“Diversity is not about how we differ,” author Olayinka Joseph said. “Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.”
As one of the world’s leading institutions of higher education, the University of Pennsylvania attracts bright students and faculty from around the world and from all walks of life. The result: a campus community characterized by diversity, where a wide range of life experiences come together to advance scholarship and create change in the world.
In keeping with The Power of Penn Campaign and its commitment to inclusion, more than 750 attendees converged on campus this month for Penn Spectrum Weekend. This conference and celebration brought alums and students together for presentations and dialogue centered on issues of cultural identity and intersectionalities—including topics specific to the Black, Latinx, Native, Asian, LGBTQ+, Muslim, first generation, and low-income communities.
The weekend builds community through its various events, and shines a light on Penn’s involvement in an array of important issues, according to Marvin Rocha, Director of Multicultural Outreach at Penn. Each of the weekend’s events and discussions—such as “Uncovering Truth: Lenape Land and Penn Slavery Project” to “What #MeToo Means for Us”—included at least one Penn alum on its panel. Hearing from alums about their own challenges and victories, Rocha says, helps students to visualize their own potential to make an impact.
It takes a community to support a student, and every student has a community of support here at the University of Pennsylvania.”Marvin Rocha, Director of Multicultural Outreach at Penn
Penn Spectrum is the umbrella organization of the University’s diverse alumni associations, including the Association of Latino Alumni, the Association of Native Alumni, the Black Alumni Society, the James Brister Society, the Penn LGBT Alumni Association, and the Asian Alumni Network. Members of these groups come together to organize Penn Spectrum Weekend on campus every three years, while also participating in regional events across the country year-round.
“The Penn community is a global and diverse community that shares intellectual values,” says Mireya Kam, C’93, W’93, Co-Chair of the Penn Spectrum Weekend Planning Committee and a member of the James Brister Society. “Penn Spectrum embraces these values by serving as a forum to generate and discuss ideas or perspectives that others may not have ever considered or been aware of.”
Events in this year’s Penn Spectrum Weekend placed a strong focus on the intersections between individual identities, according to Eric Apple, W’91, Penn Spectrum Weekend Co-Chair and President of the New York Chapter of the Black Alumni Society. “Penn is really good at cross-pollination and breaking down silos and working together,” Apple says, pointing to the University’s innovative, cross-disciplinary initiatives such as Penn Integrates Knowledge. “I look at Penn Spectrum as consistent with that effort, in that Penn continues to answer questions by looking at them in unique ways, and introduces divergent perspectives and expertise to find solutions.”
At its core, Penn Spectrum is about engagement—helping Penn alumni to stay connected with the University through meaningful participation, and helping current students from diverse backgrounds recognize their valued place in our community.
“When I talk to alums and when I encourage and support involvement, I always emphasize that there are many, many different ways that they can become involved,” says Apple. “You can lead an effort like Penn Spectrum, or you can be a leader and run an alumni organization, or you can simply show up when your time allows… it can be big or it can be small, but once you make the investment in Penn, it yields ongoing dividends for you throughout your lifetime.”
Between now and the next Penn Spectrum Weekend in 2022, a rich variety of engagement opportunities await alums who wish to get more involved with the University and its current students. Whether it’s participating in an alumni association, attending a regional program such as a Penn Spectrum On the Road event, or even just having a conversation with a current student, Penn alums have the power to make an impact in an untold number of ways.