Diversity, Inequality, and Human Well-being

Few topics are as important or as challenging as grasping the sources and character of human diversity and inequality, and exploring how they can work for and against human health, economic prosperity, governance, and cultural achievement. Diversity and inequality result from physical environments and human physiological features interacting with economic, political, cultural and social institutions and practices in complex ways, involving historical as well as contemporary forces. How, for example, do the stresses of financial insecurity or racism affect the immune system? Voter participation? The writing of poetry? How do environmental toxins more prevalent in disadvantaged neighborhoods affect child development? The ability to turn knowledge of fundamental causes and mediating mechanisms into interventions with demonstrable social impact requires innovative, integrative, and responsible scholarship and teaching that explores the interfaces among global social processes, biological phenomena, and recognized categories of identity.

SAS and Penn are well-positioned for preeminence in research that draws on the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences to improve our understanding of the causes, character, and consequences of diversity and inequality. SAS scholars across the social sciences, together with Biology, Philosophy, and Psychology, have long been renowned for their examination of the links between social phenomena and human health, often with specific attention to inequality, in the U.S. and internationally.  Within the School, the Population Studies Center, the Center for Neuroscience and Society, and the Positive Psychology Center are foci for this research, and SAS scholars participate in pertinent programs in Annenberg, Education, Law, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Policy and Practice.

In the area of wealth and income, faculty in Economics and the Penn Institute for Economic Research are studying links between discrimination and a variety of social and economic disparities, while in Anthropology, History, Sociology, and Political Science scholars are exploring economic and social welfare policies and their implications for economic inequality. The School is home to a growing core of scholarship in Economics, History, and Sociology on educational mobility and achievement in relation to class, race, ethnicity and gender, bolstered by work taking place in Education and Social Policy and Practice.  Through its History and Sociology of Science and Philosophy departments SAS has developed strengths in studying the ethical, legal, and societal aspects of scientific progress, work that is complemented by scholars in Law and Medicine.

Representing a wide range of methodologies and theoretical foundations, a large number of departments, programs, and centers in SAS study the sources and consequences of diverse racial and ethnic identities.  The interdisciplinary Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program and the Alice Paul Research Center link SAS scholars across the humanities and social sciences along with scholars from other Penn schools, to study multiple dimensions of gender identities and inequalities in many eras and world regions. SAS also has significant strengths in research and teaching on the origins and impacts of diverse religions. 

The School will build on these strengths by launching an SAS Initiative on Diversity, Inequality, and Human Well-Being that will serve as an umbrella for academic planning and investments that promote interdisciplinary research and pedagogical innovations on these topics.  The initiative’s faculty governing board will identify School-wide themes and concentrations to guide future collaborations. SAS will fund selected major research projects and curricular innovations that have unusually far reach across disciplines.   Another focus of investment will be the strategic addition of faculty across the School, through cluster searches and others means, who can build further bridges across disciplinary strengths in these areas. 

Topics of diversity and inequality also offer special opportunities to enhance teaching as well as research through the kinds of local and global engagement envisioned in the Penn Compact.  To take full advantage of those opportunities, SAS will sponsor “Making a Difference in Diverse Communities” initiatives in which interdisciplinary teams of three or four faculty members will work with  groups of 20 to 30 undergraduates in underserved communities in Philadelphia, elsewhere in the United States, or in other countries.  SAS will also provide further opportunities for service and learning in diverse communities, particularly those marked by socioeconomic inequalities, by building on the work of the Center for the Advanced Study of India, Civic House, the Fox Leadership Program, the Netter Center, and Penn in Washington, among others.  The School will also explore the creation of undergraduate minors on topics of diversity and inequality.