Leaders of the University of Pennsylvania have named the Rev. Charles L. Howard the university’s first Vice President for Social Equity and Community.
Howard, who serves as the university chaplain, will begin his new role on Aug. 1.
Howard will oversee Penn’s Projects for Progress, a fund created to support research that addresses social issues and inequities. He will also lead programs and initiatives designed to deepen awareness around diversity, inclusion and social equity, and help advance the cause.
“Chaz has made it his life’s mission to bring together diverse groups of people,” said Penn president Amy Gutmann in a written statement. “Where some see division, Chaz sees common ground; where some see despair, he sees hope; where some see hate, he sees love. As our campus, our community and our country resolve to find better ways forward to understand and address systemic racism, social inequity and justice, I can think of no one better suited than Chaz Howard to fill this critically important and impactful new leadership role.”
When you look at the history of the university and the city, Howard said, “our people have been done wrong in a lot of ways. My hope is to not only restart conversations about what’s been done wrong in the past, but to also come up with ways to make things right.”
Howard will continue his work as chaplain while in his new role, but senior associate chaplain Stephen Kocher will assume a greater role in the day-to-day administration of the university’s chaplain’s office.
Howard has been the university chaplain since 2008.
The 42-year-old Baltimore native lives in Montgomery County with his wife and three children.
Howard studied urban studies and African studies at Penn’s College of Arts and Sciences, and graduated in 2000. He went on to earn a master’s in divinity from Andover Newton Theological Seminary and a doctorate from Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.
He has taught in Penn’s College of Arts and Sciences, Penn’s Graduate School of Education and at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. His courses focused on intercultural relations, social change, Black theology, Black history and hip hop culture.
Howard has written several books, including “The Awe and the Awful,” a poetry collection and Lenten devotional; “Black Theology as Mass Movement,” a call to theologians to expand the reach of their theological work; “Pond River Ocean Rain,” a collection of short essays about going deeper with God; and “The Bottom: a Theopoetic of the Streets.”
He also edited “The Souls of Poor Folk,” which explores new ways of thinking of homelessness and poverty.
Howard said he believes his background has helped prepare him for his new role at Penn.
“I view history through critical race theory and a Black liberationist perspective,” Howard said. “That coupled with being familiar with Penn for decades will help me work with colleagues to tell our truth and stories. I want this new journey at Penn to leave an imprint of both love and justice.”