anger and grief, I trust we are all thinking of what work we can do, alone and together, to achieve justice in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Wishing you peace while working for justice, 

In response, Penn GSE's Committee on Race, Equity, and Inclusion, co-chaired  by Pam Grossman, Howard Stevenson, and Matt Hartley, has begun hosting community convenings, with an eye towards taking community actions that harness our collective will to create meaningful change.    

Group discussions include: expanding student and faculty diversity at GSE and at Penn more generally; expanding anti-racism and racial literacy training for students, faculty, and staff; identifying ways to support West Philadelphia schools and communities; addressing challenges around policing and public safety issues; and addressing police presence in public schools.  

We are gathering a list of resources that may be helpful as we move forward and have posted them on the HEARD site. We hope that the community can share further suggestions to post in the coming weeks.  

Contact the Penn GSE Dean's Office

Diana Johnson
Executive Assistant, Dean's Office

Emma Grigore
Chief People Officer

Eric Kaplan
Chief of Staff

Matthew Hartley
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs

Lizzie Petela 
Dean’s Office Coordinator