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Reflecting on Philly Fighting COVID

February 3, 2021

Dear Students and Colleagues,

All of us are deeply disappointed by the news about Philly Fighting COVID, founded and led by a Drexel graduate student, and its controversial collapse. We are very concerned about the potential for harm to the Philadelphia community by the abrupt withdrawal of badly needed coronavirus testing. We are frustrated, as well, by the setback to the essential work of building trust in the COVID-19 vaccine — particularly for the Black and brown communities long wary of the medical establishment. The connection to Drexel makes this all the more painful, and I think it’s important that we acknowledge and address how many of us are feeling. I also want to consider how we can move forward.

Apart from the reported missteps by Philly Fighting COVID, I believe that the vast majority of Drexel student enterprises are responsible and, indeed, characterized by generosity, creativity and respectful collaboration. The many faculty and students who volunteered for the city’s testing and vaccination efforts were selflessly giving of their time, with the understanding that they were working with this organization and the city to address a national and local crisis. And I know that literally generations of faculty, students, and alumni before them have strived to teach, learn and uphold the highest ethical standards and principles in every field.

At the same time, we do need to look for ways to learn from the concerns raised by the Philly Fighting COVID experience, to continue to support and engage with our neighbors, and to rebuild any erosion of trust. At the outset of this process, I would offer a few reflections:

  • There should be no room in our campus culture for risk-taking that endangers ethical standards or causes harm to communities;
  • Enterprises involving students or faculty, even if wholly independent, can benefit from oversight or advice provided by the University;
  • In all enterprises, we should insist on an anti-racist approach and be particularly sensitive when health care-related initiatives in the community are involved; and,
  • Due-diligence should be applied whenever the University considers partnering with or assisting an outside organization.

The lesson from this experience must not be to withdraw from community involvement or the worthwhile efforts of our students, faculty and alumni in helping to meet societal challenges. But we have to insist, above all, that our engagement is respectful, measured and grounded in the service of others.

Thank you for your understanding and support for Drexel as we move ahead as a caring, humane and civically engaged community.


John Fry