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May 22, 2013 - At a University that values diversity, Penn GSE is one of the most diverse entities on campus. Of GSE’s standing faculty, 29 percent are people of color and 46 percent are women. Almost half of GSE’s staff members are people of color and nearly three-quarters are women. The student body is equally diverse: 38 percent of this year’s entering class are people of color, 74 percent are women, and 26 percent are international students.
To highlight the School’s commitment to fostering an inclusive community of students, faculty, and staff, GSE recently launched the Diversity @ Penn GSE website. The site serves as a hub of information about diversity at GSE, sharing information about diversity-focused projects and research and offering an array of resources to the Penn community.
Jessie Harper, recently appointed GSE’s Assistant Dean for Faculty Affairs and Diversity, is the driving force behind the new website. Harper joined GSE in 2004 as Manager for Faculty Affairs and earned two master’s degrees—a Master of Science in Education and a Master of Science in Organizational Dynamics—while working full time at the School. She also earned her Ed.D. in the Executive Program in Work-Based Learning Leadership (now PennCLO) offered by Penn GSE and The Wharton School.
Harper eagerly embraces her newly expanded role at GSE. “Current scholarship outlines several compelling reasons for institutions to engage in efforts to diversify their faculty ranks,” she says. “For one thing, students benefit from the support and mentoring of a diverse faculty. In fact, if an institution’s faculty is not diversified it sends a clear message to students of color about their prospects for becoming a tenured faculty member. There’s also the contribution to the curriculum, in that a campus presence of faculty of color broadens opportunities for introducing different perspectives, pedagogical approaches, and professional collaborations. In addition, faculty diversity is valuable for preparing students to participate in a global and diverse marketplace.”
The new diversity website allows GSE to showcase the School’s diversity initiatives and research and offers resources to the Penn community. Among the information posted are the Action Plan for Faculty Diversity and information about the School’s “Race in the Academy” and “Visiting Faculty Scholars of Color” lecture series. Faculty at Penn—and around the country—can draw on a resource section aimed at enhancing and expanding the diversity pools in faculty searches, or suggesting ways of engaging with sensitive issues like race in the classroom. Students can find information about diversity focused student organizations across the University as well as at GSE.
“We're proud of our ongoing work to create a diverse environment for faculty, staff and students,” says GSE Dean Andy Porter. “We've deepened our commitment with the appointment of Jessie Harper as Assistant Dean for Faculty Affairs and Diversity and the launch of a website dedicated to diversity at GSE. This is a constantly evolving effort, and we hope that these new resources continue to strengthen our community."
The two areas of Harper’s work as Assistant Dean—faculty affairs and diversity—are intertwined. “My role is to assist GSE in its goal of creating and maintaining an even more diverse faculty along the lines of race, ethnicity, gender, and intellectual interests, and thereby prepare GSE students to succeed and flourish in a pluralistic society,” she says. As Assistant Dean, Harper is involved in hiring, tenure reviews, promotions, and the appointment of secondary and adjunct faculty. She also serves as GSE’s contact for the University Provost.
The Diversity website marks only the beginning of Harper’s efforts to promote diversity at GSE. “Next year we plan to administer climate surveys to all GSE faculty, staff, and students of color to assess the emotional morale, challenges, mentoring access, and diversity of course offerings,” she says. “And after that? Just stay tuned.”