Academic Planning >>

Skip to main content

Moving Social Justice Forward at Penn Nursing

Dear School of Nursing Community:

I am writing to share the Nursing School’s continued efforts to advance social justice, especially considering current events. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 and law enforcement brutality on Black and other communities of color are symptoms of the same disease – structural racism. Structural racism is nothing new; sadly, it is a significant and enduring theme in the American story. No institution in this country is immune to its grip – not the nursing profession, the University of Pennsylvania, nor our very own School of Nursing. The events of this summer bring a renewed and urgent call to action. 

Penn Nursing has long embraced social justice as one its core values, and upon which we have built a strong foundation from which to address structural racism in our School, University, and communities. This past May, I asked our Penn Nursing community to come together in the fight against systemic racism and bias to enhance a living, learning, and healing environment that is safe for all. I have been involved in many conversations with students, alumni, faculty, and staff, who have shared not only their pain from experiencing and bearing witness to the effects of interpersonal and systemic racism, but also a strong desire to act and to better our community and the communities in which we live. I know many of you have engaged in similar conversations as a result of Juneteenth reflections within your offices. I sincerely appreciate your willingness to share, listen, and reflect – with me and others in the School.

The conversations are ongoing, and we continue to listen and, more importantly, act. I wanted to share with you a newly developed set of principles that will serve as a framework to guide our efforts and drive our progress. While there are many more discussions to be had with students, staff, and faculty as we begin fall classes, I am excited to share initial actions, which are part of our new strategic plan, and as a direct result of the many conversations in recent months. 

Guiding principles that are informing our actions to date include:

  • Building on our current mission, vision, values and infrastructure, strategic priorities, and successes
  • Developing sustainable actions
  • Maintaining individual and School-wide accountability
  • Engaging the entire School of Nursing community
  • Implementing strategies that are School-wide as well as within School offices, departments, and missions

These are the actions we are committed to addressing in the next few months and those responsible:

  1. Reviewing and identifying policies/procedures/resource allocation in every department, office, and faculty senate committee to examine how current ways of doing work maintain or reinforce structural/institutional racism and will develop plans to revise these issues and promote equity. 
  2. Establishing and debuting shared values for the entire Penn Nursing Community. 
  3. Examining current curricula to assess where biases may occur and developing strategies for more inclusive teaching. 
  4. Providing faculty with accessible online and other materials on inclusive teaching and other social justice topics. 
  5. Developing specific educational content and programming that addresses structural racism and structural inequities that will begin this fall. (i.e. Social Justice Invitational Seminar Series and Global Health book/film events) 
  6. Recruiting and retaining departmental faculty and staff - both teaching and coordinators - from diverse backgrounds
  7. Providing Penn First Plus (P1P) student advisor training to faculty and staff 
  8. Offering faculty and staff programming on a range of topics including unconscious bias training, healing and support, and promoting inclusivity 
  9. Participating in targeted community engagement activities, e.g. a focus on supporting/promoting census counting, (especially for marginalized, under resourced communities), as well as voter registration and turn out
  10. Prioritizing research that integrates social justice, structural inequities, and health equity within the Penn Nursing Research Pilot grant program for faculty and students 
  11. Working to raise additional financial aid for scholarships and other opportunities targeted especially for students of color 
  12. Connecting nursing alumni communities of color with students and student organizations of color to serve as mentors, etc. 


It will take every one of us to dismantle structural racism. We all are in this together – and I ask all of you the following:

Be engaged. Participate in your department and School activities focused on combating racism and bias. Please share YOUR ideas as to how we can move toward this important goal. 

Be vocal. Now more than ever we need you to speak up and out against microaggressions, acts of racism, and bias. We need to learn from one another.

Be patient and support one another. We will not fix structural racism overnight – and not without a great deal of work from each of us. We may not get it right the first time. We may not always say or do the ‘right’ thing. Let that not stop us from moving forward. Let’s teach and support each other as we move forward.

Be counted (census) and vote. These two acts are powerful tools at our disposal to address structural racism and to ensure that communities get the resources they deserve. Please register to vote; get your mail-in ballot; make sure your friends and loved ones do the same, and while you’re at it make sure they fill out the Census.

This is neither the beginning, nor the end. We expect to add and modify plans as we move together on the journey to address racism in all its forms—in the School of Nursing and beyond. And we will NOT waiver in our commitment. We look forward to sharing this journey with all of you.


Antonia M. Villarruel, PhD, RN, FAAN
Professor and Margaret Bond Simon Dean of Nursing