March 2023: Your Brain on UPenn

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MARCH 2023 Popping the Bubble of Positive Psychology + How Do (or Don’t) You Cope? Daze of Future Past PG. 26 PG. 28 PG. 38

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Being a student at Penn starts off benign, until there’s a moment of sinister absurdism, and you come out totally wrecked on the other side.


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CAMPUS 7 Ego of the Month: Jerry Gao 10 Breaking the Fourth Wall: Pennfluencers Tell All CULTURE 42 Why Does it Matter Who Gets the Oscar? 48 Laughing Gas and Landscapes: The Mystery of a Lost Courbet CITY 18 A Reverberating Victory: Shut Down Berks and the Fight for Immigrant Liberation YOUR BRAIN ON UPENN 24 Hustle Culture and the Rise of Toxic Productivity at Penn 26 How Do (or Don’t) You Cope? 28 Popping the Bubble of Positive Psychology 32 Social Media is Telling Us How to Be Sad 38 Daze of Future Past
Pictured: Arielle Stanger, Cover Photos by Anna Vazhaeparambil, Styling by Emily White, Design by Collin Wang

At the beginning of last semester, I started Prozac. That’s the brand name of fluoxetine, which is an SSRI—selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Pretty much my brain either doesn’t make enough serotonin, or takes it back up from the synaptic cleft too quickly. My psychiatrist didn’t test for any of this when I met with him; he knew I had a family history of depression, and asked me to describe how I felt in one of my lows.

I told him there was a sadness there, but not the sharp, cathartic kind, accompanied by hopelessness about my own future and the kind of existential dread that makes it hard to tell whether humans have always felt this way or if that’s just what late stage capitalism wants you to think. The depression didn’t come from nowhere; it would start with a reminder—that I was more single or less accomplished than I’d wanted to be—that would balloon out until I had to ask if normal people got this miserable about the same things.

He decided Prozac and I were a good fit.

Before anything else, there were the side effects. I got really tired, but whenever I slept I’d have these multi–night stress dream marathons. The first few weeks featured daily bouts of derealization, which means that the world felt suddenly dreamlike. When the meds finally started to work as intended, it was hard to notice them. The effects just weren’t

hitting me as hard as they used to, and my “recovery time” went down from days to maybe a day at most.

There was a problem though: I was still sleeping through my lectures, and my verve for working hard in classes with less–than–inspiring profs had yet to bounce back. A kind of fundamental shift had happened. Without the looming threat of a grade–induced depression, grades didn’t seem as important. Somewhere along the way, I shifted from a primarily fear–based motivation to one that was driven by passion.

People love to throw around the phrase, “Prozac Nation,” as a scare tactic, conjuring images of a lobotomized society too Xanned–out to feel anything. But the original Prozac Nation, a 2001 cult classic starring Christina Ricci (j’adore), has the opposite message. The film is set in the pre–medication ‘80s, following a Harvard student named Lizzie—in an uncanny bit of coincidence, she’s also a music writer—as she spirals out of control, choosing every wrong option to cope with her instability.

I was worried, in a way that a lot of people are worried when they start psychiatric treatment, that I’d become dull—a shell of the former self who loved that I could relate to Fiona Apple because we both felt too much. Of course, I needn’t have been. My brain just needed a little recalibration.

This issue is called ‘Your Brain on UPenn,’ but it’s not really about the havoc Penn wreaks on your psyche. These stories begin after the damage has already been done, and ask how we can recalibrate our minds to reach some semblance of our former selves, or emerge on the other side a new, more whole version. Some of us turn to comfort shows or cut our own bangs, while others rewire their brains with psychedelics. Our feature explores the doctrine of positive psychology, certainly the healthiest approach, but perhaps not as much of a panacea as it’s cracked up to be.

If there’s one thing our staff learned putting this package together, it’s that not everyone needs Prozac, but everyone needs a way to cope. When you look at it that way, antidepressants don’t seem so bad anymore.

Going on antidepressants completely recalibrated the way I think about college, and it might not be the worst thing if we all became more of a Prozac Nation.

Of the 3,404 students admitted to Penn’s Class of 2024, 168 of them hailed from the city of Philadelphia. While it is highly unlikely that every Philadelphia admit accepted their offer of admission from Penn, it can be assumed that around 5% of the 2,400–person junior class possesses the unique perspective of attending college in the same city where they reside based on the number originally admitted. Statistically speaking, then, being included in this percentage is a rarity on this campus.

I am part of that 5%. Whether it’s the 19145 zip code on my driver’s license, the 215 area code at the start of my phone number, or my mispronunciation of words like “water” or “bagel,” there’s no mistaking that I grew up in the city that

From Philly to Philly, the Long Way Around

Why staying close to home for college can be both a blessing and a curse.

MARCH 2023 5
Illustration: Collin Wang

most Penn students had never stepped foot in before enrolling.

Some days, being a Penn student from Philadelphia is a tremendous blessing. Others, it’s my greatest curse.

The differentiation between positive and negative in this situation lies within the distance between the life I’ve always known and the life I began when I became a Penn student. While some people have to travel across the world to come to Penn, my house is a mere 3.9 miles from my apartment. I watch my best friends from Los Angeles, northern Virginia, Chicago, and even New Jersey learn how to navigate the ups and downs of independence for the first time, knowing that I will never be able to experience that during my time as an undergraduate. While my peers tell me that I could easily do the same, they forget that the decision isn’t that simple. When the people and places that have created my happiest memories are always within my grasp, I can’t bring myself to stay apart from them.

Like clockwork, one of my parents picks me up every other Friday to spend the weekend sleeping in a bedroom that’s

only ever belonged to me. As Interstate 76 rushes by my eyes on the drive home, I stare out the window, wondering if I made the right choice when I committed to Penn. Wondering if I should’ve pushed myself out of the world I’ve always known instead of making the comfortable decision. Wondering if I would have been a different person—more importantly, a better person—if I had left Philadelphia.

someone—and in turn, becoming a disappointment myself.

In this contemplation, however, I realize how much of a privilege it is to be so close to home during college. In the past year alone, I got to attend the World Series and watch my hometown Phillies play in the fall classic for the first time in 13 years, embark on impromptu weekend trips with my sister, take my friends to the New Jersey shore town where I’ve spent every summer of my life thus far, and watched my 3–year–old godson grow up right before my eyes. When I finally caught COVID–19 last April, my parents promptly brought me a care package that would have lasted for five quarantines instead of one. I could see the bridge right by my house from my dorm room window sophomore year when others could only see their hometowns in pictures. And throughout my time at Penn, I’ve never felt homesick. Ever. It would be impossible for me to.

The constant “what ifs” that plague my mind as a result of the decision I made almost three years ago drive me, in all honesty, to the brink of insanity. My tendency to overthink everything I do escalates these thoughts from simple worries to pure paranoia. Turning down invitations to spend time with friends because it’s a weekend at home fills me with immense guilt. Seeing snapshots of my Penn counterparts experiencing something new every Saturday makes me question my role in Penn’s social scene. And when I tell my parents that I’m not coming home so I can spend time on my own, I fear that they presume I want nothing to do with them. In summary, no matter what decision I’m making, I feel as if I’m disappointing

Despite my senior year rapidly approaching, my dilemma is far from over. As I plan to further my education, I am forced to make the same decision that I was faced with almost three years ago: Do I stay in Philadelphia, or do I finally take the leap of faith and face the world alone for the first time? Like many facets of my situation, the choice is complicated. However, this time around, I know one thing I hadn’t realized before—whatever decision I make will be the right one.

Throughout my musings on the topic, I know that I’ve been too hard on myself sometimes. I’m still too hard on myself. But I know that whatever I decide to do, I’ll be a better person because of it. No question this time.

I know that many people reading this won’t understand my problem, and that’s okay. College comes with its unique challenges for everyone, challenges that make sense to no one else but themselves. But facing these challenges head–on—whether that’s in your South Philly bedroom or beyond—is enough. That’s what really matters, after all. k

“i’m literally in my pennywise era”


Coppell, Texas


Bioengineering with a minor in Asian American Studies


The Signal, Asian Pacific American Leadership Initiative, Penn Reading Initiative, TA of Bioengineering Lab Sequence

Friend, mentor, and part–time food enthusiast, Jerry Gao (E ‘23) dove headfirst into the Penn community the first day he set foot on campus. He radiates pure joy while discussing his work as a bioengineering TA, revealing his passion for both teaching and learning. Though most Penn students seem to have a myriad of activities padding their resumes, Jerry leaves a lasting impact on every community he’s immersed himself in at Penn. Whether in the bioengineering lab, teaching young kids how to read, or cheffing it up for his hometown friends, Jerry sprinkles love into all of his endeavors.

Jerry Gao

Between cooking, teaching, and volunteering, this senior brings authenticity and joy to every corner on campus.

Can you tell me a little bit about what brought you to Penn?

That’s a great question. My sister, who’s five years older than me, came to Penn, and I remember visiting her during my junior year of high school. I landed and Uber–ed

all the way in and thought, “Where the heck am I?” She said, “It’s fine, tell the person at the front gate that you’re here. They already know everything.” I remember opening the door and there were 20 to 30 people in her room—all just screaming surprise for me. I

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

remember thinking, “Who the hell are all of you?”

I was so surprised and shocked that they were here to celebrate, not even their friend, but their friend’s sibling. I think that moment showed me how at Penn people really

Photo by Nathaniel Babbitts

care about each other. People really care to make relationships and make friendships; I found the balance super unique. That day in March of my junior year was the moment where I was like, this seems like a place that I can call home.

Now that you’re on your way to graduating, what have been your favorite classes or experiences in bioengineering or Asian American Studies?

In terms of bioengineering, there’s definitely a clear favorite that I have. It’s actually the class I’m a TA for right now. It’s “Bioengineering Modeling, Analysis, and Design,” and it’s basically the lab that all junior bioengineers take. There’s one particular lab we do in the class that always catches everyone’s attention; It’s called the cockroach lab. I think it’s one of the biggest reasons why people want to study bioengineering at Penn in particular.

It’s a segue into prosthetics and different medical devices that can help restore people’s limb functions. We order hundreds of cockroaches and then we put them in a little bit of an ice bath to anesthetize. We amputate their legs, which will essentially serve as our prosthetics, and then implant metal electrodes into two different spots of the leg. Then, we go into our computer program and type different lines of code that can help replicate different signal waves to move the legs. If you submit a wave with a particular frequency and particular amplitude, it’ll cause a leg to move in one direction, and if you do a different combination of the amplitude and frequency, it’ll cause it to move in the other direction. The next task is to trace the end of the leg and try to choreograph the leg to spell the letters B and E for bioengineering. It’s so fun to be able to see what combination of leg movements in the servo motor can form the backbone of the B for example, what can form the three lines of the E. I would say that’s probably my favorite moment in the bioengineering department.

What’s your favorite class you’ve had in the Asian American Studies Program?

One of my favorite classes is on Asian American entrepreneurship, taught by Dr. Rupa Pillai. She’s a wonderful profes -

sor. The class explores the validity of the American dream with regard to the Asian American experience. We looked at Asian American businesses—their successes and failures in assimilating into the American economy. One of my favorite aspects of the class was that it was an ABCS course, and we were able to interview and partner with different restaurants and vendors in the Philly area. We also partnered with the Philadelphia Asian Chamber of Commerce. It was our job to bridge these different communities and connect with the Penn Procurement System Service here.

We embraced these three communities to try to increase the number of

Asian American suppliers that are used at Penn—whether it’s vending, catering for food service, purchasing furniture for classes, or using different IT services that are Asian American owned. That experience was really enlightening, because we presented to members of Penn Procurement Systems, the Asian Chamber of Commerce, and different business owners in the Philadelphia area, showing them our findings and building lasting partnerships. I think that was the first time I got to really engage directly with Asian American businesses and try to integrate them into what we have here on campus.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Gao

Now that we’re discussing personal impacts, tell us about your interest in cooking and your food Instagram account @ gaos_chows.

@gaos_chows really started over quarantine when I was bored out of my mind. I hadn’t seen a lot of my friends, so I wanted an excuse to connect with my friends. I figured, “What better way than food?” It’s the ultimate uniter. Everyone loves food! Everyone loves to enjoy different treats and goodies. I ended up going to the grocery store, and I started with a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe. Then, as I was, baking, I said to myself, “This feels exactly like my Intro to Chemistry Lab.” From there it was pretty easy. It was just like doing science, and it was really, really fun.

I ended up packaging it all up and delivering it to all my friends. Funny enough, I’ve never actually tried any of my food, because I’ll take a picture of it and then I just give it to my friends right afterward. At this point, it’s become a tradition. Every single break I text each of my friends and ask, “Are you going to be home tonight?” Obviously out of context, my message sounds a little ominous, a little mysterious. But now my friends know what I mean almost every single time I send that text, and I just get an all–caps response: “YES.” Now I have a list of people I make food for every single break, and I’ve optimized the route to know exactly what time I’ll arrive at each place by leaving at a particular time. It’s really fun and I think one of the best things about cooking is that it’s always a new challenge.

I feel like I’m never making the same thing twice which makes it so exciting for me. Although I haven’t posted on the account in a while, and at this point, it feels like my comeback post has to be the perfect thing.

How do you juggle so many different interests while being such a present member of your clubs on campus?

I think Penn Face for me was really awful. My first semester, I thought that I had everything under control. I thought high school was a walk in the park, and I remember when I took CIS 110, at first I didn’t think it was too bad. I just didn’t go to class, and

I thought that I knew everything. Then I took the midterm and scored a good two standard deviations below every single exam in that class. That was a big hit to my confidence. A lot of my friends around me seemed to be doing incredibly well in their classes. I’ve managed to get past that stage by looking at myself holistically and I recognize that, sure, coding is not my forte. I will never be able to write a quality “for loop” for the rest of my life. But that’s okay, because there are so many other aspects of life that not only am I better at, but I definitely take more pride in doing.

For example, I really enjoy being able to foster relationships and have meaningful discussions with people. It doesn’t matter if I get a C or a D in a class; those grades will never invalidate the experiences I have outside of the classroom. I love being able to teach other people and even though you’ll never catch me being able to do any sort of object–oriented programming, I love being able to teach a second grader how to differentiate between different vowel sounds and teaching different linguistic patterns so that they can excel and read chapter books going into third and fourth grade. I’ve

learned to prioritize what I value and understand that I’m not going to be great at everything. I’m proud of myself for being good at what I am good at and continuing to pursue those passions.

It seems like you’ve got the meaning of life figured out! So, I’m curious, what’s next after Penn?

I took a gap semester and I’m submatriculating into the master’s program to get my master’s in bioengineering. So, those are my short–term plans. In terms of long–term plans, I have no clue which path is going to be correct for me. I’ve started to go more with the flow and accept that there’s no GPS to life that’s telling me to turn left in ten weeks or to take a U–turn in a year. At the end of the day, you have to keep going and see where things take you.

Eventually, I want to be some sort of educator. I want to come back to Penn Graduate School of Education and try to either get my master’s or Ph.D. in education. I love learning about the psychology of our brains and learning how to teach effectively. I think that is definitely my longer–term future where I certainly see myself being a professor or a teacher in different countries. ❋

Best place to eat in Philly? Huge fan of Zahav.

Best place to study?

I got really sick of it last semester, but I have to go with Tangen Hall.

Best break?

Summer. I think I always come out of summer break like a new person in almost always a good way.

Best Children’ Book. If You Give A Mouse A Cookie.

There are two types of people at Penn … The ones who are masters of Sink or Swim and the ones who prefer to go to bed by 10 p.m.

And you are?

Definitely the latter. I go to the first Sink or Swim of every semester, and I call it a success.


Breaking the Fourth Wall: Pennfluencers Tell All


undergrads devoted to living life online talk the risks and rewards of turning classes into capital “C” Content.

For a generation that would rather get run over by a SEPTA bus than be forced to go dark on social media, it’s no surprise that having any kind of online presence can naturally progress into a content creation hobby. Now, being an influencer is not only a hobby, but an occupation. Though creators seem to take all shapes and forms, student–influencers have thrived in their own corner of the internet for some time. In particular, student–influencers at Penn (Pennfluencers, if you will) have taken over our for–you pages, but what are the implications of curating a robust online presence?

At an institution like Penn that grooms its students to consciously nurture their professional brand, it’s curious that a digital footprint can be both an incredible asset and a student–influencer’s Achilles heel.

Most of us have been on the receiving end of the “digital footprint lecture” from our parents or teachers. But for those of you who haven’t, it’s pretty much every post, pic, tweet, and thread that makes up the entirety of your online persona. These cautionary warnings stick with us long after our

formative years, reminding us to be wary of how #real we’re being online. But content creators at Penn are flipping this narrative on its head and redefining what it means to be terminally online. Curating a social media platform and amassing followers seems to take on a new meaning for Penn students climbing the corpo rate ladder.

The typical college influencer’s origin story starts with the quintessential college decision reaction video. High school students love to document their experiences applying to college, some even compiling videos of themselves opening their decisions to share with the masses online. With screams of joy, tears of frustration, and sighs of relief, these videos—

Photos: Nathaniel Babitts

found largely on TikTok and YouTube—are primed for instant success. You’d be hard–pressed to find one with fewer than 10,000 views.

So what happens when the camera shutters close and the screen fades to black?

For Diana Lim (E ‘25), content creation came naturally after the success of her college decision video, which has now accumulated over half a million views. As with many other students, Diana’s video was a gateway into the world of content creation. Buoyed by her early suc -

cess, she knew that she wanted to document her college experience once she arrived on Penn’s campus.

One viral video gave way to a dedicated viewership; now, Diana posts monthly on YouTube to her 10,500 subscribers. Many students take the opportunity to offer a raw insight into college, revealing the ins and outs of campus life. At Penn, the student culture is half “Effective Altruism Retreat“ and half “Four–Day St. Patty’s Bender,” and student influencers aren’t afraid to show both sides of it.

For some students, the prospect of capturing their college experience on film seems horrifying. Nevertheless, it’s captivating and fascinating to watch a Penn student’s life unfold on a screen and online. While the attention is certainly a

plus, Diana explains that she wants to “democratize information for incoming college students.” The idea of the college experience can be ambiguous, but considerations like housing and the Penn dining plan don’t have to be so uncertain. In sharing her own experiences and advice, Diana hopes that her channel reaches people in a tangible way.

Diana’s videos have certainly reached a wider audience than just her peers at Penn. Since growing her channel, she’s partnered with a range of sponsors from beauty brands to college counseling companies. During her summer internship at SoFi, she even shared short day–in–the–life videos. ”I remember talking with the [internship] recruiter and I mentioned that I had a YouTube channel,” says Diana. “He said that stood out about me because he saw it as a hustle and had a lot of respect for that.”

Roene Nasr (C ‘24) is another content creator at Penn and Diana’s big in Alpha Phi. Though the influencer community is small and spread out, some students have connected over their content creation.

Roene’s TikTok journey follows a path familiar to most children of the COVID–19 TikTok baby boom. She established her


platform with lifestyle content during the early months of the pandemic and now, roughly three years later, social media has become a fixture in her life.

With a following of 17.5k on TikTok, it’s understandable why Roene is fearful of being vulnerable on the internet. She acknowledges the concrete ways that Penn student–influencers curate their online presence by sharing busy days filled with club meetings and classes while omitting more intimate and raw moments. “I’m guilty of picking a day when I have a lot of things going on. I’m not going to choose a day [to vlog] when I sleep until noon and just barely do any work,” she says.

Like Diana, Roene has lofty ambitions—she’s a neuroscience major on the pre–dental track. Despite the demanding coursework, she’s found a way to marry her academic interests with her content creation. She recalls a particularly proud moment in which Penn Medicine reached out to collaborate with her to promote the opening of their new building, the Pavilion.

Roene explains that a brand deal typically pays more than an internship or scholarship opportunity; there’s an ever–present temptation for influencers to re–route their career plans in favor of living their lives online, full–time. Aside from the sense of personal accomplishment that comes from forming brand partnerships, the compensation certainly sweetens the deal.

Although Roene is set on her academic career, the (ostensibly) easy money associated with the full–time influencer lifestyle is certainly alluring. “It’s crazy to see the opportunities that content creation brings and it’s definitely helpful with the student debt that comes with undergrad and dental school,” she says.

Of course, not every Penn–fluencer makes their elite Ivy League institution into their online brand.

Andy Jiang (W ‘25) has amassed an impressive 3.6 million followers on TikTok and 1.35 million subscribers on YouTube,

with over a billion views. With a simple bet from a friend—$20 for 1,000 followers in a week—and global pandemic afoot, Andy dove into TikTok headfirst.

Ironically, he was the most chronically offline of his friend group. “I don’t think I’ve ever put any stories, posts on Instagram, [or used] any sort of social media,” Andy says, “so [that] was also the reason he directed the bet towards me.” In spite of that, Andy managed to win the bet—and then some.

“Very early on I channeled my social media presence online into something positive for people to look forward to during COVID-19 quarantine because spirits were very low,” Andy adds. He started a series called the Daily Dose of Good News, which gathered all the certifiably life–affirming news he could find and compiled it into a 32–second video every single day.

Now with over a billion views and nearly five million followers across his platforms, Andy has never considered deviating from his signature brand of feel–good storytelling. Despite his seemingly overnight success, he wasn’t deterred from the traditional college experience either—Andy has bigger upcoming plans in store. With the platform he’s building, he hopes to eventually start his own media company.

In the future, Andy wants to scale his platform bigger. Currently, he’s responsible for sourcing, writing, and recording his storytelling content. Eventually, he hopes to globalize his platform by outsourcing the majority of this work to people on the ground searching for the most captivating stories to tell. “I’m thinking about this hierarchy where a lot of different people are on the ground [in] various countries, various unique places.” Then he would take it upon himself to travel to meet these real people and tell their stories first–hand. This multi–tiered scheme would allow for content to be produced faster while “maintaining quality and the actual original goal and brand,” according to Andy. Whether it’s delusions of gran -

“Through a pre–professional lens, content creation gives you a step forward because you understand modern marketing tools and you understand social media on a different level because you are someone who’s trying to create your own content too.”

deur or genuine grit, it doesn’t seem like anything will be getting in Andy’s way.

For most student content creators, even those with Andy’s following, the brunt of the behind–the–scenes work is done alone. Andy does all of the basic research, script writing, filming, and basic cuts for edits. Only then does he pass along the product to be polished by another editor.

Andy’s roommate and fellow content creator Yash Mahajan (C ‘25)—together, they call themselves the “UPenn Hype House”—bemuses that he often hears Andy recording content late at night through their paper–thin shared wall. This conundrum was a point of contention for the duo earlier in the year. Yash recalls saying, “Andy, I want to sleep before 2 a.m. I can’t [when I] hear you saying ‘Did you know?’”

Although many student–influencers have found their influencer status to be both a creative outlet and a lucrative side hustle, that’s not true across the board. Yash originally made a TikTok on Ivy Day, recording his reactions to college decisions, and like most others, it went viral. Now he has a following of over 15k and uses his platform to create humorous, relatable content while sharing his Penn

experience. However, as an international student from Singapore, he faces monetization obstacles, ultimately preventing him from profiting from any of his content.

“There’s a TikTok Creator Fund, but I don’t qualify for it because I’m not an American citizen, so I’m not getting any money for any of my videos,” Yash says. He laments receiving exciting offers for paid Brand Ambassador deals that he can’t legally accept. Handshake reached out to him to be a panelist and create content for their new international student recruiting program, but the contract required a special international visa.

“I really wanted to do [the deal], so I sent it to the international student support office at Penn and I was told that if I accepted the contract I wouldn’t be able to sign on for an internship in the U.S. next summer,” says Yash.

Despite facing monetization challenges, Yash believes that social media is a powerful tool, and both the soft and technical skills he’s gained as a result will continue to parlay into his future career endeavors. He concedes that “through a pre–professional lens, content creation gives you a step forward because you understand modern marketing tools and you understand social media on a different level because you are someone who’s trying to create your own content too.”

In a sea of serious, well–accomplished Penn faces, it’s refreshing to see students document their college experience candidly. Some argue that to be an influencer is to perpetually curate your online presence, and indeed, the content creation process lends itself to editing a more exciting, digestible, and in some cases, viral version of yourself. But students like Diana, Roene, Andy, and Yash have found space to create content that doesn’t erase the person behind the camera.

Content creators themselves aren’t the only ones realizing and harnessing the power of social media. At Penn, the Signal Society has built a publication and community that encourages “the explora -

tion of unconventional career paths and creative passions at Penn.” Now a budding collective of “creators, designers, writers, and everything in between,” the Signal Society has become a home for those who seek alternative creative outlets. Despite the robust platform Andy built on TikTok and YouTube, he too found a community in Signal Society.

Past Co–Director of Signal Society Jerry Gao (E ‘23) explains that they use social media and content creation to shape a new, raw narrative of the Penn experience, even including failure in college and beyond. They have spun off of Jubilee’s popular series “Where We Stand” to highlight the myriad of experiences and perspectives of Penn students across all four colleges.

In another digital project, the Signal Society tackles “Penn face” through the “Anti–Resume Project.” Their aim is to foster dialogue around failure and overcoming challenges within your personal and professional career. “You think of a resume and you think of successes and highlights, but the anti-resume asks seniors, alumni, and faculty to fill in the resume with the ‘failures’ they’ve had during their academic and professional careers,” explains Jerry.

Penn’s pre–professional environment perpetuates an overwhelming pressure to both define your ten–year plan and ensure that it comes to fruition. In the midst of the scramble for success, student–influencers are finding new mediums and platforms to take charge of their own narratives, all while documenting their lives along the way.

These TikTok and YouTube videos have generated a wave of content created by, and for, Penn students. Sure, it’s up for debate whether or not a “Big–Little Weekend” vlog or a TikTok about Penn’s nightmare course selection period are really groundbreaking content. But all debates aside, we continue to consume these videos with a voracious appetite. So continue to like, subscribe, and comment— because who else is going to capture the Penn experience as earnestly as your local Whartonite or APhi sister? ❋

“what is The Helen Gym”

This Star Physicist is Taking an Extraordinary Approach to Stargazing

Meet the Marshall Scholar and astrophysicist opening the door to disability inclusion in STEM.

is using a machine learning algorithm to look for metal–poor stars, typically the oldest stars in the galaxy, to gain insights into the earliest stages of the Milky Way's formation.

Yet despite her groundbreaking work, Sarah is keenly aware of the barriers that exist in science as a blind woman. She notes, “Generally, we visualize astronomy data. We make it a plot or a graph or an image. And that’s not super accessible.” Shortly after her first year at Penn, Sarah was introduced to Astronify, an initiative that specializes in sonification: transforming types of astronomical data into sound with the purpose of making it accessible to blind people. “That really—pardon the pun—opened my eyes to this broader world of disability advocacy within science,” she says.

her sophomore year. “It was quite scary to decide to get a guide dog,” she says. “It was frightening to change something from the way I'd always done it [and] to trust an animal to guide me around rather than a cane, where you are really relying on your own senses.”

As she sits beside her guide dog Elana, Sarah reflects that she leads her life through faith in others. “I'm trusting that people aren't going to try to interfere with my guide dog. As a small blind woman, I'm trusting that people aren't going to behave badly towards me. I'm trusting that if I stopped someone on Locust Walk and asked for di-

Sarah Kane (C '23) sheepishly admits that she entered the world of science because of the cult classic series Star Trek . In particular, as a young kid, Sarah felt most deeply connected to Star Trek ’s blind engineer. “It was the first time I had seen a blind person represented in science like that,” she says. Born legally blind, Sarah continues to defy barriers to pursue her passions in physics and astronomy.

Sarah began her research at Penn with Professor Bhuvnesh Jain in the galactic archaeology field, which focuses on the structure and formation history of the Milky Way. For her senior thesis, Sarah

For over two years, Sarah has worked as an accessibility tester for Astronify and is passionate about the intersection of science and disability advocacy. “There’s value in advocating for the inclusion of disabled people in science,” she says. Sarah has also worked to lead initiatives in order to connect visually impaired individuals with opportunities to pursue science on campus, including coordinating a trip for students from the Overbrook School for the Blind to Penn’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

While Sarah diligently works to reach scientific breakthroughs, she is not afraid to face challenges in her own life. Sarah, who has used a cane her entire life, claims that one of her bravest feats was choosing to get a guide dog from The Seeing Eye before


rections, they'd stop and give me a hand,” she says. “Sometimes that trust is met with disappointment, but oftentimes it's not.”

As Sarah heads off to earn a Ph.D. in astrophysics at the University of Cambridge next fall as a Marshall Scholar, she can’t help but ruminate on her beginnings.

“I got interested in science because of a fictional character on the fictional show Star Trek . It was great, but it wasn't real," she says. “I didn't know that other blind people in astronomy existed, and didn't know that anyone would care about making it so that we could be here.”

Sarah strives to be a role model and advocate for others, promoting resources for more disabled people to get involved in science. “What is most enjoyable and rewarding for me is the idea that I am holding open the door for the person behind me. Hopefully, the next little blind girl who wants to study astronomy won't have her only role model be a character from a fictional show.” k

Photos: Nathaniel Babitts

Pretty in Pink: Marie Laurencin was a 20th–century “It Girl”

Marie Laurencin, a queer, mixed–heritage artist featured at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, thrived in women–only worlds.

W“hy should I paint dead fish, onions, and beer glasses? Girls are much prettier,” said Marie Laurencin, the painter who wasn't satisfied by how reality pre-

sented itself. Instead, she was mesmerized by dreamlike versions of life. Laurencin, despite creating a unique style of her own, is yet another female artist who’s been left out of the popular canon.

When you think of Cubism, famous artists such as Picasso and Braque come to mind. In contrast, Laurencin was forgotten by the French art scene and by the movement in which she developed an unprecedented approach. She is often regarded for her romantic involvement with poet Guillaume Apollinaire, following a common fate of many women throughout history: being remembered for a relationship with a man. Apollinaire even nicknamed Laurencin as "Our Lady of Cubism." Despite this, Laurencin is widely seen as a muse as opposed to an artist, a passive figure in the 20th century's most relevant and unique art movements: Fauvism and Cubism.

Laurencin was a 20th–century “It Girl” in many aspects of her life: an uninhibited, unapologetic, and expressive woman who created and shaped artistic trends to her own perspective. For example, her design for the Ballet Russe Les Biches [The Does], with loose, corset–less dresses, decisively influenced 20th–century women's fashion, something usually attributed to male designers such as Paul Poiret.

In comparison to Picasso, Laurencin’s work contains less harshness and more awe and defiance. At the age of 25, the artist sold a painting to Gertrude Stein (1874–1946), an American collector and modern art enthusiast living in Paris. The painting Group of Artists (1908) depicts people Laurencin was acquainted

Marie Laurencin, Portrait of Mademoiselle Chanel, 1923, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris

with: Apollinaire (in the center of the painting); Fernande Olivier and Picasso (represented in the corners). Laurencin's pictorial strategy in this painting is the arranging of her subjects on her canvas in her own space. She relegated Picasso to the lower left corner, contrasting the rigidity of his contours with his profile face. Although Apollinaire is seated center stage, Laurencin reverses the gender convention of the family patriarchal portrait; she reclaims protagonism as the leader of the group. With this painting, Laurencin positioned herself not only in relation to her male colleagues—who evidently had an easier time establishing themselves as artists—but presented a broader political subtext.

At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, visitors can see eight of Laurencin’s works, including two of her most famous paintings: Nymph and Hind and Leda and the Swan . In her paintings, the viewer enters a Pinterest–like world of young women floating above abstract backgrounds, gray pigeons, and idyllic pastel–green landscapes. She searched for the “pretty” in the world, a pretty that embraced femininity rather than seeing it as a weakness.

Laurencin’s audiences received her sceneries as encouragement and hope for the people facing difficult times and grappling with questions of their own identity. These paintings, markedly feminine and

French, helped the country regain a sense of national unity post–World War I.

Laurencin’s personal life was as free as the scenarios in her paintings. She lived the majority of her life with Suzanne Moreau, defying society’s standards by adopting her as her daughter in order for them to share a life together. French law wouldn’t recognize same–sex civil unions until 1999. In fact, Laurencin envisioned a feminine utopia, celebrating women with poetry and prose and creating art that was subtle and subversive at the same time. Her queer modernist identity is visible in all of her art, from Lesbian Friends (1930) to Portrait of Mademoiselle Chanel (1923). She created a language of female creativity and lesbian desire, also leading the epicenter of queer expatriate women in Paris, cultivating friendships with other female lesbian artists, such as writer Natalie Clifford Barney and Gertrude Stein.

By centering all her paintings around

female figures, Laurencin explored them in new ways. Approaching sensuality, dedication, mystery, and fantasy, she pursued a tender and serious study of the soul of her models to capture their essence. However, curiously, French fashion designer Coco Chanel sent back her portrait for not recognizing herself in the painting. Marie painted Coco with black eyes, invisible eyebrows, and a hidden forehead.

Like our contemporary “It Girls,” Maurie Laurencin was confident in her artistic endeavors and continued channeling the defiant feminine spirit in her work, not letting male critique dictate her artistic technique. By the end of her life, Marie Laurencin produced about 2,000 paintings, more than 300 prints, book illustrations, scenery, and costumes. In terms of her works, Laurencin is still very modern: Her passion for female representation, fashion, and her ability to enter male–dominated spaces are common to many modern women today. k

MARCH 2023 17 CITY
Marie Laurencin, Group of Artists, 1908, Baltimore Museum of Art

A Reverberating Victory:

Shut Down Berks and the Fight for Immigrant Liberation

The Berks County Residential Center was officially emptied this month following nearly a decade of campaigning to shut down the immigration prison.

Content warning: this text contains mentions of rape, sexual assault, and suicide, which may be triggering for some readers.

Residential center, correctional facility, processing center. Immigration and Customs Enforcement applies any num-

ber of these euphemisms to describe the places they use to incarcerate and deport immigrants. A locked facility that prevents immigrants from leaving the premises is,

Photo Courtesy of Shut Down Berks Coalition

by definition, a prison.

In the United States, immigration policy authorizes the detention of “noncitizens to secure their presence for immigration proceedings or removal from the United States.” ICE claims the practice is “non–punitive,” but detainees are subject to trauma, isolation, and precarity for months and even years at these facilities—both during and beyond their time of incarceration.

Until recently, the Berks County Residential Center was one such immigration prison operating in Pennsylvania. For nearly a decade, immigrant leaders fought to expose the inhumanity and injustice of the BCRC, including its notorious history of abuse. On Dec. 1, 2022, immigrants and families formerly detained at the facility celebrated a historic victory. After years of local campaigning to close the detention center, ICE informed Berks officials that their contract with the county would be ending the following month. The community’s rallying call to “Shut Down Berks” had finally come to fruition.

The BCRC was originally one of three—but the only publicly owned—immigrant family detention centers in the United States, later transitioning to a women–only facility. The prison operated under a contract between ICE and Berks County, which owns the building and grounds of the facility and leased it to the federal agency. However, the conditions that led to the establishment of the BCRC and other immigrant prisons in Pennsylvania have been in the making for decades.

The issues with United States border enforcement stem from a legacy of federal policies designed to control and criminalize migration. Nuneh Grigoryan, assistant professor of communication and interim director for the Center on Immigration at Cabrini University, explains that an ongoing example is Title 42, a policy enacted under the Trump administration that limits the rights of people applying for refugee status and seeking asylum—particularly migrants from Haiti, Venezuela, and Mexico. “[Title 42] is a violation of a human … [and] internationally recognized right,” Grigoryan says, “that has caused panic and viola-

tions at the border where people are being either deported to [another] country or are detained.”

Policies like Title 42 have contributed to the growing number of detention centers and immigrant prisons across the country. In the fiscal year 2021, the federal government detained nearly 250,000 people across 200 facilities operated by ICE. According to Grigoryan, enforcement practices that seek to deport, detain, and forcefully separate migrants and families are “criminalizing something that is not criminal” and “justify the violence and suffering of the people.”

The Shut Down Berks Coalition—a group of organizations and individuals advocating for the closure of the BCRC—began campaigning in early 2015 after an employee raped a 19–year–old mother who was imprisoned at the facility. He was convicted of “institutional sexual assault” after other women in the facility came forward as witnesses and was sentenced to four months in prison, less time than the victim had been detained at Berks. “This really rattled the community,” says Adrianna Torres–García, deputy director of Free Migration Project and member of the Coalition. “People came together from different organizations … wanting to shut this center down because they saw all the violence that was being committed in that place.”

Immigrants in facilities like the BCRC are particularly isolated from community support and legal representation, increasing the chances of unlawful deportation and experiencing violence. Since 2001—when the detention center opened—there have been multiple documented cases of abuse, including malnutrition, inadequate access to health care, and treatment leading to suicidality and diagnosed PTSD among young children. In addition, guards performed flashlight checks every ten to 15 minutes at night, which is considered a form of torture due to sleep deprivation and the hindrance of proper REM cycles. Advocacy groups and community leaders exposed these harms as part of a larger effort to close the BCRC and abolish immigrant prisons.

Over the years, the Coalition has grown in size and strength, which “happened pretty organically,” says Tonya Wenger, who is a leader of

Shut Down Berks Interfaith Witness, a subset of the larger coalition. Embracing civil disobedience as a tool for change, Shut Down Berks “basically tried everything,” she explains, refusing to yield to a series of setbacks and disappointments. Through organizing efforts, the Coalition sought to make their demands known to the local, state, and even federal government. It was a “commitment to being as annoying as possible to whichever decision–maker we thought might tip the scales in our favor,” says Andy Kang, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, another affiliated organization.

At the state level, Shut Down Berks put pressure on the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, leading to a decision in February of 2016 not to renew the detention center license. However, Berks County appealed the cancelation in a legal case that dragged on until 2021, during which the prison remained operational. Over the course of this period, the Coalition repeatedly called upon then–Gov. Tom Wolf to address the illegal incarceration of families according to Pennsylvania state law.

In February of 2021, all families held at the BCRC were suddenly released, and the building remained empty until January of the next year. Under President Joe Biden’s administration, the prison reopened as an adult immigrant, women–only facility with double the number of beds, effectively expanding the presence of ICE detention in Pennsylvania.

That’s when the Coalition brought their fight to the White House. “In the last year [the Shut Down Berks Coalition] was trying to raise as much pressure on the federal level as possible, specifically around President Biden and Homeland Security,” says Kang. They urged Biden to immediately release everyone imprisoned at the BCRC and end the ICE contract in Berks County.

Shut Down Berks also coordinated various rallies—such as an event in Washington D.C. that drew a crowd even in sweltering weather—and formed partnerships with local colleges, schools, and churches. In addition, Kang explains that “whenever the president was in Pennsylvania, we would try to steal some of the media attention and at least insert the fact that immigrant detention is happen-

MARCH 2023 19

ing in Pennsylvania into the narrative.”

Throughout the campaign, the Coalition deliberately highlighted the voices of immigrants detained at the BCRC. “We took their lead [because] they knew what they needed,” Wenger says. This approach was vital considering “immigrants who are being detained or deported don’t have a platform to speak about the violations and tell their stories,” Grigoryan explains. Shut Down Berks listened to the detainees, and mobilized to amplify their message.

Ultimately, the Coalition’s diverse strategy proved successful, when it was announced in November of last year that the contract between ICE and Berks County would be officially terminated on Jan. 31. According to ICE officials, the closure was initiated because the BCRC became “operationally unnecessary” and “inefficient.” Adriana Zambrano, the programs coordinator at Aldea—The People’s Justice Center, says she thinks “it’s because they wanted to build a deportation mill at Berks and we frustrated that purpose.” By Jan. 10, the last woman left the facility. Everyone previously incarcerated was released rather than transferred, thanks in part to the continued activism of Shut Down Berks.

Aldea—a nonprofit organization that provides pro bono legal and social services to immigrant populations in Pennsylvania—was established in response to a lack of legal resources at the BCRC. The organization’s founders, Bridget Cambria and Jackie Kline, began receiving calls in 2014 requesting help for people in the facility without legal representation and decided to take action.

To meet this need, Aldea adopted a practice of providing universal legal services to anyone incarcerated at the prison, but not without obstacles. “It is extremely difficult to provide representation to someone in detention, [especially] when it comes to technical things like evidence gathering, declaration drafting, and accommodating a visiting schedule,” Zambrano explains.

It’s also challenging for many detainees to get a hold of the necessary materials for their case. “If you want to acquire other materials for yourself, you have to pay an exorbitant amount above what a person in the community would pay,” says Alyssa Kane, the managing attorney at Aldea. “It’s really difficult for [incarcerated

individuals] to even establish the basics of their own claims … especially for families who are also trying to take care of their own children at the same time.” There are financial barriers to legal representation as well. Detainees often can’t afford to pay for the lengthy phone calls necessary to discuss a complex immigration case with an attorney.

Jasmine Rivera, a coordinator in the Coalition, emphasizes that the goal was always to close the BCRC permanently—as the group’s name makes clear—and in the process, eliminate the resource gap that Aldea addresses. “It would have been easy for us to just focus on the

from staff employed at the prison. Additionally, Zambrano and Kane admit there are challenges posed by a partnership between abolitionist and universal representation strategies. That said, Zambrano believes that “in the Shut Down Berks Coalition we were able to merge those two worlds.” Shut Down Berks recognized not only the need for accessible legal representation, but also the importance of working to abolish the system of immigrant detention that originally imprisons and criminalizes these communities.

After eight years of multilateral campaigning, members of the Coalition believe persistence and consistency truly determined the outcome of their cause. “This is a pretty phenomenal group. They are incredibly committed and very resilient,” Kang says. Individuals formerly detained at the BCRC also played an instrumental role in the campaign, advocating for themselves and the freedom of others at the detention center through their leadership and willingness to share their stories.

Aldea’s Kane and other members of Shut Down Berks describe feeling an “overwhelming joy” when they learned about the closure—a testament to their efforts and the value of advocacy work. However, the immigrants formerly incarcerated at the BCRC remain the central focus, as the Coalition emphasized through a series of quotes in their recent press release announcing the victory:

conditions at the center … many organizations, that’s only what they do, but that just keeps the cycle going,” she says. It’s a difficult balancing act to both meet the immediate needs of imprisoned immigrants and address systemic issues of detainment and deportation, all with limited resources.

A hallmark of the Shut Down Berks campaign has been sensitively navigating opposing interests and integrating alternative modes of advocacy. On a local scale, the Coalition underscored that their pro–immigrant stance was intended to be in the community’s best interest, not an anti–worker plot to take jobs away

“‘For me it is a pleasure, the best news I have heard, happy to know that there will never again be families in Berks detention. No more depressed children locked up. Freedom is the most valuable thing that can be had, thanks to the support from everyone. Families should not arrive to be confined, no matter where they are from. I am more than happy that it will be closed down.’ — Lorena, mother incarcerated with her son for nearly 2 years”

“‘There were 28 days of uncertainty and anguish with my son, where we had a false freedom, rules for everything we did and we didn’t have the security of being able to talk to someone [while] inside Berks. We are happy that now they will have one less place to hold people and so [people] can move forward.’ — Mr. A, father incarcerated with son for 1 month”

In the aftermath of the shutdown, members of the Coalition will take much–needed time to “process and debrief” the events of the past several years, Rivera says. At the same time,

This is a huge victory for everyone across the [United States] who is fighting to shut a prison down, because this really shows that when we keep pressure on our targets, and when we organize, we can have big victories.

Torres–García recognizes that “when you’re organizing you have to think three steps ahead.” Residents of Berks County are already collaborating with the local government to transform the facility into something beneficial for the community, with proposed uses including a drug treatment or health and services center.

Two remaining ICE prisons in Pennsylvania, Clinton County Correctional Facility and Pike County Correctional Facility, and the Moshannon Valley Processing Center—privately owned and operated by the GEO Group—also necessitate future campaigns.

In particular, the Moshannon Valley facility poses a challenge to those speaking out against immigrant detention. The GEO Group “has a long track record of abuse,” says Kang, but private ownership of the prison means the company is profiting off of locking people up, and there is little accountability or obligation for transparency. Since no operating agreement exists between the Processing Center and the county, approaches employed by the Coalition in the Berks campaign lack the same efficacy. “I think the fight [at Moshannon Valley] is going

to be a lot harder … they’re not susceptible to that kind of pressure,” explains Torres–García. Even from a strictly logistical standpoint, the physically distant location of the prison makes it more difficult for local activists to get involved on the ground.

Still, the shutdown is not just a triumph for Berks County, but nationally as well. “This is a huge victory for everyone across the [United States] who is fighting to shut a prison down, because this really shows that when we keep pressure on our targets, and when we organize, we can have big victories,” Torres–García says. The Coalition teaches other advocacy groups that are uplifting immigrant voices and working to put a stop to inhumane detention practices that it’s not impossible to accomplish big changes.

The long–term goal for Coalition members and other human rights activists is the abolition of immigrant prisons. Systemic change is required to overturn current policies built on “structural racism, imperialism, colonial-

ism, and capitalism” that criminalize Black and brown immigrants—what Rivera calls the “deportation machine.” Grigoryan impels us to ask: “What are our values as a society and do we have empathy and compassion? Do we have a humane approach?”

As global concerns like climate change intensify, increasingly and disproportionately displacing communities as a result of environmental disasters, recognizing the fundamental human right to movement and migration becomes even more imperative. In this era “we have to make space for each other. We have to be willing to live together and take on those challenges together,” says Kang.

Arresting and incarcerating people exercising this right, building fences, and deporting immigrants back to dangerous situations is inhumane and unethical. The Coalition urges us to put pressure on those in power, demand change, and continue organizing in our communities, because, as Rivera puts it, “every single one of us deserves to be free, deserves our full dignity.” k

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It’s Just Hair

If you take everything else away, I would contend that my defining characteristic is my hair. As a kid, my nickname was broccoli, based solely on the fact my hair resembled a sprouting floret. Coming into the COVID–19 pandemic, I remember a teacher noting that while he struggled to recognize the rest of his students in their masks, he always knew I was approaching because of my signature mane.

Illustration: Collin Wang

What would Nietzsche say about 2 a.m. bangs?

Everyone’s first compliment was of my curls and their last question was an inquiry into my hair routine—to which I always falsely answered, “I don’t even know,” as if I didn’t spend hours on Sunday pre–conditioning, co–washing, plumping, or whatever other tips I picked up from the endless curly hair influencers I followed.

Coming into college, I noticed the change in my hair before anything else. Sundays were filled with club meetings so there was no room for my time–honored ritual of wash day. Instead, I would haphazardly condition my hair at 2 a.m. when I could sneak a shower into my busy schedule. Exhausted from a long day of classes, I’d fall asleep before wrapping my hair in a T–shirt to protect it. The next day meant jumping out of bed minutes before class after a late night without enough time to carefully style my hair as I once did with pride. My hair became in essence an abandoned garden, once–pruned roses now wild and unkempt. It was yet another thing out of my control in a new world spinning faster than I could fathom.

If you ask me whether I believe in free will, my answer will depend on the time of day. Mornings, I’m an idealist. Around lunchtime, I start to converse with Nietzsche, and by night—having bounced through the day like a ping pong ball—I resign myself to believing I’m utterly powerless. The feeling was only exacerbated by the forward–thinking environment Penn fostered, where my future feels entirely unpredictable—as every acceptance or rejection was ultimately in someone else’s hands regardless of

how hard I worked. In a world where it felt like I had so little control over how people perceived me or what came next, I had once prided myself on taming at least my hair. Now, though, it had assumed a life of its own out of neglect—yet another variable uncontrolled.

Alone in my dorm after a Friday night out, I was once again pondering the merits of free will. There’s something about the hours between midnight and morning that feels forbidden, as if you’re trespassing on a world in which the rules of reality no longer apply. Anyone who’s had those moments at 2 a.m. alone, studying for a midterm or walking home from a party, remembers how the world was completely quiet and if you so desired you could scream into the abyss. Perhaps these are the pockets in which free will resides. That’s what I said as I grabbed my roommate’s scissors and headed towards the gender–neutral bathroom, bringing along my friend Bill who I ran into on the way. At 2:57 a.m., I had decided to endow myself with some semblance of free will, if only in determining the style of my hair. I pulled my locks over my eyes and cut them in one swift motion. Who cares what it looked like? Whether it was passable or the equivalent of a second grader with kitchen scissors, it was my own work, my own will.

Eventually, 2:57 a.m. turns into 9 a.m., and the rules of reality resume. You leave your dorm to brush your teeth, just as you have every morning of your life—and you will continue to do into oblivion. Until you run into your neighbor who looks at you and says, “Oh, so that’s where the hair in the bathroom came from.” k


Hustle Culture and The

Rise of Toxic Productivity at Penn

No, it’s not just getting shit done.

Graphic: Collin Wang

Penn’s student body has moved beyond the ‘80s–esque style of peer pressure that our parents warned us about. Rather than sneaking cigarettes in the bathroom between classes or cheating off your classmates’ papers, Path@ Penn’s “Request max course unit increase” form and PennClub’s mint green “Apply” button are the most alluring vices on campus.

At Penn, the pressure to always be “doing more” is palpable. A Sidechat post reading that a student “Never felt peer pressure to do drugs at Penn, but [they] constantly feel like [they] need to join 3 more research labs and take 8 credit units a sem” received nearly 500 upvotes and was the most popular post on the app that week, showing just how ingrained hustle culture has become in our lives.

Before even stepping foot on campus, Penn students accumulate a vast array of experiences employing their unique set of skills, passions, and interests. Classrooms are filled by business owners, nonprofit founders, tour guides, class presidents, and more. Being surrounded by so many motivated individuals is inspiring, but it can also be daunting. The line between admiration and comparison is thin—and easy to slip over.

Imposter syndrome runs rampant on campus, a disease students believe they can cure by enrolling in more activities than can fit on their resume. During recruiting season, it’s common to see peers applying to an average of ten clubs, even if they all require commitments of 5+ hours per week. Rather than choosing programs that excite them, students hunt for which clubs and classes will catch the eye of a future employer.

There’s a name for the resume bloating that occurs on campus—toxic productivity. In an article for RealSimple, licensed counselor Kruti Quazi defines toxic productivity as “when an individual has an unhealthy

obsession with being productive and constantly on the go,” adding that it “gives us a constant feeling that we’re just not doing enough.” While hustle culture has been on the rise across America, Penn serves as an intense microcosm of this problem.

Yash Rajpal (C, E ‘26), studying biophysics and bioengineering in the VIPER Program, has been personally affected by the influence of this phenomenon at Penn. “I honestly feel that if I have leisure time, I’m not doing enough,” he says. “I regularly don’t get enough sleep, and even though I leave time to be social, often I feel like it is more beneficial to advancing my network than actually simply hanging out with my friend.”

Students here are determined to prove that they deserve a spot in the revered Ivy League. “Productivity culture at Penn is grind until you fall. I see students all the time working to their limits; the number of people falling asleep in the library is unmatched anywhere else,” Yash says.

Rachel Blackwell (C ‘24), a varsity swimmer studying political science on the pre–law track, comments on the influence of business culture on productivity norms at Penn. “The toxic Wharton mindset contributes to this unhealthy lifestyle,” she says. “People always talk about selling out to consulting, or investment banking, or wealth management. I don’t even know exactly what those positions do, but I do know it entails an unhealthy lifestyle.”

The frenzy to find jobs in these fields is a constant stressor. Undergraduates covet these careers, regardless of major or academic background, citing the paycheck as worth the 60–hour work week. Students seem to be preparing themselves to be stretched to the brim, starting with the view that moments of rest, recuperation, and leisure could be better spent engaging in activities that produce tangible results.

Penn students’ overloading their schedules with activities they only find moderately enjoyable has negative mental health effects within the student body. In 2019, the World Health Organization expanded its International Classification of Diseases to include “workplace burnout,” showing that toxic productivity has detrimental

mental and physical health effects. Corroborating this standpoint, Penn was ranked as the institution with the most depressed student body in both American News Report and Humans of University.

The National Health Service ranks “enjoying yourself” as number two on its list of suggestions to be happier—which is exactly what Penn students should do more of. As an upperclassman, Rachel has removed herself from most of the Penn pressures surrounding resume building. “I try to fill my free time with activities that nourish my soul and help people,” said Rachel. “I’ve never felt the urge to compare myself to people at Penn because I know that everyone’s life is different and everyone’s career aspirations are different.” She followed by saying that “the fact that someone would participate in something just because they would put it on their resume is comical to me.”

The idea that you should only participate in activities you truly enjoy should be more prominent on campus. There needs to be a distinct shift within Penn culture, starting simply with our own attitudes. It should no longer be glamorized to take six or seven course units per semester or apply to a million clubs. The easiest way to go about this is just making a conscious change in the way we speak to our friends everyday. Instead of feeding solely into each other’s ambition, feed into each other’s passions.

Rachel shared one of her favorite non–academic pastimes. “I cook every single meal after classes; that really helps me de–stress. That’s my ‘me time’, where I can really think and meditate about how I’m doing,” Rachel said.

There are endless ways to break free from toxic productivity on campus. Go on a walk down Locust with music and an iced latte. Take SEPTA and explore Center City. Eat dinner at a nice restaurant. We speak of being trapped in the Penn bubble, but we all have the power to escape it. Write in a journal, watch your favorite show, or just literally just lay on your bed and stare at the wall. The mental benefits of pursuing hobbies or passion projects are often overlooked. A change starts with us—let’s take the necessary steps. k


How do

Netflix&Stress whenfeeling or binge-watch stressed depressed 72% ofrespondents 87% of respondents ’ fa spottocryin DORM/AP From retail therapy to altering appearances, delve into how Penn students manage feelings of stress and depression 34th Street surveyed 116 students on Feb. 16 What are some purchases you’ve made while stressed? Retail Relief 2.1.NewGirlGilmoreGirls 3.ModernFamily FanFavorites 116respondents’topshowsto watchwhenstressed UnravelingAround: Vintage Fendi bag for $500 after a boy made me upset.” “ I bought a projector and a jockstrap.” “ I bought Moon Boots while studying for finals. It hasn’t snowed since I got them.” “ 35%of respondents indulge in RETAIL THERAPY A lot of money has been dropped at Stump Philly for new plants.” “ (or don’t) BY SOPHIA LIU you
YOUR BRAIN ON UPENN Biopond SPRUCE ST. SOUTH ST. Quadrangle Pottruck Fitness Center MARKET ST. CHESTNUT ST. Penn Museum 36TH ST. 34TH ST. 33RD ST. Kings Court English House Fisher Fine Arts Library Lauder College House Biotech Commons favorite inistheir APARTMENT Explore some hairy stories about coloring and cutting Penn students’ greatest sources of stress Snip It Away Pressure Cooker Emily Kim First Year My ex-boyfriend broke my heart and I chopped half my hair off.” “ Noah Goldfischer | Sophomore I changed my major and got a mullet because I was stressed.” “ Karen Carvajal | Sophomore I [dyed] my hair pinkish red. It was to relieve some stress.” “ Mirage Rooftop Lounge Outside Bench Locust Emergency Exit Staircase Boardwalk Bathrooms Courtyard Library Cubicles HAMILTON WALK LOCUST WALK Pool SCHUYLKILL RIVER d:Pennstudents ’breakdowns,mapped 22%of respondents have impulsively ALTERED HAIR under stressful conditions Penn students’ top coping mechanisms 1. Eating (29/116 students) 2. Overworking (19) 3. Binge–watching (11) 4. Drinking (11) 5. Cleaning (9) 6. Retail Therapy (4) 7. Nicotine (4) 8. Weed (4)
to The Top 53% 17% 9% 7% Classes & Grades Career Prospects Social Life Existential Dread 14% Other (Family Life, Health,Self-Consciousness)Responsibilities, 9. Partying (4) 10. Sleep (4) 11. Altering Appearance (3) 12. Exercise (3) 13. Procrastinate (2) 14. Walks (2) 15. Other (5) WALNUT ST.

Popping the Bubble Positive Psychology

Positive psychology aims to help people reach their full potential. But can it really work for everyone?

Illustration: Erin Ma


Bubble of Psychology

What makes life worth living?

What factors contribute to happiness?

What are the best paths to success? Positive psychology, the study of well–being, seeks to answer these questions and more. The field was popularized in the late 1990s by former President of the American Psychological Association and Penn’s very own Martin Seligman. Positive psychology emerged as a departure from traditional psychology’s focus on remedying “negative” emotions or behaviors. As Seligman asserted in a 2000 issue of the American Psychologist journal, “Psychology is not just a branch of medicine concerned with illness or health; it is much larger.” Instead of only helping individuals with mental illnesses, positive psychology is meant for everyone. In Seligman’s view, being mentally healthy is much more than simply not having a diagnosed mental illness. By studying positive traits—happiness, optimism, motivation, to name a few—Seligman hoped that his work could uncover why some people are more fulfilled with their lives, and use what they were doing differently to improve life satisfaction for the discontented.

The field has a large presence on Penn’s campus. Topics of study like happiness are particularly compelling at a University where rampant careerism causes students to prioritize material successes above all else. At Penn’s Positive Psychology Center, researchers study topics ranging from imagination to resiliency, with the aim of helping people “enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.”

In positive psychology, happiness can be quantified. Seligman even developed an equation that does exactly that: Happiness equals the sum of a person’s genetic capacity for happiness, their life circumstances, and the voluntary factors under their control. Positive psychology emphasizes that individuals can take action to ensure their happiness and well–being, and that agency is equally as important as our life circumstances. Actions one can take to improve happiness include strategies such as mindfulness, exercise, meditation, and staying away from negative self–talk. The field utilizes longitudinal studies (looking at the same group of people across a period of time), surveys, and case studies that are common in the social sciences, but also employs more neurological methods like brain imaging and hormone measurement.

Penn’s toxic mental health environment is well documented—from the illusions perpetuated by Penn Face to the serious shortcomings of Counseling and Psycho-

logical Services to meet student demand. The University’s toxic grind culture and marked de–emphasis on exploration in favor of securing a job post–graduation can exacerbate the misconception that you’re the only one struggling. But is positive psychology the outlook Penn students need?

In recent years, some have criticized positive psychology for its seemingly all–too–optimistic and individualistic outlook. One of these critics was Barbara Ehrenreich, a political activist and author whose writings focus on issues of class and inequality. She initially became interested in the subject after her breast cancer diagnosis was met with a stream of sentiments telling her “to be cheerful and accepting.” This eventually led to Ehrenreich’s 2009 book, Bright–sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, where she argues that positive psychology, and specifically the mantra of “just think positive thoughts,” is not the solution to life’s troubles.

To Ehrenreich, the rhetoric of constant positive thinking can serve to victim blame. “The flip side of positivity is thus a harsh insistence on personal responsibility: If your business fails or your job is eliminated, it must be because you didn’t try hard enough, didn’t believe firmly enough in the inevitability of your success,” she writes.

Ehrenriech’s book highlights a much–


cited positive psychology study claiming that students who had “authentic smiles” in their yearbook photos reported being more satisfied with their lives years later. She points out that the original study used photos from students at Mills College, a private liberal arts school for women in the mid–20th century. The participants likely came from more privileged backgrounds, as they were receiving an education at a time when very few women attended college.

When the study was replicated using the yearbook pictures of a less–affluent high school in Wisconsin, little correlation between the authenticity of one’s smile and future life outcomes was found. The difference in happiness, Ehrenreich argues, is a matter of class and context, not some individual personal choice to be happy.

Many students taking Penn’s positive psychology classes paint a different picture. For Lila DiMasi (C ’25), taking "Introduction to Positive Psychology" changed her outlook on mental health and wellness. She’s even continued her work in Penn’s Psychology Department by interning with the Penn Resilience Program since mid–2022, and still uses the mindfulness techniques she learned in class today.

“Previously, therapy would just [be] talking about what was going wrong. It didn’t feel like it made any sense,” Lila says. “Positive psychology confirmed my feeling of ‘what is the point of talking about what’s bad? How can we start talking about what’s going right instead?’” She stresses that this outlook doesn’t mean she’s ignoring the bad entirely, or that she doesn’t have bad days at all. Instead, she sees positive psychology as a way to change her thinking patterns and develop coping skills for when she’s going through a tough period.

One of the class assignments was to write down three things about her day that went well alongside an explanation of why they went well for a week. Lila continued to do it for months. She credits that strategy with helping her get through the spring of her first year, a period she

reflects on as being otherwise a “tough, lonely, and anxious time.”

Similarly, Harley Haas (C ’24) took the SNF Paideia Program course “Positive Education,” a seminar that focused on how positive psychology techniques can be applied to early education. Like Lila, Harley left the class with a changed outlook on what mental wellness could look like for herself, and also how she could utilize what she’d learned to help others.

Though her class focused on K–12 students, they also addressed several positive psychology interventions for college students. “As a Penn student, I see so many people take wellness for granted … Positive psychology means making sure that you check in with yourself, and find a balance so that you can also improve wellness for those around you,” Harley says.

Ehrenreich’s critique is perhaps better applied to toxic positivity, a term that has blown up in recent years to describe how being told to constantly stay positive can be toxic to one’s mental health. Toxic positivity is not the same as the rhetoric of the positive psychology classes at Penn, both Lila and Harley insist. “Whenever positive psychology research is being communicated, people have to make sure they’re really explicit about that,” Lila says. “It’s not saying that everything is sunshine and rainbows all of the time. It’s not head in the sand, it’s facing problems with a mindset of ‘I can get through this.’”

These student experiences point towards an even broader critique of positive psychology: Maybe the problem isn’t the ideas themselves, but it’s the way the field has been decontextualized and marketed to wide audiences. In their quest to pathologize emotions like happiness, researchers and their findings may end up invalidating the genuine feelings of the public, much along the lines of toxic positivity.

“Happiness is about self control” or “people who think positively live longer” are just the type of statements that are constantly reappearing in the media, often far removed from their psycholog -

ical basis. Several of the most popular self–help books co–opt positive psychology concepts to feed the $10.4 billion self–improvement market.

The illusion of easy, step–by–step plans for happiness or success sells—to individuals, yes, but also to schools like Penn for their wellness programming and companies seeking to maximize employee productivity.

For example, in the 2010 New York Times bestselling self–help book The Happiness Advantage , motivational speaker Shawn Achor employs positive psychology to help his readers understand the connection between happiness and success. Coming from a Harvard–educated background, Achor argues that “Happiness is a choice, happiness spreads, and happiness is an advantage.” For his corporate clients littered across the Fortune 100, Achor’s rhetoric is that their happiness—and by extension, their success—is largely in their own hands.

Consumer capitalism is intrinsically connected to mainstream positive psychology’s individualistic bent. Adam Grant, a professor of organizational psychology at Wharton and New York Times Writer, calls the pressure to be positive “quintessentially American,” the result of a population growing up on the lofty, now–unattainable ideals of the American Dream. If people are told that happiness and success is all in their hands, it’s much easier to deny them health care or send them to underfunded schools because they should overcome these difficulties themselves.

In his 2015 book The Happiness Industry, sociological theorist William Davies argues that big businesses and governments employ positive psychology’s individualistic solutions to make us better workers, trick us into settling for less, and even buy more. In doing so, they detract from the larger issues that cause people's unhappiness—exploitation, injustice, and overworking all fueled by capitalism.

In contrast, Lila emphasizes that in her work with the Penn Resilience Program, the effects of larger institutions and systems of power are considered when


discussing what resilience looks like and how to build it. She points to the Resilience Program curriculum, which highlights not only individual traits like optimism and self–awareness, but also positive institutions—meaning institutions that enable people to thrive—as the key to building resiliency. “Right now, I’m working on a literature review on optimism and socio–economic factors … There are people who are doing research that looks at how we can make our institutions work in a way that fosters well–being,” she says.

goals,” grit goes beyond talent and luck, emphasizing individual drive as a force of change. Duckworth utilizes a “grit scale” for individuals to rate their own levels of grit and see where they can improve.

Like many concepts within positive psychology, grit has taken on a life of its own. After doing a 2013 TedTalk that now has over 29 million views, earning a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, and penning a New York Times bestseller in 2016, Duckworth has earned considerable acclaim for her work. She’s taught PSYC 0005: “Grit Lab: The Science and Practice of Passion and Perseverance” since spring 2020, attracting an eager crop of students each semester excited to learn about how to make their goals a reality using the power of grit.

we just talked about grit and how great it was,” Brinn adds. Duckworth declined to comment on these criticisms.

Many students at Penn can afford to have grit, considering the average undergraduate comes from a family with an income of $195,000—compared to the average American household income that is less than $60,000. Only a minute 3.3% of the student body comes from the bottom 20% of households ranked by income nationwide. A whopping 71% come from the top 20%. “I do think that passion and perseverance can get you places, and that’s why grit has been corroborated in research. But you can’t forget context,” Brinn says.

Instead of dismissing the prevalence of systemic issues, Harley’s seminar read Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us , a book by psychologist Claude Steele about how stereotypes impact minorities’ academic performance as well as their sense of belonging and well–being. The class examined these deficits and thought about how positive psychology can help reform educational systems. Though Harley believes her class adequately addressed societal problems like discrimination, she knows that psychologists writing for popular audiences can never paint the full picture. “Take everything you read with a grain of salt … even Whistling Vivaldi . It’s a great book, but the research in it is old,” she says.

However, some psychology classes at Penn haven’t offered such a nuanced approach. Perhaps the concept within positive psychology that has garnered the most traction in popular media, and at Penn itself, is grit. Coined and defined by Penn professor Angela Duckworth as a “passion and perseverance for long–term

One of these students, criminology major Brinn Gammer (C’24), found that grit can be a powerful concept, albeit one that doesn’t work for everyone. Brinn considers herself a wellness advocate on campus, having co–founded Penn’s Coalition for Wellness last year. She’s also a first–generation, low–income student, coming from a high school that wasn’t very well ranked in her state.

When you’re already among the elite, success is much more achievable, especially if you’re willing to put in the passion and perseverance that grit demands. When facing challenges such as impostor syndrome, Penn students are often told that it's purely psychological and can be overcome from within. However, for FGLI students or students of color, structural barriers mean that these feelings of inadequacy can’t be entirely erased by merely believing in oneself. This individualistic approach ignores the fact that places like Penn were not built for us, and still have a long way to go in truly building inclusive and effective support systems.

Brinn maintains that she enjoyed Grit Lab but was surprised that it lacked discussion of how class, race, and other systemic factors impact one’s ability to have grit. “I remember Dr. Duckworth had us read an article that said from a racial perspective, and from an economic perspective, grit isn’t fair,” she explains. But the discussion didn’t go far beyond simply bringing up the criticism. Duckworth brushed it away—she and the article’s writer already had a discussion on their disagreement. “From then on

Believing entirely in positive psychology’s outlook may ignore the fact that everyone isn’t on a level playing field. Yes, we all have the ability to think positively, to journal, to meditate, to have grit, and these things may truly help individuals reach greater happiness in their lives. But we need to reform more than just our own mindsets to better society and address the sheer amount of unhappiness present at universities like Penn and across the nation overall.

“‘Just work harder’ is a sentiment that’s reflected in a lot of American culture, but you can be working three jobs and still not be able to support your family,” Brinn says. The promise of positive psychology is limitless and universal, but no system of self–improvement is one–size–fits–all. “I worked hard to get where I am. At the same time, there’s a limit.” ❋


Social Media is Telling Us How to Be Sad

One of Spotify’s most popular playlists is the “sad girl starter pack.” This corporation–curated mix shuffles about 75–or–so songs that depict varying degrees of melancholy. The songs here range from the intellectually moody (“God Turn Me Into a Flower” by Weyes Blood describes the social alienation of modern society) to the objectively sweet (“Kissing Lessons” by Lucy Dacus is a song about first crushes, and duh, first kisses). The theme here isn’t a unifying emotion, but rather the sort of meditative, vaguely chill mood this brand of indie pop creates.

The audience of this playlist is a new type of “it girl.” She’s the “sad girl,” an internet type of personality that Red Scare podcaster Dasha Nekrasova defined like this: “I’m definitely guilty of having Girl, Interrupted syndrome through my teens and early 20s, at least. Yeah, of being like, I’m so special and so tortured.”

The romanticization of female sadness is probably as old as art, but a new glamorously cool presentation of sadness is having a moment. It took some earlier internet forms in the early 2010s, when

Lana Del Ray–esque, coquette–style Tumblr pages could get big numbers posting about being pretty when they cry. However, there are some changes in the aesthetic’s translation to 2023, which more than ever centers around consumerism and commodification.

It has become very common for young women online to express their personal identities through well–tailored lists of

ion era, or her Normal People era, or her Fleabag era, or her Phoebe Bridgers era, or (god forbid) her Sylvia Plath era, she’s subtly signaling and guiding you through the roadmap of her own sadness. These stylishly curated collections of popular media are also some of the quickest ways to suggest hidden depth, and signify in-

In the age of Tiktok, sadness sells.
Illustration: Heaven Cross, Graphics: Ani Nguyen Le

tellectual and social capital on the internet.

It becomes a consumable kind of sadness— of which you can get premium for $9.99 a month! When sadness becomes cool,

perpetuating sadness that comforts rather than confronts. Perhaps songwriter Lucy Dacus, who has long been labeled a “sad girl,” said it best when she tweeted about her frustration with the term: “Sadness can be meaningful but I got a bone to pick with the ‘sad girl indie’ genre, not the music that gets labeled as that, but the classification and commodification and perpetual expectation of women’s pain, also I don’t think my songs are sad, anyways good morning.”

We do a great disservice to the artists we love when we deem their work “sad girl music/books/movies” because we stop valuing them on their own terms. But we’re doing worse to ourselves by transform ing our own mental health struggles into labels and fragmented ideas. The positioning of sadness as a hot new product feeds the kind of corporate mindset which produces a “sad girl starter pack” playlist.

However, this shouldn’t imply that “sad girl core” is an entirely sonic and visual trend: Some critics have found political meaning in it, like artist and writer Audrey Wollen, who says that the act of female suffering is a protest against patriarchy. Yes, the inclusivity of female pain in art and public discourse is radical, but packaging complex emotions and pieces of art into easily consumable bits is anything but. Mental health struggles no longer exist as complex issues that warrant closer care and examination, but stickers and tags decorating a hot new product. This commercialization of sadness erases depth from complex emotions and feelings, subsuming everything into a sea of vague and undefined melancholy. “Sad girl aesthetic” beautifies and simplifies mental health struggles, not to mention presents them as overwhelmingly white. This aesthetic has generally been conquered by white women, from Taylor Swift to Sally Rooney. If we start to mostly understand mental health struggles through white perspectives, this trend isolates more

There’s a capitalist mindset that drives this aesthetic forward; it works to reduce our painful feelings into small, consumable, and generally vibey ideas and internet trends that can be sold. This doesn’t just make you a commercial target, it makes you the product on display. The internet landscape commodifies your emotions, and then sells products shallowly oriented on mental health back to you. Emotional truth isn’t something you can really find online, and when the internet tells you that you can, it may be time to log off.

The current integration of mental health struggles into aspirational identity traits is deeply concerning. The sad girl aesthetic, as all aesthetics are, is ultimately all about how we want to present ourselves to the world. Are we donning the “sad girl” title for some outward image of emotional depth?

It can be truly liberating and vulnerable to place your identi ty within a Taylor Swift song because you know someone else has felt these feelings and that you’re not alone. But over–identification with this art keeps you in a box. It doesn’t let you feel—it tells you how to feel. The natural extension of this trend is a future in which the internet commercializes our feelings so much that we don’t know how we feel without it. And how will any of us know how to talk about our own feelings? How will anybody know how to understand their mental health if they haven’t yet filtered it through Netflix, or Spotify, or Tiktok? ❋


Resonant Frequencies

From biorhythms to body rhythms, these five songs by Eno, Wonder, and Guetta, among others, tap directly into the tempos of human life.

Tempo is everywhere. Lydia Tár says that “time is the thing,” and she’s right: There’s no music without time. There’s also no us without it.

Biorhythms are the cycles regulated by our internal clock: Sleep and waking, body temperature, hormone release. But we’re also walking collections of bio–rhythms, that is to say, rhythms within our bodies. Your heartbeat, your breathing rate, the pace you walk at—each operates on a metronome that has to count just so, otherwise whole systems get thrown for a loop. Music can recalibrate those timers. It can amp us up when we’re feeling too lethargic, or calm us down when things are spinning out of control. With that in mind, I’ve collected five songs that each match a biologically meaningful BPM; from one college student to another, I’ve found they can offer some utility when our lives feel totally unregulated … which is often.

0 Beats per Minute: “Meditation No. 1” by Laraaji and Brian Eno

Snagged on a technicality! So a BPM of zero is technically impossible, but it feels pretty mundane to pin a tempo on this sprawling meditation courtesy of (my fave three–letter crossword answer) Brian Eno and new age forefather Laraaji. On this cut from the duo’s Ambient 3: Day of Radiance, ribbons of Laraaji’s electric zither trail across the endless expanse of Eno’s ambient vista. If there’s an internal rhythm they’re tapping into here, it’s probably closer to our circadian cycles of wakefulness and sleep, or the normal human breathing rate, which hovers right around 12 to 16 breaths per minute. That’s too slow to match any song with an actual beat, but perfectly attuned to the gentle ebb and flow of “Meditation No. 1.” Obviously great for doing yoga as well.

60 Beats per Minute: “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” by Chet Baker

What does heartbreak sound like? In technical terms, you start running the risk of bradycardia once you dip below 60 heartbeats a minute. For those of us who take things less literally, we have Chet Baker.

Ask me what it sounds like to be a boy and down bad, and I’ll tell you Chet Baker Sings. No more so than on “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” which toes the line of cardiac arrest by shuffling along at a languid 60 BPM. Bradycardic people might experience dizziness, weakness, and shortness of breath. Chet’s “full of foolish song and out my song must pour,” asking the object of his affection to “forgive this helpless haze I’m in.” After a while, it might be hard to tell the difference.

80 Beats per Minute: “Teardrop” by Massive Attack

Not only does “Teardrop” hover right around the average human heart rate; there’s an actual human heartbeat buried in the song’s mix. Listen past the crackling vinyl hiss and Elizabeth Fraser’s crystalline melodies, and you can pick up on the persistent “lub–dub,” so close to the one pulsing in your chest that at first, it’s hard to tell where it’s coming from. There’s a profoundly calming aura to this single from Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, but a primordial kind, an eerie kind. Sort of a sonic return to the womb, that impression is furthered by the in utero imagery of “Teardrop”’s classic music video. Everyone wants to return to the womb now and again, and this is a safe space to be open about that.

100 Beats per Minute: “As” by Stevie Wonder

Songs In The Key of Life—it’s hard to think of an album that more earns a spot on this list from just its title. The thing about Stevie Wonder is that there’s hardly an occasion his music isn’t well suited for, but Songs has the power to soundtrack a reinvigorating walk like no other. Mundane, I know, but bear with me. The record’s peak comes along with “As,” which is a) an epic love song all about transcending time itself and b) a cool 100 BPM pacesetter for a brisk, uptempo stroll. 100 beats per minute is also what we call the “‘Stayin’ Alive’ tempo,” which means this is another option to add to your CPR repertoire. Although I hope y’all aren’t thinking about what tunes to throw on before starting chest compressions.

130 Beats per Minute: “When Love Takes Over”

David Guetta feat. Kelly Rowland

Being a David Guetta apologist, it’s not often I get to feel vindicated. And yet, whenever I begin to lose faith in the power of his ego–obliterating bangers, this track reminds me.

“When Love Takes Over” hovers right around 130 beats per minute, which I’m told by Zac Efron in We Are Your Friends—a movie I’m obsessed with but have not seen—is the optimal tempo for getting people out of their heads and into their bodies. The best dance music rides the tension between where the beat falls and where you expect it to fall, and Guetta is a master of that push and pull, stacking his side–chained four–on–the–floor against techno synth pulses to dizzying effect. Kelly Rowland is the star here, though; her rhapsodic house diva turn urges every reveler to sync up and sweat out the sorrow in unison. k


Graphics: Wei–An Jin

ome individuals have comfort people while some have comfort blankets. Others, though, have comfort TV shows. Comfort shows—with their specific storylines, immersive worlds, and fictional charac -

ters that we grow to know so deeply— as a type of emotional support aren’t a foreign concept, but they’re arguably more important now than ever before, given the current climate of the world.

These parasocial relationships we're able to build with characters in TV shows influence us to think these characters are our real

friends. That, in and of itself, can be comforting—especially if someone is feeling isolated or lonely. Looking at comfort shows through the lens of the COVID–19 pandemic sheds a whole new light on their usefulness and necessity.

Many things make comfort shows, well, comforting. Series that viewers have seen at least a couple of times

TV shows and movies are known to provide escapism, but their ability to offer sheer comfort is just as important

before provide a sense of calmness in rewatching over and over again, as the show becomes predictable and thus gives an illusion of control over the storyline. These aspects of predictability and control are essential when thinking about the state of the world today. There's quite a bit of uncertainty, to say the least. Comfort shows, alternatively, give viewers the opportunity to immerse themselves in a universe where they know exactly what will happen. The storylines in the shows never change, no matter how many times you watch them, so there won’t be any surprises.

Another aspect to highlight is the ability certain TV shows have to help the viewer trivialize their own problems and feel better about their own lives. In other words, they’re forced to put their own lives into perspective and reflect on their own reality. This is especially true of shows like Grey’s Anatomy , where catastrophe and earth shattering disaster seem to be at the forefront of each and every episode. Many Penn students cite Grey’s Anatomy as one of their comfort shows—perhaps it’s because the extreme and horrific events portrayed in the show allow the viewer to realize that their problems aren’t as bad as they could be.

On the other hand, sometimes shows are comforting because they allow the viewer to be transported to another world entirely—a world

that’s funny, happy, and a blissful distraction from their everyday lives. If someone is going through a difficult time in their life and they want to run away to a new world where things don’t feel as heavy, TV shows can provide that for them. This is why so many Penn students say their comfort shows include sitcoms such as Friends, The Office , and Parks and Recreation.

ity has turned into something with the potential to be stressful given the fast–paced, pressure–filled world we live in today. There’s so much weighing on people’s minds all the time, and becoming overwhelmed and overstimulated is something that most people can relate to. Just the idea of starting a new TV show can seem daunting, so rewatching ones we have seen before reduces the cognitive load and gives our minds a chance to relax.

Additionally, shows can make people feel less lonely through the parasocial relationships viewers often build with fictional characters on–screen. One Penn student said that they love to put on shows like Gossip Girl (the original, of course) while they're doing their laundry or cleaning their room as a kind of background noise. It makes them feel like they have a friend in the room with them keeping them company. Also, people don’t feel like they have to fully mentally commit to such shows, because they've seen them before and know what happens. Instead, they can start and stop at any episode or season and know exactly what’s happening.

On top of this, they don’t feel like they need to put so much energy into paying attention to every single detail, which can take some of the pressure off of the viewing experience. It’s ironic that a leisure activ -

One student told me that their comfort show was New Girl . When asked why, she said, “It's my comfort show because it's dumb and it makes me laugh every time. I can pick it up or stop at any time and not get lost. I’m also never surprised or in suspense because I know what’s going to happen.” This answer represents so many of the things that comfort shows do for viewers. Yes, branching out and trying new things is good for you, but when it comes to peace of mind, sometimes leaning into the old and familiar can be just as good, if not better. ❋


The wide range of colors and types I’d see on walks through the mountains in North Georgia made it inevitable. Once I discovered Champignouf, a mushroom photo identification app, I was able to recognize the bright red Alice in Wonderland–esque toadstools as the fly agaric, and the seaweed–like, coral fungi emerging on the sides of the paths as ramaria. I was even known among my floormates for my mycology posters and mushroom throw pillows. It was only natural that I’d eventually become interested in psilocybin mushrooms (better known as magic mushrooms or shrooms), which contain a hallucinogenic compound that causes sensory distortion and feelings of euphoria. Some of my happiest memories from my first year involved weekend trips to the woods with my friends, lying on a picnic blanket while watching the leaves swirl in kaleidoscope patterns and the sloping tree trunks shift into brontosaurus necks. I would roll onto the grass and see my body grow roots into the ground. Time in nature has always been the best way for me to decompress, and shrooms are a part of this, helping me connect with the world around me and stay grounded amid the stressors of college life.

My positive experiences with shrooms only furthered my long term desire to eventually experiment with LSD. This interest was -piqued back in elementary school, when my mom explained to me that an LSD trip was the inspiration for the fantastical world in the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” A friend’s reflection after his first acid trip solidified my intrigue: “With shrooms, you are the passenger. With acid, you are the driver.” When the opportunity to try acid finally arose, I seized it—and my trip both challenged me and taught me a lot about myself.

On a sunny and warm Friday morning, I slipped a tab under my tongue and headed over

to a friend’s room, needing a mental reset after a long week of classes. About 45 minutes later, my mind began to lift away from the reality that my body was grounded in. The floor beneath me seemed to breathe, and I used my finger to draw designs in the shaggy carpet, watching them come to life in a myriad of holographic colors.

I put headphones in, turning on a classical playlist recommended by a friend. My sense of sound perception heightened to a level I had never experienced before; I was in a cave, and the orchestra was playing live, reverberating between the walls. While shrooms always feel very natural and organic to me, this was new. My mind was inside a computer that was programming a new reality for me. It was both unsettling and amazing.

Enthralled by the fractal world surrounding me, I suddenly caught a glimpse of a mirror in the corner of my friend’s room. One of the biggest things psychedelic experts warn new users against is looking in the mirror. Some explain that you may see a more honest version of yourself looking back—one that reveals truths you’re not ready to accept. But my curiosity overpowered me and what was to come was both the most anxiety–inducing and impactful moment of my trip.

As I approached the mirror, I saw an older version of myself peering back, flashing in and out with an image of my current self. My hair was shifting from blond to a mousy gray. My ponytail tucked out of sight, I saw my long hair begin to resemble my grandmother’s shorter cut. Wrinkles, splotches, and eye bags appeared on my face. It was jarring.

As I reflect back on that moment, it’s easy for me to realize why that version of myself was so horrifying. My anxieties around getting older have continuously gotten worse as I’ve progressed through college. My younger brother, now a first year in a school across the country, can no longer join my parents in their occasional trips to Philly to see me for dinner. I worry about how I will stay in touch with my friends once we graduate and spread out. The hustle culture at Penn doesn’t help. The constant pressure to pri-

oritize my future and career over everything else can overwhelm me at times.

But the longer I looked at myself in the mirror, the more comfortable I became with the image of an older me. The smile lines around my mouth were no longer just a sign of passing time, but also of all the happiness that was to come. I realized I have a future ahead of me, bursting with children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews with their whole lives spilling out before them. The end of the life and routine I’ve built for myself at Penn will come with new opportunities and the chance to do work that interests me (whatever that might look like). As I looked at my older reflection, I began to realize that amid my nerves, I’m also excited to start the next chapter of my life.

Eventually, my friend broke me out of my trance, tapping me on the shoulder and asking me if I wanted to take a walk outside while there was still daylight. We walked along the Schuylkill, the last glints of the sunlight reflected amber red on the water, bubbling and rotating in what looked like lava erupting out of a volcano. As the skyline began to light up, my mind connected each illuminated window into constellations. As we walked back to Franklin’s Table to pick up falafel, I couldn’t help but laugh. At that moment, life felt a lot less serious.

I woke up the next morning back in reality. But while my daily routine was the same, my mindset felt different. As I headed to Saxbys, the internship cover letters I was writing felt less daunting and more like the start of new opportunities.

I wouldn’t recommend an acid trip to everyone, and I certainly want to emphasize the importance of researching the risks that stem from LSD and the harm reduction tactics necessary to trip safely. Acid made me excited, euphoric, unsettled, anxious, and terrified all at once, but I also found it to be a much needed attitude adjustment. k

Graphic: Esther Lim

Take It to the Streets What to Do in Philly This Month

This month: Queer comedy, Oscars watch parties, and bottomless pancakes (accompanied by a boozy art pop–up show)

Going to college in Philly, we’re so often bombarded—on social media and IRL—with seemingly endless options for how to spend our free time. So I’m delighted to announce that Street has done the hard part for you: We’ve rounded up what we think are the can’t–miss events for the month (and you can expect more of these in the months to come) in one convenient place. If I’ve done my job right, there’ll be something in here for every one of our readers, no matter what you like to do with your weekends.

Mar. 2: SZA @ Wells Fargo Center

After releasing her much–awaited sophomore album SOS , R&B artist SZA is stopping at the Wells Fargo center for her SOS Tour. Grappling with themes of toxic love, loneliness, and retribution, SZA’s critically acclaimed album would be even better performed live.

Resale tickets starting at $230, doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m., 3601 S Broad St.

Mar. 4 – Mar. 12: Philadelphia Flower Show @ Pennsylvania Convention Center

Let spring bloom at the Philadelphia Flower Show! There’s no doubt you’ll leaf here feeling ready for spring. So petal over with pollen your friends to see the biggest and brightest flowers of the seasons!

$30 with student ID, various times, 1101 Arch St.

Mar. 5: The Gays of March @ Punchline Philly

What does this have to do with the Ides of March? We have no clue, but it’ll

be fun anyway! This queer comedy conjuncture features stand–up, burlesque, music, and games, as well as “goof, glee, merriment, and a gay bee.”

21+, tickets from $20 for general admission, doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m., 33 E Laurel St.

Mar. 5 – May 21: Sue Williamson & Lebohang Kganye: Tell

Me What You Remember @ The Barnes Foundation

The newest Barnes Foundation exhibit explores the legacy of apartheid through the work of Sue Williamson and Lebohang Kganye in a series of films, photographs, installations, and textiles that consider how the stories our elders tell us shape family narratives and personal identities.

$5 with student ID, various times, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy.

Mar. 10 – Jul. 9: Terence Nance: Swarm @ ICA

Celebrate the first solo show of Terence Nance at the Institute of Contempo -

rary Art. The exhibition highlights the artist’s experimentation in film, video, television, sound, and performance during the ten–year period spanning 2012 to 2022.

Free, 118 S 36 St.

Mar. 11: Culture Fest @ Penn Museum

Come down to the Penn Museum for a daylong festival celebrating female and femme creatives from around the Philadelphia area. This event is part of the Penn Museum’s CultureFest! series, which is highlighting the many cultures in the city with themed events that showcase local creatives and community organizations. Grab some friends and spend the day watching live performances, engaging in hands–on workshops, and discussing feminine power and creativity.

Free for Penn students, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 3260 South St.

Mar. 12: 10th Annual Oscars Party and Screening @ Philadelphia Film Society

Join the Philadelphia Film Society for the most celebrated night of the year! Attend the 10th Annual Oscars Party & Screening to witness Michelle Yeoh’s yet-another conquest, while enjoying an open bar, hors d’oeuvres and food tasting stations, as well as the 95th Academy Awards on the biggest screen in center city!

21+, general admission tickets starting at $75, 7:30 p.m., 1412 Chestnut St.

Mar. 12: Keshi @ The Met Philadelphia

Multi–instrumentalist and singer keshi first rose to prominence with songs such as “Like I Need U” and “Right Here” beginning in 2017. After releasing his debut studio album GABRIEL last March, his To Hell and Back tour is coming to Philly on March 12.

General Admission tickets from $92, doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m., 858 N Broad St.

Mar. 21: Care of Collections, A Conversation between Jennifer


A. Thompson and Lynn Marsden-Atlass @ Arthur Ross Gallery

Have you ever wondered how museums and galleries care for their priceless collections and develop sustainable approaches to long–term exhibition?

Tune in for a conversation between Jennifer A. Thompson, head of the European Painting and Sculpture Department at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Lynn Marsden–Atlass, executive director of the Arthur Ross Gallery and Curator of the University of Pennsylvania Art Collection. Webinar option available upon registration.

Free, 5:30 p.m., 220 S 34 St.

Mar. 24: The Pancakes & Booze Art Show @ Underground Arts

For just $10 a ticket, you can go to the Pancakes & Booze pop–up art show: eat endless (yes, endless) pancakes and see the work of over 75 emerging local artists. Feel free to indulge in other

activities like body painting, or enjoy the live performances from Philadelphia–area DJs. The iconic Pancakes & Booze popup has appeared in over 35 cities within 10 years—you don’t want to miss this event!

21+, tickets for $10, doors and show at 8 p.m., 1200 Callowhill St.

Mar. 23 – April 2: Philly Theatre Week @ Theatre Philadelphia

If you’re a fan of live theater, this 10–day–long event series is the ideal way to watch shows and participate in 60+ interactive events that showcase Philadelphia’s long and storied history as a creative center for numerous artists. This series is an affordable and fun way to spend a day (or multiple), and all events will be listed on the Philly Theatre Week website.

Pay what you can, multiple times, 1315 Walnut St., Suite 732.

Mar. 30: Harry Potter Trivia Night @ Imprint Beer Co.

Do you consider yourself to be a solid Harry Potter fan with trivia-worthy knowledge? Come to Imprint Beer Co. on March 30 for five rounds of Ordinary Wizarding Levels, meet your fellow potterheads, and venture back to the magical world that once swooned each and every one of us!

Free, reservation required, 7 p.m., 1500 Industry Road, Suite R, Hatfield.

“I’m like really bad with names and faces, so I forgot her name and her face.”


Why Does It Matter Who Gets the Oscar?

The Oscars are having an identity crisis.

Over the last decade, they’ve been called out of touch, too populist, too pretentious, self–serving, and far far too white. The organization reportedly went through a collective period of soul–searching after #OscarsSoWhite landed in national headlines, and efforts to diversify the new voting body have sent its tastes swinging between generationally defining and socially propulsive films like Moonlight and Parasite , and whatever you’d like to call Green Book

But although celebrations of non–white narratives represent changing tastes in storytelling, those trends don’t always apply to the marginalized bodies that occupy those stories. This is particularly egregious at the Oscars: Only four men of color have won lead acting awards, and Halle Berry is still the only woman of color to win a leading actress award in 95 years.

This is why it was inspiring when, on Tuesday morning, Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian woman ever nominated for the Best Actress Award, for A24 smash hit Everything Everywhere All At Once. This science fiction tale about a Chinese immigrant mother falling

apart and pulling herself back together again has put Yeoh at the forefront of the awards conversation. After conquering world cinema in films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Crazy Rich Asians but still failing to please Hollywood insiders, she’s finally in that rarified space of self–congratulatory award shows.

Whatever your opinion of the Oscars (boring, out of touch, too white), it’s hard to deny the power of this narrative. Yeoh will chase award show glory on the power of Asian and Asian American cinema—far too long dismissed and regulated to the back of the Hollywood ballroom. There’s a bittersweetness to these nominations that Yeoh herself has often mused on, the joy of making progress contrasted with the weight of carrying everyone else who has come before you.

Michelle Yeoh is a frontrunner partly

The debate over race on the awards stage is a microcosm of race debate in Hollywood.

on the power of her outsider status. But on the morning the nominations were announced, Hollywood proved that it was just as interested in rewarding insiders.

The most shocking moment of the announcements was the nomination of little–known British character actress Andrea Riseborough. An Oscar for an acting performance is voted on and bestowed by an actor’s peers. This means that the respect and admiration of your fellow actors is what gets you that little gold man. That admiration of fellow actors is what catapulted Riseborough into the Oscar conversation in the span of about two weeks.

Riseborough’s surprise nomination came at the apex of the year’s strangest and most

surreal campaign. She starred in To Leslie, a film following an alcoholic mother who wins the lottery and squanders her spoils. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry: It made $27,000 at the box office, just around half the salary of the average Penn grad.

Riseborough’s movie didn’t have the money for a traditional campaign, but it did have an army of Hollywood A–listers. Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, and Kate Winslet all posted adoring paragraphs to social media, held screenings, and even moderated interviews with her. Oddly, most of these posts had similar language, suggesting a cut–and–paste situation—but To Leslie can only be called a “small film with a giant heart” so many times. Was this some kind of conspiracy? Blackmail? A case of movie stars lacking a wide range of adjectives?

The answer, of course, is more familiar. Riseborough and her director Michael Morris are well–respected industry veterans. Riseborough is something of an actor’s actor, meaning she’s your favorite actor’s favorite actor. It turns out that money isn’t everything if you’re pals with Jennifer Aniston.

But Riseborough’s surprise nomination seems to have come at a price. Many of her celeb friends posted about how Black actresses like Danielle Deadwyler ( Till ) and Viola Davis ( The Woman King ) were guaranteed a nomination, but that narrative didn’t stick when the results were announced. It’s impossible to say that an actress could replace another in the race: Nothing is ever guaranteed at an award show, but the absence of any Black nominees was startling when coming from an industry that preaches dedication to racial equality, but can never back it up.

It’s underscored by the knowledge that Davis and Deadwyler did everything right when it came to

campaigning for that award: the right dinners, dresses, interviews, and precursor awards. There have been celebrities in the press praising Riseborough’s “grassroots” campaign in favor of traditional pushes, but it’s hard to call a campaign created entirely in an insular group of very famous friends “grassroots.” It’s also worth considering if this type of campaign could produce the same results for Black performers.

So does this feel–good narrative about the industry supporting one of its most underrated performers really feel good?

And if a Black actress, like Davis or Deadwyler, does everything that they are “supposed to do” on the campaign trail and is still turned away in favor of a white actor with a lot of friends, can they ever get in? Will this system ever reward Black women?

The Hollywood machine is made to insulate itself from the possibility of change. The Riseborough nomination did not come from a desire to recognize inequity in campaigning, but from the traditional impulse of a very white voting body to rely on their networks and friends to tell them how to vote. Given that the Academy has pledged to promote actors of color, it’s important to realize that handing out one consolation prize a year to promote “representation” in the industry does not rectify institutional desires to favor whiteness.

Awards recognition is a sign of respect from your industry and your peers. The Oscars tell us, each year, what ideas and which people the most popular and famous members of our largest media industries consider valuable. So when will Hollywood consider women of color valuable?

If there’s any justice in the world, they will on March 12. Michele Yeoh puts it best: “Please frigging give me the Oscar, man.” ❋


Jhené Aiko Covertly Rejects Cultural Escapism On ‘Trip’

According to Aiko, the best way out is through.

After R&B singer Jhené Aiko lost her older brother Miyagi in 2012, she spent the next five years losing herself. Whether it was abusing controlled substances, immersing herself in meaningless relationships, or jetting across the world to escape her feelings, there wasn’t much she wouldn’t do to find solace from her suffering.

Her album Trip details her full experience processing this loss—including everything she did to avoid the pain, even if she’s no longer proud of it. As a result, on the first listen, it may seem to glorify the fleeting highs found in drugs and love, as many other artists in the music industry do. Yet, throughout the album, Aiko references the void that remains without her brother. Rather than completely avoid the sensitive topic of escapism, Trip

seemingly embraces it, only to firmly renounce it in the end—setting Aiko apart from other R&B artists. The very structure of Aiko’s album reveals that any relief borne from these methods is only temporary.

Popular R&B artists such as The Weeknd and Chance the Rapper fall into the trap of portraying substance abuse as a valid way to run away from the noise of everyday life. On their songs “Can’t Feel my Face” and “Smoke Break,” they talk about employing various drugs as a means of stress relief or an artificial confidence boost. Portraying these harmful methods of “recovery” in popular music distinctly impacts their audience’s social response to their personal woes. As outlined in a study conducted by JAMA Pediatrics, humans learn by example. Coupled with America’s idolization of celebrities, as we consider their

actions as markers of what’s “acceptable” or what’s “taboo,” famous artists portraying drugs in such a positive light only normalize and promote substance abuse. This rhetoric has adverse health effects on the entire population, beginning with the adolescents that frequently listen to such music.

Aiko takes a different stance. Though her music also heavily discusses these drugs, she differs significantly in one key aspect: Her album doesn’t portray them in a positive light, being sure to ground every fleeting high with an impactful, more permanent low. Instead, she encourages introspection and self–evaluation from her listeners, all to further their journeys of true personal healing.

Aiko uses a few methods to combat the glorification of escapism. The very structure of her album is set up to illustrate her path

Illustration: Sophie Cai

through the pain. The album begins on a somber note, with a brief interlude giving way to the melancholic melodies of “Jukai.” Then, as she begins to lean into avoidant tendencies, there’s a brief period where Aiko is caught up with a toxic love interest, who temporarily allows her to forget the pain of losing her brother. However, similar to the honeymoon phase, this sense of euphoria doesn’t last for long.

Aiko quickly falls back into a depressive state that leads her to experiment with powerful drugs. There’s a stark contrast between these deceptively sweet songs and the horrors described on “Nobody,” “Overstimulated,” and “Bad Trip,” which directly follow this romantic high. The ambiance of “Bad Trip” is the most disquieting of the entire album: a combination of singing, talking, screaming, and crying as a whistle shrieks hauntingly in the background. At this point in the album, the listener feels the full intensity of her pain, empathizing with the deceitful nature of these substances. Though she is discussing these drugs in great detail, it’s hard to say that she’s attempting to promote their use.

Then, the back end of the album experiences a dramatic shift in lyricism and sound, as Aiko frees herself from her vices. There’s a distinct, lasting sense of optimism through the final song. “Sing to Me” is the point of her biggest revelation, in which she embraces her role as a mother with a new vigor instead of succumbing to the temptations of escapism.

Aiko has confirmed this analysis in a viewpoint in Rolling Stone, where she discussed neglecting her first daughter while she was leaning heavily into problematic tendencies. “I feel like there were times where I felt like I wasn’t giving [Namiko] as much attention, because I was just so out of it and trying to escape everything,” she says.

Listening to this album, it’s possible to ignore Aiko’s underlying message. We’ll inevitably all have problems that we wish we could avoid—ranging from a tough day at school to the loss of a family member. Instead of using societally popularized methods to escape the pain, we should take cues from Aiko. As she demonstrates throughout Trip, attempting to escape our problems is futile.

They’ll catch up in the end, and as the famous saying goes: The best way out is through. ❋

CULTURE 4014 Walnut • Live Music • Film • Dance Theater • Art Education • Community Enhance your Penn experience, check out The Rotunda! The Rotunda is a community-gathering place that is fueled by the belief that art is a catalyst for social change and that the arts can lead to the formation of meaningful partnerships between Penn & surrounding neighborhoods. As an alcohol-free, smoke-free venue, The Rotunda provides a critical social alternative for all ages. Please check out for something different every day. Find us on Facebook @TheRotundaPhilly Find us on Instagram @The_Rotunda_Philly Catering 0 Delivery 0 Takeout 4040 Locust St.

The Rise and Fall of Boy Bands

Exposing the exploitation and hardships endured by seemingly perfect young pop stars

seeing the artistry of the band. Simon Cowell, for example, orchestrated the creation of One Direction on X–Factor, signed them onto his label, and acted as manager until their dissolution.

Boy bands. You either love them or you hate them. Growing up in the 2010s, it was fairly common to see young girls’ walls splattered with One Direction posters or hear them listening to 5 Seconds of Summer songs on repeat. Something about the craze is intoxicating: car rides spent debating with your friend who the best band member is, or watching interviews and trying to guess when the next album would be released. But behind the thrilling fandom lie harsh realities about the life these young men lived off the stage.

The term “boy band” is flexible. Most of the time, boy band members don’t play instruments; they sing and dance, with the occasional strumming of a guitar. Some coin the term as groups made up of “indus-

try plants”—artists who are signed into a record label at a young age and overseen by a dominating CEO. But most often, boy bands are known as a group of young, attractive male singers whose music targets a young female audience.

As one of the fastest growing artists of all time, many argue that the Beatles were the original boy band, due to the highly enthusiastic response they received from their female audience. The Beatles were the first to incite the level of fan frenzy that is commonly seen today—a hysteria then officially labeled “Beatlemania.” Though still heavily debated, most critics agree that The Beatles laid the groundwork for the future of boy bands.

A second wave of boy bands emerged around the 1990s with *NSYNC, New Kids on the Block, and the Backstreet Boys. Known for their charming personalities and upbeat lyrics, many experts consider the '90s the true era of boy band popularity. We recently saw the rise of boy bands again in the 2010s with Big Time Rush, the Jonas Brothers, 5 Seconds of Summer, and most notably, One Direction. They incited the most intense fan frenzy of all relevant eras, with fangirls camped outside concert venues and hotels just to get a glimpse of the band members. Meet and greets were sold out in seconds, and fanfiction stories scattered across the internet.

Boy bands are typically seen as “factory–produced” with a record label CEO or talent manager bringing them together and over-

This “big man” mentality is actually extremely dangerous, with several money–related scandals emerging during these artists’ rise to fame. In 1998, the Backstreet Boys were shocked to find their beloved manager, Lou Pearlman, had been withholding money from them for years. Though Pearlman had acquired $10 million in revenue, the band members only received a cumulative $300,000, with one of them revealing that another member could barely afford their rent. Pearlman proceeded to do the same thing to *NSYNC, cheating them out of money for years. These rich CEOs deceive their clients by playing the role of a father figure, preying on these young men’s naiveté and then exploiting them for personal gain.

Additionally, band members are pushed to the edge with extremely long tours, concerts on back–to–back nights, and a personal life constantly invaded by fans and paparazzi. This type of career can be exhausting and quite damaging to their mental and physical health. Several bigtime boy band members have admitted to feeling pressure to portray perfection and live up to the expectation their fanbase and bosses have for them. In a Vulture focus piece, Joe Jonas says, “We didn’t want to disappoint anyone—our parents, our fans, our employers—so we put incredible pressure on ourselves, the kind of pressure that no teenager should be under.”

This immense pressure has been parroted by other boy band members, with Zayn Malik of One Direction admitting that being on tour caused him great anxiety and triggered his eating disorder. “The workload and the pace of life on the road, put together with the pressures and strains of everything going on within the band had badly affected my eating habits … I didn’t feel like I had control over anything else in my life, but food was something I could control,” he says. Zayn departed from the band in 2015, a huge shock to fans who had

"daddies are not all tops. they can be subs."

no idea that he was suffering.

Pushed to his breaking point by his crime–ridden boss, Brian Littrell of the Backstreet Boys sacrificed his physical health for the upkeep of the band. In 1998 he was told he needed open–heart surgery. Brian tells Rolling Stone that “[he] delayed surgery twice because of the tours … it was like nobody really cared or felt that it was important, because the career was moving on.” Just eight weeks after this surgery, Brian was back onstage performing, though he has admitted that he didn’t feel at all ready to return. Oxygen tanks were even kept near the stage at all times for Brian to use throughout the show.

The fan hysteria that surrounded these bands led to internal strain as well. The intensity of the “Directioner” fandom affected the friendship between band members Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles. Fans

were convinced that the two were in a secret relationship, ship–named “Larry.” The two boys felt as if they couldn’t be themselves without every move they made being micro–analyzed and misread. The two were forced to distance themselves from each other to dodge these false accusations.

The Jonas Brothers infamously wore purity rings, asserting that they were waiting until marriage to have sex for religious reasons. But before it was known what these rings meant, fans went crazy with speculation that the boys were married or in a cult. The brothers have said that they never felt comfortable with the media attention surrounding their rings and that it caused strain between them. The Jonas Brothers split up in 2013, partially due to this controversy.

So while music critics can continue to call

boy bands “shallow,” we must be sensitive to the hardships these young men endured in order to create a fantasy for their fans. The idolization of these stars shaped many teenagers’ childhoods, but it seems like sometimes people forget that these stars are just kids, too. While we listened to their songs, they were the ones spending hours in the studio instead of going to high school or college. While we attended a few of their concerts, they were the ones spending months on end away from family for worldwide tours.

Boy bands. You either love them or you hate them, but no matter what, you should respect them. Laugh at your middle school obsessions, cringe at old songs you used to love, but always remember to thank them for bringing us along on the craziest ride of our lives. k

Illustration: Esther Lim

In the summer of 2016, construction workers stumbled upon a mystery while performing centennial renovations on the historic Thomas Evans building in Penn Dental Medicine. “My phone rang one day that summer, and Elizabeth Ketterlinus, senior associate dean, announced that construction workers had located two boxes in the [Penn Dental Medicine] basement that might be of interest. An hour later, I was perusing their contents,” says Lynn Marsden–Atlass, director of the Arthur Ross Gallery, remembering the start of a nearly decades–long artistic mystery.

Alongside the old photographs was an unframed canvas; its subject was entirely obscured by darkened varnish that had accumulated after years of neglect. Only three letters, hastily scrawled in red paint, could be discerned: G. Co. “Having previously taught 19th–century French art in the museums in Paris, I suddenly realized I had seen this signature before,” says Marsden–Atlass. She suspected that this unassuming canvas could actually be a lost painting by the famed realist painter Gustave Courbet.

The painting was sent to conservator Barbara Ventresco a few weeks after its discovery, who restored the work to unveil a waterfall and grotto landscape. The three letters were indeed revealed to spell out a full signature: G. Courbet. In the fall of 2016, André Dombrowski, associate professor in the History of Art Department at Penn, and the late Joseph Rishel,

a curator at the Rodin Museum at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, examined the art and recommended contacting the Institut Gustave Courbet in Ornans, France, to submit a request to authenticate the canvas.

In 2018, fine art analysts sampled and analyzed the pigments and canvas, finding that the palette of the work was consistent with that used by Courbet during his career. Finally, after years of rumination, on May 17, an email from Sébastien Fernier, secretary of the Institut Gustave Courbet confirmed the findings: “It’s a Courbet, congratulations!”

Entitled La Source du Lison , the lost river landscape is one of many that Gustave Courbet painted of his native Franche–Comté. Though far tamer than the provocative and political paintings Courbet is notorious for, such as The Origin of the World , La Source du Lison can likewise be read as a socio–political commentary on the environment and gender. Dombrowski noted that Courbet was part of groups demanding the preservation and more careful geological study of sites like the Lison source, then under much threat from growing industrialization. Courbet presents a close–up of the waterfall as untouched and pristine in order to invoke an image of a pure Earth and intentionally excludes the mills and factories directly on the Lison.

Alternatively, based on Courbet’s history of sexualizing nature and water, we could contextualize The Source of the Lison

as “a figment of the 19th century male artistic imagination, a sexual fantasy that maps the female body onto a remote landscape,” says Dombrowski.

Still, how did a rare Courbet find itself in a box at Penn’s Dental School? The answer lies in the story of a famed dentist— and unlikely collector.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Thomas Evans was renowned across Europe as the premier royal dentist of the late 19th century. Evans amassed wealth and fame amongst royal courts for his usage of nitrous oxide, colloquially known as laughing gas. Awarded the Legion of Honor by Napoléon III, Evans also played important roles in French and American politics. He quickly amassed wealth from his medical practice, as well as favors from his aristocratic clients, permitting his eventual acquisition of La Source du Lison

Upon his death in 1897, Evans dedicated his estate to establishing the Thomas W. Evans Museum & Dental Institute, which was formally founded at the University of Pennsylvania in 1915 to house dental classes as well as Evans’ collections of art. However, in the spring of 1967, the museum was closed and the collection was placed in storage to make way for a dental clinic, landing the Courbet in a back closet at the Dental School—to be found half a century later.

So, next time you find yourself in a back room at Penn, remember to check each and every corner. You might just uncover a long–lost artistic masterpiece. ❋


Laughing Gas and Landscapes: The Mystery of a Lost Courbet

How an unexpected discovery in the basement of Penn Dental led to a major new exhibition at the Arthur Ross Gallery.

Illustration: Jojo Buccini, Graphic: Ani Nguyen Le

Mommy('s Aesthetic) and Me

For many “mom lifestyle” influencers, there are content hallmarks that their audiences expect to see: workout clothes, kale smoothies, anti–aging moisturizers, and a cute toddler roaming around the back of the frame. For some mommy bloggers, their child is the centerpiece of a marketing machine; however, for others, their kids are only an add–on to a pre–established aesthetic.

It has been widely discussed how mommy bloggers exploit their children to grow their online presence and cash in on sponsorship checks. But another aspect of this exploitation is how some moms seem more interested in using their babies to cultivate their own brand than to have their child enjoy the limelight as the star of the show. Just like “millennial pink” became the backdrop for an era of social media content, adorable children are now supplemental components of moms’ brands and curated aesthetics.

One TikTok mom, Camille Munday (who was also a player in the Utah Mormon MomTok scandal), uses her one–year–old daughter Lennon as an accessory in her content. Prior to Lennon’s birth, much of Munday’s TikTok presence was clips of her hanging out with other Utah MomTokers like Taylor Paul and Miranda McWhorter or videos in which Munday dances while responding to negative comments about being a young stepmom to her husband’s two kids. Now, Munday has Lennon act as her background dancer. In “day of my life” vlogs, Lennon’s a recurring guest star in Munday’s daily tasks.

On Instagram, Munday and Paul specifically dress and post their children primarily in neutral tones that perfectly fit their feeds, like furniture or artwork in a home. They’re always happy, smiley, and posing perfectly for photos, likely without the knowledge that their smiles are being monetized and shown to hundreds of thousands of people. Their matching outfits maintain the clean 2020s aesthetic that these moms are aiming for, and by using their kids, they can expand their audience from just lifestyle or fitness bloggers into the mommy blogger space. By posting their children

online, these influencers are diversifying their portfolio and therefore expanding their opportunities for brand deals and their avenues for income.

Mommy influencer and The Bachelor alum Lauren Luyendyk also uses her three children as accessories in her online content. Her kids, despite being all under the age of four, have their own, active Instagram accounts. Luyendyk’s oldest, three–year–old Alessi, has 320,000 followers on Instagram, with her parents writing witty captions for her posts in the voice of Alessi. One of Alessi in a dinosaur costume is captioned: “i came. i

How influencer moms create careers from their children’s cuteness
Illustration: Esther Lim

saur. i conquered.” A picture of her with a huge snow cone reads “cute pic, right? 2 seconds later I dumped it all over the table.” Alessi’s account even includes business partnerships, with one of her posts being sponsored by the brand Plum Print. Commenters follow along with the ruse, with one writing, “This is such a great idea! Thank you Alessi!!” Of course, the money made from these sponsorship deals goes to Luyendyk and her husband Arie, not Alessi; she’s just an asset of the Luyendyk influencer brand.

By refusing to make their children the focal point of their content, these mommy influencers can escape some of the harsher critiques that other, more exploitative moms do. If your child is purposefully standing in the corner of your TikToks as opposed to being the star, that makes it more ethical, right? And if Alessi Luyendyk’s account is run by her parents to help boost the overall “family brand,” then it’s all in good fun? The answers to these questions seem to be more complicated than many of these mommy bloggers are prepared to admit.

It’s not a crime to post pictures of your children on Instagram. Part of being a successful influencer is giving followers a peek into one’s lifestyle, and for these influencers, their lifestyles are shaped by their roles as mothers.

That said, it’s particularly slimy—to say the least—to use kids in the same way they would use a pet dog or a nicely decorated room in their house, almost as if to say, “Look how cute this coffee table is—buy it!” Is that not the same as saying, “Look how cute my kid is—buy the shirt he’s wearing!” They’re not putting their kids to work, but instead, they are using their daily lives as branded content.

And almost always, these kids are too young to understand what a brand is, much less that they are a part of one. If these mommy bloggers’ kids can’t say “spon–con,” maybe they should focus on the ABCs before being forced to become pint–sized influencers. k

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