December 7, 2021

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Letter from the 'Penn, Interrupted' EdiOn getting old, looking back, and writing it all down

6 Glee, Wig, and Gender Inclusion?

8 A Tale of Two Cities

11 A Playlist for 2021

12 On Being Black @ Penn

14 Stretch Marks and Self Acceptance


rang in 2021 sitting on the couch in my childhood home in White Plains, New York. It was me, a glass of sparkling apple cider, my nuclear–family–turned–COVID–bubble, and Ryan Seacrest, performing for a dystopian–looking, empty Times Square on national television. Brutal. It’s safe to say the verdict on 2020 was unanimously horrendous. It’s hard to separate that year from the isolation and fear wrought by the early months of the pandemic. Not to mention the devastating upheaval that was the abrupt cancellation of in–person school. 2021, though, graced us with a bit more nuance than her predecessor. It was a year of standing apart and coming back together—of building up immunity, breaking routines, and bracing for a brave new world. In the span of a year, COVID ravaged our campus, then vaccines paved the way for our return. First years and sophomores moved into dorms in August, many of them seeing campus for the very first time. Hurricane Ida swamped Philly, forcing Penn to cancel classes for an unprecedented “flood day.” Students marched on Locust Walk, demanding action from the University on issues from a violent assault at Castle to the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. We danced at fraternity parties and ate at Wawa and made out with strangers. We watched a televised insurrection and in–person commencement. Things got better, and then they got worse. “Normalcy” crystallized, yet only under the confounding specters of climate change, COVID–19, injustice, and overwhelming change. For our last issue of 2021, Street presents “Penn, Interrupted”: a journalistic retrospective on what it means to exist as a college student while the world is on fire. We interview campus activists on the path forward to fossil fuel divestment and racial justice. We reflect on grieving the loss of family members, getting older, and growing to love ourselves. We attempt­—as best as we can—to freeze this mo-

34TH STREET EXECUTIVE BOARD Beatrice Forman, Editor–in–Chief: Chelsey Zhu, Campus Editor: Mehek Boparai, Culture Editor: Karin Hananel, Assignments Editor: 34TH STREET EDITORS Eva Ingber, Features Editor Angela Shen, Features Editor Julia Esposito, Word on the Street Editor Aakruti Ganeshan, Focus Editor Emily White, Focus Editor Hannah Lonser, Style Editor Maddie Muldoon, Ego Editor Peyton Toups, Music Editor Walden Green, Arts Editor Arielle Stanger, Film & TV Editor Denali Sagner, Special Issues Editor Jesse Zhang, Multimedia Editor Kira Wang, Audience Engagement Editor 2

34TH STREET STAFF Features Staff Writers: Sejal Sangani, Angela Shen, Mira Sydow, Amy Xiang, Meg Gladieux, Emilee Gu, Tara Anand, Avalon Hinchman Focus Beat Writers: Rema Bhat, Jean Paik, Gabrielle Galchen, Naima Small, Leandra Archibald Style Beat Writers: Kira Wang, W. Anthony Perez, Anna Hochman, Rachel Ker, Joanna Shan Music Beat Writers: Evan Qiang, Fernanda Brizuela, Derek Wong, Grayson Catlett, Treasure Brown Arts Beat Writers: Jessa Glassman, Roger Ge, Irma Kiss Barath Film & TV Beat Writers: Harshita Gupta, Jacob A. Pollack, Sneha Parthasarathy, Heather Shieh, Cindy Zhang Ego Beat Writers: Anjali Kishore, Alana Bess, Saya Desai, Sheil Desai Staff Writers: Kathryn Xu, Emily Moon, John Nycz, Kate Ratner, Kayla Cotter, Mame Balde, Shelby Abayie, Vidur Saigal

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ment in time, fossilizing its sorrow as well as its hope. 2021 has been remembered in the stories we’ve written, the pictures we’ve taken, and the Instagram “photo dumps," TikToks, and Tweets we’ve shared with the world. For me, it’s been chronicled in this little magazine that you, reader, hold in your hands right now. This may very well be the last thing I write in 34th Street Magazine. In a few weeks, I’ll pass the torch to the magazine’s next special issues editor, whoever that may be. In five months, I’ll cross Franklin Field in a cap and gown and will pack my cluttered little bedroom on 41st Street into boxes. In a few years time, there will be no one left in the stacks of Van Pelt or the booths of Allegro Pizza who remembers this era of “Penn, Interrupted.” Maybe that’s a good thing. With that, I’ll leave you with Street’s very own time capsule: our remembrance of what we’ve lost, gained, and learned in this lap around the sun. Jury’s still out on whether it’s been a good or a bad one, but it’s certainly been something. A journalist can never complain about that.

One last time, SSSF,


Multimedia Associates: Dhivya Arasappan, Sage Levine, Sophie Huang, Samantha Turner, Sudeep Bhargava, Sukhmani Kaur, Roger Ge, Andrew Yang, Mason Dao, Sheil Desai, Derek Wong, Evie Eisenstein, Andrea Barajas, Rachel Zhang, Sofika Janak, Sneha Parthasarathy Audience Engagement Associates: Sneha Parthasarathy, Adrien Wilson–Thompson, Kayla Cotter, Vidur Saigal, Heather Shieh, Caleb Crain, Saya Desai MULTIMEDIA Multimedia Associates: Dhivya Arasappan, Sage Levine, Sophie Dai, Sophie Huang, Samantha Turner, Sudeep Bhargava, Liwa Sun, Sukhmani Kaur, Alexandra Morgan–Lindo Audience Engagement Associates: Yamila Frej, Saya Desai, Sneha Parthasarathy, Adrien Wilson-Thompson, Kayla Cotter, Vidur Saigal, Heather Shieh, Caleb Crain

r Kliem on by Tyle i t a r t s u Ill

Copy Editor: Brittany Darrow Design Editor: Isabel Liang Cover Design by Lilian Liu Contacting 34th Street Magazine: If you have questions, comments, complaints or letters to the editor, email Bea Forman, Editor-In-Chief, at forman@34stcom. You can also call us at (215) 422–4640. ©2021 34th Street Magazine, The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. No part may be reproduced in whole or in part without the express, written consent of the editors (but I bet we will give you the a–okay.) All rights reserved. 34th Street Magazine is published by The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc., 4015 Walnut St., Philadelphia, Pa., 19104, every Tuesday. tracks with me


A Culture of Kindness Begins with Our Sources LETTER FROM THE EDITOR–IN–CHIEF | If there’s one thing I’ve learned from running a magazine during a pandemic, it’s that reporting isn’t a transaction. It’s a conversation.


ike most things in my life, the center of my journalism philosophy begins with Taylor Swift: If you start taking the routine interactions of your job for granted, you ought to stop doing it. When Fearless won Album of Year at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards, pop culture pundits liked to make fun of Swift’s astonished face, as though she shouldn’t be too grateful for winning. She’d already won plenty of industry accolades, anyways, so these commendations are basically part of her job. I’d always thought that was a funny notion—that you should stop being earnestly honored or surprised or grateful just because something becomes routine. Part of what drives me to be a journalist, after all, is the crux of the job. It’s the relationship reporters have with their sources, and the trust that comes with it. I want to always feel honored when a source chooses to share a story of trauma with me—be it sexual assault or University discrimination—on the record. I want to stay diligent as I work to hold power brokers accountable. I want to wake up every morning humbled by the awesome responsibility of rebuilding faith in media for marginalized communities and people who’ve never seen their truth reflected in a newspaper. Simply put, I hope to always feel a little awestruck that people trust me to help them tell their stories. And if I start taking that duty for granted, I should probably quit. Admittedly, as newsrooms have been forced to chase more stories and clicks with fewer reporters, journalism has become an industry of exploitation. The Columbia Journalism Review writes of reporters feeling “harried” by the need to churn out multiple stories daily, while Poynter has made an example of journalists at Gannett publications working hours of unpaid overtime under the guise of “gaining experience.” As pressure mounts and burnout becomes evergreen, cutting corners has become common. It’s just unfortunate that one of the first corners reporters are taught to cut has to do with how they treat their sources, especially sources in marginalized communi-

ties that are already underreported on. “Journalism can be a sort of hit–and– run business: Get information from the source, write the story, never talk to the source again,” wrote ProPublica Deputy Midwest Editor Steve Mills in 2018. “That approach can be a bit unkind, I think, and shortsighted.” The quick churn of the news cycle and the never–ending pressure of breaking a story first can turn winding conversations about perennial problems, like gun violence, police brutality, and education disparities in Philly, into transactions. I’ve been there: You wait for your source to

at the expense of embedding reporters in communities, forcing them to refer to the word of police officials over those living through upticks in crime or police brutality, like when The New York Times falsely reported that murders doubled overnight in New York City. And when reporters do take the time to center the issues faced by marginalized groups, we become monoliths defined by fringe issues, like when reporters spread misinformation on mail–in ballots instead of doing nuanced reporting on the problems most important to the Latinx community: the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic, and health care.

Illustration by Isabel Liang give you that intangible something you need—a gripping anecdote, a gem of information, a quotable soundbite—and leave with no explanation. And while that exchange may be convenient for us, it’s damaging to communities we report on. Here people are, talking to us about the thoughts that gnaw at them and the problems synonymous with living. And here we are, reducing it to a line in an article with scant discussion of how it gets there, why it matters, or what comes next. When it comes to reporting on marginalized communities, journalists have to do more than just report the facts to get the story right. Newspapers have spent decades building relationships with law enforcement

Last year, the Inquirer reporter Jessica De Moya Correa shared a Twitter thread that described the shock a reader felt when they saw her shopping at a local grocery store, “where poor people would go to shop for groceries.” The interaction begs the questions: Why are people surprised when a journalist engages with them off hours? And what about our interactions makes our sources believe we care about the stories, but not the people in them? If journalists define their industry as a public service, we must serve the public before our writing gets published. We have to be transparent about our news–gathering process, actively listen to sources, and acknowledge why most communities of color are distrustful of our presence in the first place. Yes, we mustn't give power bro-

kers too much autonomy, but a version of journalism that understands systemic inequalities as a reality knows when to do more. At Street, I’m grateful to have been surrounded by a staff that cares about people as much as it cares about a well–crafted sentence. This year, Assignments Editor Karin Hananel, Campus Editor Chelsey Zhu, and Culture Editor Mehek Boparai worked with me to create a suite of trainings that walked reporters through how to build sustainable, collaborative source relationships. The takeaways? Talk to people when you’re not battling a deadline, explain what it means to be interviewed, and tell them how your conversation improved their reporting. Moreover, we’ve embedded these tips into the pieces we’re most proud of. Chelsey ensured sources weren’t shocked by the quotes used in a feature about Uyghur students protesting the slow erosion of their autonomy, while Special Issues Editor Denali Sagner combed through archives to understand the relationship between experimental medicine and medical distrust in Philadelphia, and ex–Features Editor Lily Stein asked how sources would want our designers to conceptualize the toll of eating disorders. Of course, this magazine still gets things wrong. We’re a teaching organization. We’re constantly learning how to do better, whether it’s using feedback from nonbinary students to change how we visually depict gender issues, or re–examining how we discuss peaceful protests. Still, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made and excited to see how our next board of editors will continue to build relationships around active listening and earnest interest. Of course I’m biased, but I’m hopeful that the next generation of journalists is going to build a new, kinder school of reporting. Maybe that’s because this staff is among them. SSSF 4ever,


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Universities Are Recognizing Their Roles in the Climate Crisis.

More universities have committed to fossil fuel divestment. Why hasn’t Penn? | EVAN QIANG



n the early hours of a warm Thursday morning, Philadelphians woke up to submerged roads, flooded sidewalks, and a brand new canal. What started as a typical late–summer thunderstorm became a billion–dollar disaster and major harbinger of a world, and city, rattled by the effects of climate change. Penn even canceled classes and suspended operations as a result of the unprecedented damage. Hurricane Ida wasn't the first severe weather event to occur in the area, and it won’t be the last. Over the years, Americans of all stripes have grown increasingly concerned about climate change. In 2021 alone, deadly wildfires and extreme temperatures from Texas to Siberia dominated the news cycle. As a response to these crises, governments have pledged to strengthen their emission goals and companies have shifted to more renewable energy sources. Many universities that invest in these companies are also reconsidering their support for organizations in Big Oil. But among peer institutions, Penn stands out by not fully shifting its funding away from fossil fuel companies. Why have some schools like Harvard and Dartmouth announced plans to divest while Penn has not? According to student sustainability groups Student Sustainability Association at Penn 4

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(SSAP) and Fossil Free Penn (FFP), it’s unclear why Penn is an outlier. Marina Dauer (C '22), co–chair of SSAP, says that “Penn [has] unimaginable resources so there’s no reason that we can’t achieve these things.” The movement behind divestment calls for universities to eliminate funding for corporations involved in fossil fuels and divert it to organizations focused on clean energy. While most universities withhold detailed composition of their investments, it is estimated that hundreds of millions of dollars out of Penn’s $20.5 billion endowment are invested in fossil fuel assets. Advocates for divestment believe that abolishing all funding toward fossil fuel use can lead to lower demand for drilling projects and pipeline installations. Rather than promoting paper straws or reusable containers, divestment is seen as a more substantive, long–term solution. SSAP’s other co–chair Vyshnavi Kosigi (C '22) believes a conflict of interest could also play a role in Penn’s unwillingness to divest. The current head of Penn’s Board of Trustees, Scott Bok, is chairman and CEO of Greenhill & Co. According to Vyshnavi, Bok's asset management firm works closely with a variety of fossil fuel projects, including ExxonMobil.

While some advocates see limiting fossil fuel funding as an adequate path forward, Sarah Sterinbach (C '24), a facilitator for FFP, is a proponent for cutting off ties with fossil fuel companies entirely. Those on the opposite end of the table, though, believe that internal pres-


sure, or “fossil fuel engagement,” can be just as effective as divestment. Sarah, though, wants the University to be “nowhere near” the industry. FFP’s coordinator Ari Bortman (E '22) says this also includes not doing research in and preventing students from being funneled into jobs in the sector. In addition to divestment, SSAP has planned a variety of initiatives related to


Penn and climate change. Other requests from SSAP include improving Penn’s current environmental curriculum and reducing plastic usage across campus. While Penn may be lagging on efforts to combat climate change, SSAP and FFP believe that there have been some recent victories in getting support from students, staff, and members of the West Philadelphia community. While SSAP acts as an umbrella organization for 13 sustainability subgroups, its members have begun to shift away from just being an organizational body and towards student activism. Kosigi believes that Penn students' unique positioning and privilege make them specifically suited and responsible for combatting the climate crisis. “People who have the resources to actually help change the trajectory of the climate crisis were not plugged into the activism part of climate change. These one–off protests we did at the Board of Trustees meetings were not bearing any fruit,” Kosigi says. However, “a lot of people at Penn want to be a part of a campaign that is about divestment, justice, and climate.” Due to a prior lack of climate–related events, Kosigi and Dauer organized Penn Climate Week, which started in the fall of last year. “We hosted a series of events called activist hours which focused on individuals and organizations doing activist work in the West Philadelphia community. We had different themes like agriculture, energy, and voting and how Penn students can break out of the Penn bubble.” Kosigi notes that these events are now more important than ever. “The climate crisis is not taking a break,” he adds. Even though FFP and SSAP are solely climate–oriented, climate change is an intersectional issue. Environmental racism and environmental classism relate hazards like pollution and pipelines to social factors like poverty and race. Activist groups must work together in order to fight against the wide–ranging consequences of climate change. Sterinbach mentions FFP’s coalition with other Penn clubs including Police Free Penn and Penn Against the Occupation: “Justice is not just environmental justice or climate justice. We need justice for everyone,” she says. This rise in climate activism has been ac-

knowledged by the University. Penn now sends out emails informing the Penn community of current progress on the Climate and Sustainability Action Plan 3.0, which lays out detailed environmental ambitions up until 2024. Kosigi labels this move as a byproduct of SSAP’s presence on campus. “They didn’t even start sending climate emails to the entire university until SSAP did our first ever forum storm,” he says. In the most recent email sent out in No-

sions. [Penn] specifically and pointedly [excluded] scope 3 emissions, which are an enormous percentage of global emissions.” While scope 1 and 2 emissions are emissions generated by an organization, scope 3 emissions encompass indirect sources linked to that company such as employee commuting and transportation of goods. Thus, “a vast majority of fossil fuels are not counted under the net–zero plan.”


If there’s such a disparity between students and the administration, how do FFP and SSAP envision communication between the groups in the future? Sterinbach proposes democratization, saying that “It’s important that our voices are heard — community voices are heard and not just the wealthy Board of Trustee members.” Adding to Sterinbach’s point, Bortman imagines “student representation and community representation on the Board of Trustees,” as well as “direct election” of the board. FFP has conducted high–profile protests before, including one where 100 members shut down a board meeting in 2019. Despite their protests, the University still fails to listen to their demands. “When the student comes to you with a huge concern, listen and implement change,” Sterinbach says. Transparency is also key for SSAP, whose open forum storms give students the opportunity to speak directly to powerful Penn leaders like Amy Gutmann. SSAP’s approach to advocacy is what Kosigi calls “practivism” and a key differentiator of SSAP’s divestment plan. SSAP “toes the line between aggressive activism and keeping a channel open.” Even still, Kosigi and Dauer believe much more can be accomplished in the fight against climate change. Throughout the pandemic, SSAP and FFP had to shift their activism from in– person programming to virtual events, leading to what Bortman described as more “behind the scenes” planning which did “hurt the efficacy.” However, now that on–campus activities are slowly returning to normal, both student groups are back and more galvanized than ever to continue the fight for divestment. “Penn, get ready,” says Sterinbach. “We’re making our voices heard.”

MARINA DAUER (C '22) vember, Penn announced that they would “thoughtfully incorporate climate change into investment decision making” and that they would “not directly hold investments in companies focused on the production of thermal coal or bituminous (tar) sands.” While this seems like a step in the right direction, both SSAP and FFP point out the email’s ambiguous wording and minimal commitment to effective change. Bortman calls Penn’s language “confusing, long, convoluted, and [unclear]. It had a very self–congratulatory tone. The verbiage seemed to be very clearly calculated so if they were to hold investments in the future, they wouldn’t have absolutely lied. There was an intentional lack of clarity,” he adds. In another email sent in April, Penn announced a goal of net–zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 through carbon offset. Bortman finds this assertion to be problematic. “Carbon offset has been linked to inefficacy and not delivering as promised. The real core of what’s wrong with net– zero by 2050, which is far too late, is that it only covers scope 1 and scope 2 emis-

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A Tale of Two Cities “I

’ve never been to an Atlanta strip club.” I told this to my Uber driver, Keith, as we careened down Market Street, swerving around pedestrians out for a post–midnight stroll. He had wondered where I was from, and I said Atlanta. Keith told me that he visited once, but he could never return. When I asked why, he said that the girls are too beautiful. He'd spent multiple nights out entranced by a single dancer and always left with his pockets empty. “I’d go broke if I went back to those clubs,” Keith said. “But you should go sometime.” I probably won’t, but I thanked him for the recommendation. Next to me, my boyfriend gave me a look that said, "Can you believe this guy?" I shrugged. He’d never been to an Atlanta strip club either. I was born in Pennsylvania Hospital, 783 miles away from Atlanta and four miles away from Penn. I emerged with a black eye, my baby flesh littered with cuts and bruises from prenatally sparring with my mother. The doctors concluded that I wasn’t endangered, just dramatic, and my parents lugged my eight–pound ass from Old City to our home in Morton, a borough of 2,600, a mere 20–minute drive from University City. Morton felt like mud diluted with two inches of snow, smelled like the sap of the oak tree in our front yard, tasted like mac n’ cheese with ketchup drizzled on top. When Morton spoke, it sounded like stroll6

An ode to growing up and coming home | MIRA SYDOW er wheels squeaking on sidewalks, muffled screams of kids who thought a real vampire lived on their street, and the screech of the Regional Rail as it thundered past our house. If you listened closely, you could hear Philadelphia whispering. I’m the only one of the three girls in my family who remembers growing up in Delaware County. There are memories they’ve been told,

take good care of my room. He liked the clouds that my uncle had painted on the ceiling. We built a home in the suburbs of Atlanta, but I was older then. The apartment complex where my parents told my sister and I that we were getting another sibling changed ownership following a shooting. Thoughts of my elementary school teachers, who turned a blind eye to

its complexity—searching frantically for I–85 South. Then, I found my favorite neighborhood parks and hole–in–the–wall vegetarian restaurants. I languished at The King Center, met a Vespa biker gang, and ran my fingers across the spines of classics at the Decatur Book Festival. Philadelphia remained pristine. My family visited my grandparents every

like how my dad, sister, and I would spin around his office with pillows on our heads to the tunes of Trout Fishing in America, or how robins made a nest in our drainpipe and I brought it to school once the chicks had hatched. But no memory is fully theirs. In my last memory of that period, a twenthysomething man who ducked to clear the door frame told me that he’d

mindless doodling and muffled laughter, soured when I later found their unsavory political posts on Twitter. My high school, respite from days at home, was a cesspool of sexual harassment, battles fought and lost. Atlanta was fresh. At first, my hands couldn’t steady the wheel when I navigated Spaghetti Junction—a highway interchange nicknamed for

few years in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and I rode the bumps on the road to their house like a toddler. I shouted “CVS” when I saw a CVS to make five–year–old Mira proud, and I pestered my parents for a drive–by of our old home. For years, I cherished my cities. In March of 2019, Philadelphia became the place

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of my grandfather’s sickness, and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania became his caretaker and captor. He fell at work one day, splitting his hip, and when they cut him open, they found cancer. He passed away later that year, and I flew back to Atlanta alone. The next month, I got into Penn. My grandmother and I cried on the phone, of happiness and grief. The pandemic devastated Atlanta. Between recorded lectures, I watched throngs of unmasked crowds cross the street near Centennial Park and lawmakers hide behind gilded doors as they held a knife to the throat of Georgia’s public health. I saw John Lewis’ casket. When I visited home from college, I stuck solely to my town. Last weekend, my childhood best friend and I took the Market–Frankford Line to H Mart, an Asian supermarket. We got off at 69th Street, the end of the line, trading stories about visiting the H Mart behind our high school. H Mart was the good parts of home: spicy ramen that made your tongue almost fall off, a pit stop for the necessities on the way back from the Atlanta airport, a refuge from family Thanksgiving. Tracing the SEPTA map with my finger, I realized we were pretty close to Morton. I mapped our location to my old home’s address: 15–minute drive. “You should go sometime,” my friend said. I probably will, when I’m ready. At the very least, it’s a better idea than an Atlanta strip club.

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As Performing Arts Groups Examine Their Histories, Progress Remains Uneven While Penn Glee Club successfully merged with Sirens to improve gender equity, Mask and Wig still has work to do before calling itself an inclusive space. | EMILY WHITE


t should come as no surprise that Penn’s founding as an all–white and all–male university still reverberates in its culture today. Two of the University’s oldest performing arts groups—the Penn Glee Club and Mask and Wig—are examples of how these traditions persist, even centuries later. As recently as last spring, neither organization was fully gender–inclusive, each holding onto different remnants of their all–male histories. While Glee has allowed non–men into its tech staff and band for decades, its singers division—who performs at Penn’s Convocation, travels the world for alumni shows, and gets substantial institutional funding—did not follow suit. Mask and Wig, by contrast, has restricted all of its divisions to men since its founding in 1889. These practices began to change after the pandemic forced a pause in typical operations. In the absence of rehearsals and tech weeks, the clubs were finally confronted with big questions about their origins and future: why were they founded, and how could they best accomplish those goals moving forward? It seems that the two organizations had similar, albeit slightly diverging, answers. On April 9, 2021, Penn Glee Club posted to its Instagram that the group had “officially voted to become gender inclusive beginning in the 2021–2022 school year with @pennsirens.” Months later in a Sept. 30 press release, Mask and 8

Wig announced that it would “open its ranks to all genders in the 2022–2023 academic year,” although notably not via a merge with Bloomers. But for organizations with such long and storied histories, inclusion isn’t as simple as casting a wider net in auditions. Both Mask and Wig and Glee must remain committed to reforming not only their audition processes but also their internal cultures. The Glee Club in particular has had a long history of gradual progress. Since its founding in 1862, the now–159–year–old organization continues to grapple with reforming the traditions of a formerly all–male club. While women were able to participate in Glee as non– singers as long ago as the 1950s, with some even rising to positions of leadership in recent years, the singers division has remained consistently male–only. Lynn Ahrens (E ‘22), the current president of Glee, always felt frustrated by this. “It's honestly so heartbreaking to see people interested in Glee and then have to tell them, ‘oh, we only take male singers,’” she says. Because women were still unable to join Glee as singers, Penn Sirens was founded in 2011 to provide the same opportunities for musical performance to women. However, as is the case with many sister groups to all–men’s organizations, its short history meant that it was always playing catch–up, without being

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Illustration by Tyler Kliem, Photos courtesy of Penn Glee Club, Bloomers, and Mask and Wig able to fully access the same resources. “There were pretty significant disparities in terms of being a newer group,” Lynn says. “They had to work that much harder to find gigs and establish connections, and then get that institutional funding.” A turning point came in the 2018–2019 academic year, when Susanna Jaramillo (E ‘19) became Glee’s first woman president after running on a platform of making the club gender inclusive. Around the

same time in 2018, Dan Carsello (C ‘16) was brought in as the interim director of Glee. Susanna, Dan, and others within the club tossed around a few ideas ranging from a complete merge to a partial merge to remaining entirely separate. Sirens, however, wasn’t initially supportive of Glee changing its gender policy. “Sirens leadership in 2018 was not only anti–merger, but anti–Glee Club doing this,” Dan says. By 2020, however, the lead-

ers of both Glee and Sirens were committed to envisioning a more inclusive future— in whatever form it would take. In an internal survey conducted in December of 2020, there was overwhelming support among current students in both clubs for opening Glee to people of all genders, and performing as a soprano, alto, tenor, and bass (SATB) choir. Alumni were a different story. In the process of asking eight decades of Glee’s primarily male alumni for their


“There was some negative reception from some Glee alumni who thought that this was losing the core of the club, losing its history, and really, what it was founded to be." Marina Dauer (C ‘22) perspective on gender inclusion, “there was some negative reception from some Glee alumni who thought that this was losing the core of the club, losing its history, and really, what it was founded to be, in their opinion,” Marina Dauer (C ‘22), the current president of Sirens, says. Ultimately, Glee was able to work out the differences in opinion and form consensus to move forward. By April, it had unanimously voted to open its membership to people of all genders, and make Sirens a subgroup within its ranks. As of this fall, the two clubs have officially begun operating as one. An important aspect of the decision to merge was to be more inclusive of transgender and nonbinary singers, who may have felt uncomfortable with the heavily gendered branding of the separate groups. While Sirens remains an a cappella subset within

Glee, it doesn't label itself as the “women’s choir”—instead using terms like SSAA or soprano and alto vocal ensemble—to remove the gendered assumptions about who sings what and to make it clear that anyone can be a soprano or an alto. The same applies to Pipers, the tenor and bass subgroup within Glee. Lynn recalls a friend who joined Glee after seeing then– president Susanna taking a prominent role in the organization. “Someone that looks like me is on stage, and that’s why I want to join this club,” she recalls her friend saying. Mask and Wig was founded only a few decades after Glee in 1889, making it “the oldest all–male collegiate musical comedy troupe in the United States.” Today, it puts on a variety of shows every year, ranging from a bit–style "Free Show" with Bloomers during NSO to its full–length musical comedy "Annual Produc-

tion" in the spring. But as the pandemic forced the club to pause its performances, the group invested more energy into rethinking its goals. It conducted a comprehensive review of its operations and activities in 2020, which led it to the conclusion that restricting membership to men was out of sync with its goal of “justice to the stage; credit to the university.” “What people hold on to and cherish of their experience of Mask and Wig is the excitement around performing, and fun comedy,” Undergraduate Chair Dean Jones (W ‘22) says. “We think that becoming fully gender inclusive is just a way to perpetuate that for a long term into the future.” With its recent announcement, Mask and Wig has made a commitment to taking in new perspectives and reforming an organization that once might have balked at the presence of non–men in its ranks. However, while this decision might have been long overdue, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the club is ready to be the space that non–men deserve. “Thinking about a historically all–male group, and the traditions, and the norms, and the history, and the culture that you create when you're in an all–male space, was something that was a point of stress and concern for a lot of people—especially people in Bloomers,” Chair of Bloomers Shriya Beesam (C, W ‘22) says. Bloomers, which was originally founded in 1978 to provide opportunities to women interested in sketch comedy, has also had to solidify its mission statement as general understandings of gender have changed. The formerly “all–female” group now brands itself as open to

ABCDs—“anyone but cis dudes”—to reaffirm that trans and nonbinary people also experience marginalization within comedy. Being a club of only cis women didn’t really accomplish its original goal of opening up that space. Students and alumni— members of Bloomers included—have long criticized the offensive and harmful behaviors committed by Mask and Wig in past years. Previous reporting from The Daily Pennsylvanian details allegations that the troupe used blackface in early performances, and allowed racist caricatures to remain on the walls of its downtown Clubhouse. Unfortunately, for an organization founded as an all–white and all–male comedy troupe for a correspondingly all– white and all–male University, such a history doesn’t seem all that surprising. Dean explains that “the Club’s leadership is working closely with local artists and art preservationists to cover and repaint the few caricatures … that were deemed offensive or inappropriate for today’s societal landscape,” but this begs the question: Why has it taken them so long, and who has the authority to decide what even is an “appropriate” caricature? Perhaps it's the comfort of the institutional benefits granted to Penn’s oldest comedy troupe, or merely the privilege afforded to the overwhelmingly rich, white, and male faces of Mask and Wig’s leadership throughout the years, that has given it cover for so long. But as the pandemic provided time to reflect, the organization was faced with increasingly difficult inquiries about not only its past, but about its present role on a diversifying campus. Acknowledging the past, however, doesn’t equate to shaping the future. There’s

still a lot of work to be done in carefully considering Mask and Wig’s content, a lot of which centers around men dressing up as women. But when it can’t rely on gender norms for laughs, or when a writer challenges a transphobic joke, what will Mask and Wig do? “I feel like this is a decision that they've been trying to come to for a while, and I'm happy because I think that all–male institutions shouldn’t exist,” Shriya says. “I think our concerns were just with the feasibility of them to be able to create a safe space if they do decide to open up.” Only time will tell how Mask and Wig’s transition will unfold. Given its problematic history, though, it seems clear that it has a lot of work to do before it can truly call itself an “inclusive” space. But this doesn’t mean it shouldn’t try. For all the issues that might arise as Mask and Wig integrates, it’s fair to say that Glee’s initial success might signal that these issues are possible to overcome. The merge between Glee and Sirens could have easily upheld a gender binary and retained separate social cliques. Instead, the clubs remained committed to ensuring that wasn’t the case—instead facilitating a space truly bent on gender equity. As more single–gender clubs reconsider their histories, hope remains. Marina says that “Especially as a very historic and established group, which often is called on to represent Penn in an official capacity … [we hoped] that making this move would send a signal that everyone should be given the same opportunities, and if they work hard, are dedicated, and love what they do, have the same chance to perform."

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A Love Letter To My COVID–19 Bubble

Dear Reader, “Every experience you have with someone else is like a drop of water falling into a pool,” Tina Seelig writes in What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20. I think about this quote from time to time, grateful for its characterization of experiences, both positive and negative, as transient—a drop of tainted water isn’t the end of the world. I picked up this book over the summer, partly because it was on the lowest section of my sister’s bookshelf, partly because I had begun engaging in a ritual of self–doubt in the weeks leading up to my flight from Hong Kong to America. I remember suddenly being engulfed by fear at the thought of traveling to a foreign country—one that I had never stepped foot in, let alone lived in for a considerable period of time—and feeling like my heart was going to leap out of my chest. It was an incredibly ironic moment; I had spent a good chunk of high school craving the independence afforded by geographical distance, and now my appetite for autonomy was inexplicably satiated. I was uncertain, and that made me uncomfortable. Granted, I was no stranger to uncertainties. When news of the COVID–19 outbreak hit during Chinese New Year, I was in my hometown of Hefei, Anhui—a landlocked province in East China—wondering when I would be able to return to school in Hong Kong and worrying that the sheer number of people in my grandparents’ house was putting them at great risk. My teachers assured me of many things over Zoom: that the exam board would update us soon about the status of our exams, that we would have our questions answered soon, that school would open again. How soon was soon? Little did I know, it would be half a year before I would set foot in those hallways with fluorescent lights again. I would quarantine a total of five times over the next year and a half, each quarantine period lasting two to three weeks, as I traveled back and forth between

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Reflecting on the little things that shaped my pandemic year, halfway across the world | CINDY ZHANG Hong Kong and Shenzhen to see my dad. The pandemic has taken away lives and livelihoods. Many people have sacrificed a lot more than I did. I recognize that the transformative experiences I underwent during the rollercoaster that was 2020 exist only from a position of privilege. I do not wish to invalidate or trivialize the extent of others’ suffering with my own story. Maybe it'll resonate with you on multiple levels, or maybe you experienced a variation of it—I like to think that we are held together by a fine thread of shared experiences, and that's what makes it worth telling. Rather than lamenting my stress–ridden year, I want to sincerely thank my COVID bubble: the friends and family who chose to share my emotional burden and whose words of wisdom kept me sane. Your unconditional love and support was the one constant during this tumultuous time and I can only hope that I was able to reciprocate that. The solitude that I initially savored during the beginning of the pandemic rapidly deteriorated into loneliness. Enthusiastic life updates dwindled into half–hearted check–ins and the new designated medium for conversations—Zoom breakout rooms—introduced a new dimension of awkwardness. Genuine emotional connection was harder to locate than ever; I was met with radio silence from people who apparently viewed our friendship as more transactional than I thought. I sought comfort in baking, meditating, and 2 a.m. journaling, and spent way too much time in the hypothetical realm of what–ifs. I developed a newfound appreciation for vulnerability—which meant being honest with myself too—and became acutely aware of the fragility of friendships. Like flowers, they needed to be regularly tended to. I’m thankful for those who pushed me to maintain that line of communication. When I was stuck in Shenzhen, unable to cross the border without enduring yet another three weeks of quarantine, you updated me on the antics of our friends, swooned over your favorite gym teacher, and injected a dose of normality in a period of lethargy and stagnation for me. When I was unmotivated, distracted, and absent–minded, you pushed me to work on my physical health, cultivate a healthy lifestyle and in turn, improve my mental health. You’d offer to do

yoga with me at any given time of day. You’d scroll through hours of TikTok videos to find the perfect recipe and then dedicate hours preparing and cooking dishes (even now, my mouth waters at the thought of that savory starch jelly dish). When I stayed up working on my coursework for my English Lit class, you’d refuse to go to sleep in order to provide moral support, even when I protested—especially when. There’s this Chinese phrase that I get told a lot: 舍得 (shě dé). The first character means to leave/ abandon, while the second indicates the act of gaining something. The closest English translation would be “to be willing to part with,” but it lacks the sense of conflict expressed by its oxymoronic Chinese counterpart. When I struggled to prioritize my mental well–being, unable to see beyond short term deadlines, you reminded me of the need for balance. You patiently listened to me rant and took walks with me to help clear my mind. Yet sometimes the confidence my friends and family had in me and tried to instill in me felt overwhelming—to me, their encouragement translated into implicit expectations that I couldn’t consistently meet. I condensed the thoughts swirling around in my head into journal entries and for the first time in my life, set some goals for myself when the clock struck 12:00 a.m. on January 1st, 2021. I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions (pardon my general aversion to grand statements of commitment), but one of my goals for 2021 was to “write and publish an article of some sort,” accompanied by a note to search for suitable platforms. The moment of realization that I have done exactly that fills me with mixed feelings of pride and strangeness as well as a lasting certainty that I couldn’t have done it without the people who impacted me in unimaginable ways.

Love (from the other side of the world),



A Year Through My Headphones Using my top tracks to reminisce about 2021 | JESSA GLASSMAN

out together have grown far less frequent since I’m in college across the country, but I still listen to the band every day, as evidenced by this song t’s the most wonderful time of the year: That’s right, December, the being my number one most–listened of the year. With each play, I am month of being assaulted by Spotify Wrapped Instagram stories from reminded of home, looking forward to the next time we get to fist bump every single person you follow. Since I have Apple Music, I thought and headbang to the thrashing tunes. I’d toss my own music taste in the ring, relating each song to the impact “Need to Know” it's had on my life this past year. Feel free to judge my taste, ignore it, or take it as a recommendation. Doja Cat Music is capable of both fostering and reinforcing memories. It’s there when I want to avoid conversation walking down Locust and when I want to get hyped up during a workout. When I want to celI brave the sweaty mosh pits of Made in America with my best friends, ebrate, be sad, or anything in between. And the year 2021 contained a bouncing up and down to Doja Cat’s mesmerizing voice and screamlot of celebration, a lot of sadness, and so much more. Here are some of ing along to her poetically racy lyrics. We ring in a new semester, arms the tunes that helped me get through it all. wrapped around one another. There is a mutual understanding that this


“Don’t Dream It’s Over” Crowded House

“Don’t Dream It’s Over” is officially the song of transitions. I have a history of playing it religiously while looking out of airplane windows during takeoff. Perhaps the most dramatic takeoff of all occurred at the start of this year when I left home for college. The song’s message forces contemplation, with simultaneously melancholic and optimistic electric guitar instrumentals that made me feel like I was in a coming–of–age film as I watched my home shrink in the distance. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” is a rock song that rose to the top of charts in the late '80s because of its poetic lyrics and surreal vibe, and decades later it still resonates— especially as I transitioned between coasts and chapters of my life earlier this year.

“Cruel Summer” Bananarama Windows down, sunglasses on, pedal to the metal. I smell sunscreen and feel the warmth of the familiar Los Angeles sun through the dashboard of my beloved Ford Escape, cranking up the radio in main character fashion as I merge onto the 101. The traffic doesn’t faze me—more time to jam out. I smile and shout the lyrics to this summer anthem in all of its totally tubular, absolutely bitchin’ '80s glory. The irresistibly danceable synth–pop beat and electronic drums are the soundtrack of that season, playing on repeat as I make up for lost time with high school friends. We live out the senior summer fantasy we never got by swimming at the beach, gorging ourselves on KBBQ, and hanging out on overlooks. “Cruel Summer” plays behind it all.

“One” Metallica

one will be different—hopefully far more normal and full of adventure, exploration, and memories made in person. To me, Doja’s “Need to Know” is a benchmark for a time once full of promise and excitement for the future. Hearing the song now makes me realize how far I’ve progressed since I came to Penn halfway through my first year with no new friends to show for it. While Doja Cat undoubtedly intended for “Need to Know” to have a seductive rather than sappy takeaway, no matter where or when I hear the song I am reminded to be grateful for my rockstar friends who would always push a stranger if they got too close to me in the crowd. While I intended for this roundup to help prove my music taste is acceptable, at the very minimum, my hope now is that it prompted you to consider the role music played in your year. As 2021 draws to a close, blast some tunes to celebrate, vibe, and reflect.

SOME BONUS SONGS: “TEENAGE DIRTBAG” BY WHEATUS This song has helped me shamelessly embrace my final year of being a teenager, convincing myself with its angsty guitar and early 2000s melodrama that I am misunderstood and a loser. Ironically and unironically. “OUT OF TOUCH” BY HALL & OATES Yes, you are sensing an '80s theme here, and I do have a Hall & Oates poster hanging proudly in my dorm room. This song has a lofty 50+ plays this year, so it had to be included. “THE SPINS” BY MAC MILLER This sounds 100 times better when you’re belting it surrounded by people you love. An out–of–body experience.

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This song may be about a World War I soldier getting his limbs blown off in battle, but to me it means family. Metallica blares through our outdoor speakers as my dad smokes a tri–tip for dinner or on the radio on the way to Dodger stadium as we get hyped for the game. I grew up with Metallica’s intense instrumentals blasting all too frequently to my headache–prone mom’s dismay. The chances my family has to rock

Call or text: 215-768-5051 D E C E M B E R 7 , 2 0 21 3 4 T H S T R E E T M AG A Z I N E 1 1



On Being Black @ Penn: What Has Changed Since Summer 2020? Over a year has passed since the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. What has really changed for Black students on Penn’s campus? | NAIMA SMALL


n June 18, 2020, the @BlackatUpenn Instagram account appeared. It came after a wave of private secondary schools and colleges created their own “Black at” pages for alumni and current students to anonymously express instances of anti–Blackness experienced at their predominantly–white educational institutions. The brief testimonies on Penn’s page showed evidence of classism, discrimination, and even fetishization of Black students on Penn’s campus. Though it amassed a large following in a brief time, the account made its ninth and final post just three weeks after its creation. These stories, while often harrowing for many non– Black students to read, are by and large typical of predominantly white universities. On an Ivy League campus such as Penn’s, where wealth and privilege are innate for many, experiences of subtle racism

are strikingly commonplace for Black students. The work of @BlackAtUpenn sought to bring light to the struggles of Penn's Black students and highlight shifts that still need to occur. Now, over a year has passed since the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. But what has really changed for Black students on Penn’s campus? Was the online activism of that summer, and the conversations sparked by @BlackatUPenn, indicative of tangible change?

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Justin Arnold (C '22), co– chair of UMOJA, a coalition that aims to "unite students and student groups of the African Diaspora at the

be a student at Penn during that summer’s racial unrest. “At Penn there’s so many different voices. There’s people who were posting Black squares thinking that’s some kind of form of activism, there’s people that were tweeting about it or making statements and trying to be supportive, but there are also people who don’t understand and want to be educated,” he explains. “I personally felt the burden to educate others. Photo courtesy of @blackatupenn Instagram There was a burden of evUniversity of Pennsylvania," erything going on: the panoutlines what it was like to demic, the racial unrest, and

being a student.” In the wake of many high– profile police brutality cases in the summer of 2020, online and in–person activism reached unprecedentedly high levels. Companies and institutions alike released press statements recognizing the importance of anti–racism in the face of white supremacy. “Silence is violence,” activists and allies urged. And for a while, it seemed like those calls were being heard: People were speaking up, racist iconography was being removed, important discussions were being had around the globe. Penn's president, Amy Gutmann, released a statement reading “Today is not the first time—and it will not be the last time—that we speak up and stand up with our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and entire community of caring, loving, hurting human beings.” Despite Gutmann’s pledge to speak up and stand up for

Black students, Justin says, “There has been no change in how faculty are treating students, no change in how students are treating each other. I think some of the dialogue around racial justice has been disingenuous.” Indeed, much of the activism that happened in 2020 was sharply criticized—the term “performative activism” became a staple of many conversations about Black Lives Matter. Activism trends, such as the posting of black squares on Blackout Tuesday, were widely criticized for being a display of solidarity to Black people that actually hid valuable information from BLM supporters online. Other forms of online activism, like the Gen– Z–led slogan “Hello Kitty Says ACAB,” were lambasted as evidence that police brutality and institutional anti–Blackness were being commodified and even aestheticized by so–called "allies." Performative activism isn’t just online—the murder of Walter Wallace by Philadelphia police on Oct. 26, 2020 reignited student’s concerns over Penn’s insincere handling of racial injustice. Former Street staffer Hannah Yusuf (C '21) criticized Penn’s response to the protests on and near Penn’s campus, stating that the University’s statement was a “slap in the face” to Black students. Claire Kafeero (W '25), a member of Black Student League’s board, held a more optimistic view of Penn’s record on addressing white supremacy and institutional racism. Her high school was a predominantly–Black environment, so she explains that

the racial unrest of that summer impacted what colleges she applied to and ultimately chose to attend. “I wanted to make sure that the school I was going to had some sense of a Black community, and that even if I did end up going to a predominantly– white space, that the administration would address these things. Penn has been vocal in letting people know that they support Black students.” Nevertheless, Claire also acknowledges that Penn still has a long way to go towards being a truly racially equi-

that there’s a lot more for students and administrators to do to improve Penn for Black students. Anti–racist efforts are not the work of one summer; they are a constant learning process and an ongoing conversation. When administrators listen to the experiences of Black students and make policy decisions that aren’t just shallow statements of support, actual changes can happen over time. Looking towards the future, Justin cites some of UMOJA’s main goals as getting a

of racism through "newsworthy" events, like police brutality and usage of racial slurs, Claire felt that the @ BlackAtUpenn page essentially highlighted the role of microaggressions in the Black experience at Penn. As a first–year, Claire says “I’ve been in classrooms where I’ve shared an idea, and people will just completely go over what I say or it's not really respected.” After the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement, it became clear to Black students that non–Black allies

and do, still happen today. The truth is that not much has changed for Black students since summer 2020, even if the amount of performative actions and statements have increased in quantity. Racism operates on the micro and macro level—even when it’s not in the news, Black students’ everyday Penn experiences are still shaped by it. As we close out 2021 and move into 2022, it’s crucial for allies to remember that a lack of highly publicized protests doesn’t mean that

Photo courtesy of @blackatupenn Instagram table space. She feels that many non–Black students could better support their Black peers by simply being actively present. “When Black student organizations host events about microaggressions or other things, those events aren’t just for Black students. They’re for everyone. Seeing non–Black people in those spaces would be really powerful because it shows that they want to learn,” she says. Both Justin and Claire argue

centralized space on campus for Black students to come together and receiving more access to funding and resources for Black organizations. Additionally, greater diversity among the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) counselors and faculty as a whole are key ways that the University can offer greater support to Black students. For Claire, microaggressions remain a crucial area of concern. Though many think

have the privilege of moving on. Meanwhile, Black students continue to face persistent issues of race that they encountered pre–summer 2020. They also bear the burden of continuously educating and re–educating their peers, over and over again. The stories outlined on the @BlackAtUpenn page are not relics of a time before Penn students enlightened themselves on racial injustice; they are likely testimonies of experiences that can,

it’s okay to see racial justice issues as confined to Penn’s past. Doing so only contributes to the legacy of Black students’ concerns being silenced or ignored. If @BlackAtUpenn taught us anything, it’s that looking at Penn from Black students’ perspectives paints a vastly different picture of the University—one that proves we must continue to reckon with the reality of racial injustice every day, instead of just when it’s convenient.

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Stretch Marks

A meditation on self–love, or a lack thereof | KARIN HANANEL


hid my scale in April 2020, knowing that the many hours of boredom–induced eating would catch up to me at some point. At the same time, I watched the light purplish– brown stripes on my stomach flourish and thrive as I withered with each day of lockdown. Vehemently disliking my body was not a foreign concept to me—I remember having qualms about the size of my stomach at seven years old. The early days of lockdown, though, made me face my feelings about my body in an entirely different way. There were no distractions, no structured activities—nothing to help me ignore how badly I felt about myself. It didn’t matter that I was adjusting to unstimulating online classes, having sophomore year stolen from me, helping my mother recover from a rough bout of COVID–19, or just existing at a time that felt like the apocalypse. None of that mattered when I saw those stretch marks. Instead of doing anything to change how I felt, I spiraled. I took great care not to look at myself in the mirror and to distract myself at all moments of the day. TikTok, trashy reality television, rewatching my comfort movies, and playing video games I hadn’t touched in years filled my days instead of anything remotely productive or positive. A few months later in early June of that year, Philadelphia started lifting lockdown restrictions, and I had no other choice but to start being perceived by the world again. I was desperate to return to some semblance of normalcy, but scared shitless by the prospect of summertime. Instead of the tan skin and light freckles I donned each summer, my face was pale, revealing the

look of someone who spent their lockdown in the city. My body was peppered with more cellulite and stretch marks than ever. The spiraling continued, and I opted to cover things up rather than address them. At the time, I was going to therapy every few weeks, but the self–negligence seeped into that, too. Instead of discussing my body image, I talked about all the other shit that sucked at the time (there was a lot). I also decided to make jeans a year–round clothing staple, even if the forecast said it would be 90 degrees and sunny. I took transportation—buses, Ubers, my little brother’s car—whenever I could. Walking in the city, an activity that used to be therapeutic for me, would leave me exposed. I preferred to be sheltered in the car, only visible from the shoulders down. I hid, ordered a lot of takeout, read books, saw some friends, and worked. I settled into that routine for the first half of the summer, blissfully indolent. I did a good job of showing people the opposite, so much so that sometimes I’d even fool myself into thinking I was okay. In July of 2020, I had an unremarkable hookup with a boy who previously rejected me in high school. That rejection happened in 2016, and in the years following, I clung onto it, letting it sting me as our friendship developed. He wanted my friendship, but not my body. Knowing that hurt, and instead of moving on, I convinced myself that the barrier between myself and the love I craved was my body. I graduated high school in 2018, and the pain waned. College came shortly after and changed things, as it usually does. I was distracted by the chaos that is the first year of college and si

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Illustration by Georgia Ray ply didn’t have the time to hate myself as frequently as before. However, insecurity still gnawed at me, and its relative inertia came to an end during the second half of my sophomore year when lockdown began. It pains me to give credit to a mediocre hookup for changing how I felt about myself, but it shattered the facade of self–loathing I had spent so much time and effort building. For years, I convinced myself that my body was the problem, but at my heaviest and least confident, we hooked up. After giving so much power to the idea that my body was a repulsive thing that prevented me from receiving romantic interest and love, I realized that it was all in my head. As the summer progressed and I was perceived by society in all

my cellulite–speckled glory, I started to realize that nobody cared about what I looked like. Don’t get me wrong—I didn’t emerge from the hookup immediately transformed and preaching the gospel of self–love. But little by little, the interactions I would cherry–pick to enable my self–hatred would come accompanied with a refutation. A core assumption I had made was false, and I had proof for it. I wasn’t going to let myself fall down the rabbit hole again on a possibly false assumption. I kept myself in my newfound mindset as COVID–19 protocols warranted Zoom classes where I was perceived only from the shoulders up. I had an opportunity to spiral back as COVID–19 cases worsened in the autumn and

winter, but I didn’t. Instead, I indulged in pandemic–induced online shopping sprees and bought spring and summer clothes that would actually fit me instead of attempting to squeeze into shorts that were a size too small. Now, as I live my life in person and in public for the first time in a while, much has changed. The purple stripes on my stomach have faded to a softer brown, no longer as jarring to me as they were last April. I’ve made some sort of standing peace with what I look like. I don’t like myself all the time, and love is a strong word reserved for special occasions, but I don’t hate myself. I believe that in many ways, that’s the most radical form of self–love there is.

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Toward an Abolitionist Future

What Penn students need to know about the organization pushing for abolition at Penn | REMA BHAT

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olice Free Penn wants more than just the abolition of the Penn Police. Since the formation of the organization in June of 2020, its mission has centered on more than just a police–free campus: Police Free Penn envisions an abolitionist future. Reinvesting in West Philadelphia and beyond, reimagining police–free strategies, and redressing the legacies of racism, colonialism, and slavery at Penn are the first steps to such a future. And Police Free Penn says it's making strides. Maureen Rush, the current vice president for public safety and superintendent of Penn Police, recently announced that she will retire at the end of December this year. Rush has also served as the president of the Philadelphia Police Foundation, an organization that helps raise funds for critical equipment, technology, training, and innovating programs for the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD), since 2012. She has been widely criticized by both Police Free Penn and Penn Community for Justice because of her hand in militarizing the PPD. Under her presidency at the Philadelphia Police Foundation, Philadelphia police were able to purchase long guns and related equipment for the SWAT unit, drones for use by police pilots, and state–of–the–art ballistic helmets for the elite tactical SWAT team unit according to the organization LittleSis. Rush was also heavily criticized for interrupting a University Council Open Forum while a student was giving a speech about paid time off on Election Day. During the speech, Rush appeared to say "Fuck you, bitch" to a student speaker. Although both she and the University maintain that the words were not intended for the student, the community still had concerns about why she was attending


to other matters during the forum and using such language in a professional setting. In its mission, Police Free Penn is clear that the abolition of Penn Police is not enough to remedy the violence police cause as an institution— both on Penn's campus and in Philadelphia at large. The organization doesn't want to just reform the system but transform it. That’s why Rush’s retirement isn’t a celebratory victory for Kay M. (SP2 '19), one of the members of Police Free Penn who Street spoke to who would like to go by only their last initial for fear of retribution. “It’s good to see that [Rush] will no longer be there,” they say, “however, it can be assumed then that whoever fills [Rush’s] role will occupy it in the same way with the same ideologies.” “The whole point of naming Rush [on Police Free Penn's Medium page] as an individual was about accountability," says another Police Free Penn member who prefers to remain anonymous. They explain that whoever comes into Rush's position next will create the same structural issues of policing; the role is about how they’re impacting students of color and the community of civilians that sits just beyond campus. A pillar of Police Free Penn's activism is spreading awareness about the role of the Penn Police Department in West Phil-

adelphia. More importantly, though, Police Free Penn is set on disrupting a long–held narrative: that Penn Police makes Penn and Philly safer writ large. On May 31, 2020, Penn Police faced heavy criticism for targeting peaceful protestors during a Black Lives Matter protest on 52nd Street. Penn and Drexel police responded to a call for backup, donning tactical gear and shields. Community members were teargassed, and although both

phia and cultivating a culture of fear for Penn students,” said Jane Robbins Mize (SP2 '27). Though Rush did not respond to comment individually and administration refused to speak directly about Police Free Penn, Stephen MacCarthy, vice president for University communications, redirected Street to Penn’s “Response to Public Safety and Outreach Initiative Report” from April 2021. The report outlines four vague goals to address police violence and “complaints” of over–policing: transparency, accountability, reimagining public safety and reducing policing, and reinvestment. Penn hopes to achieve increased transparency with the community by "making more information and documents public and easily accessible to the Penn and West Philadelphia communities." In regard to accountability and reimagining public safety, Penn planned to implement new independent supervision and increase input from West Philadelphia residents while developing new strategies that decrease Penn Police presence. Lastly, Penn pledged to "re–invest" in campus and West Philly initiatives that promote safety and belonging sans police. The University posted an update on these initiatives written by Rush on Sept. 21, 2021. The Division of Public Safety (DPS) launched the

"Abolition doesn't just mean removing police … We have to build the infrastructure that will allow people to keep one another safe, allow people to thrive." – Jane Robbins Mize officials from Penn Police and Drexel Police say that officers did not use tear gas, Penn Police was present to respond and back up the PPD outside of its jurisdiction, assisting police officers who did tear gas protesters. “Penn Police are not just standing at the corner of 34th and Walnut asking you to get off of your bike. Penn Police are actively policing community members in West Philadel-

DPS Transparency site, which includes documents that detail the type and number of Penn Police equipment and vehicles on patrol alongside a memorandum of understanding between Penn Police and the Philadelphia Police. Other initiatives highlighted in the report include expanded seats on the DPS Advisory Board for "members of [the] West Philadelphia neighborhood" and a seat for the University Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé. As part of their reimagine goals, DPS launched the "New Co–Responder Pilot," which consists of a Counseling and Psychological Services counselor riding with a police officer in "soft uniform" to respond to mental health crises specifically. It's debatable whether or not this pilot program substantially meets the goal of reducing police personnel or redefines what an officer looks like on campus. But Police Free Penn wants Penn students to understand that abolition includes more than dismantling Penn Police. As Jane puts it: “Abolition doesn't just mean removing police … We have to build the infrastructure that will allow people to keep one another safe, allow people to thrive, to have good–paying jobs, to have stable and secure housing, to have access to food, to have meaningful community centers, [and] to have reliable and free childcare.” That's why Police Free Penn is piloting a mutual aid initiative. The initiative will collect funds from Penn–affiliated faculty, staff, students, and alumni and distribute these funds to locally led partner initiatives whose work bolsters their mission of prefiguring an abolitionist world. “[PFP Mutual Aid] kind of came out from all of us seeing the way that Penn is acquiring property and displacing … residents,” says Kay.

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Diary of a

Former Pandemic Barista

Illustration by Rebekah Lee


Working at a coffee shop during COVID–19 helped me find connections to others. | MEG GLADIEUX


t 6 a.m., I slide the window open and greet my first customer. “Good morning! What can I get for you today?” I ask. I punch the order into the register and tap the button to start an espresso shot. As they search their wallet for cash, I steam the milk. Three pumps of vanilla. Espresso. Frothy milk on top. I secure the lid, place the coffee in their hand, give them their change, and wave as they pull away. Three more cars have now piled behind. It's 6:02 a.m. It’s the fall of 2020, and I’m a barista at Joe Bean’s Express Espresso—a drive–thru coffee shack situated in a Dollar General parking lot. A fading menu

is bolted to the side of the bright red exterior and illuminated in fluorescent lights. It’s the local favorite for coffee and smoothies in Lynchburg, Virginia, the hometown I thought I’d left for good just a year before. This is the last place I’m supposed to be. I had dreamed of nothing but escaping my hometown, but when Penn announced that campus would remain closed in the fall of 2020, I found myself choosing to stay for my sophomore fall. Joe Bean’s, my go–to for cheap coffee in high school, was hiring for minimum wage, plus tips. I needed something in my life other than Zoom classes, something to help me make

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some extra money, something to get me out of my house. I took the job. My days were predictable: wake up at dawn, drive to the shack, start brewing coffee, chat with my co–worker as they do inventory, and prep the register. 6 a.m., flip the OPEN sign and start taking orders and making drinks. When the morning rush hits, we work in pairs, one taking orders and counting change, calling out the intricacies of triple oat milk lattes and iced coffees with extra cream while the other prepares the drinks. Between cars, duck away from the register to slip a croissant in the toaster oven, or replace the cof-

fee filter, or empty the grounds from the espresso machine, or rinse the growing pile of blenders and milk pitchers in the sink. 10 a.m., shift ends, restock for the afternoon rush. Get out the door to be on time for my 11 a.m. class, and slip into the world of virtual Penn: lectures, studying, seminars, and then a series of club meetings in the evening. Study until I’m sleepy. The next day, get up, do it all again. But within the monotony of that routine was a mosaic of the faces of my community, some tired, some bright, some familiar, others strange, but all waiting for their morning coffee. I saw my former teachers getting a latte

to start the day, nurses grabbing a hot chocolate as they returned home from the night shift, and an endless stream of faces through rolled–down windows en route to their nine–to–fives. I learned their orders: skim cappuccinos and large half–cafs with extra sugar, all served with the hint of a smile through my mask. An emergency room physician, a regular I'd gotten to know, told me that her morning coffee was the only thing she could count on. She sighed as I held her cup out the window and returned her change with my other hand. “This is the only thing I’m sure about in my life," she said. "Every morning I can come here,


and someone will hand me coffee.” She slipped her change into the tip jar and drove away. I fell in love with making coffee for people, trying to get to know them through their drink orders. I adopted "barista" as my identity. I chose stickers to put on the lids of their cups. If there were a few slow minutes, I grabbed a sharpie and doodled on the sleeves. I counted tips from the jar and split them evenly among myself and my co–workers. We made bets about how many espresso shots we could down in a row. We developed a rhythmic bounce to the sound of steaming milk and the clink of metal pitchers, the clatter of stirring spoons and the hum of blenders. I became immune to caffeine. While most of the time, my life was an endless drone of Zoom classes and my computer screen, when I stepped into the shack, I slipped into the choreography of coffee– making. Of course, there were lots of

bad days: people who yelled at me for getting their orders wrong, lines of impatient faces when we hit the morning rush, hot lattes splashed down the front of my shirt, strawberry smoothie splattered on the walls when the blender malfunctioned. Our espresso machine would get jammed. Our weekly stock shipment would get delayed, and we’d run completely out of milk. Once, our cash register broke and we began doing every transaction by hand. I’d count more people wearing MAGA hats than masks. Don’t Tread on Me decals sat on back bumpers. By October, my election angst simmered under every interaction. My co–workers were mostly students at local colleges. Several of them went to the ultra–conservative, evangelical Liberty University, known for its infamous founders, the Falwell family, who are notorious Trump supporters. There was one unspoken rule: We didn’t talk politics in

the shack, which was particularly hard in the midst of the controversy of the 2020 election. When I was a barista, I took on a different sort of persona. I was still myself, positive and upbeat, but I left all of the intense, intellectual, and studious parts, the things that felt like my “Penn self,” at home. I remained impersonal, keeping the conversation to small talk and what we were watching on Netflix. As far as my co–workers knew, I was taking online classes at an out–of–state school. I was split between two worlds. The people I served every day had no idea I was attending classes at an Ivy League school; fellow Penn students on the other side of my Zoom screen would have never guessed I had just returned from the morning shift at a coffee shop. The barista staff was a revolving door—someone seemed to quit every other week. People wouldn’t show up for shifts, and we couldn’t keep up with the

growing line of cars. The line would spill out of the parking lot and into the road, creating a cacophony of nearby honking against the symphony of blender whirs and steaming milk. I would leave my shift, shoes dusted with coffee grounds, shirt stained with syrup and whipped cream, my hair smelling of stale espresso. Occasionally, on Fridays or weekends, I’d pick up hours in the afternoons and evenings. Sometimes I’d have what I called “cl–opening” shifts: I’d close the shack at 9 p.m., lock up, and return at 5:30 a.m. for opening the next day. By the end of November, I was exhausted. I was frustrated by the low pay, difficult working conditions, and last–minute calls to pick up shifts. One of my co–workers had been exposed to COVID–19 but continued coming to work without telling the rest of the staff. Most of the other baristas I had started to consider my friends had already quit. Penn

announced its plans for reopening in the spring; I put in my two weeks' notice. On my last day, I served drinks knowing it’d be the last time I’d see some of my regulars’ faces. I clocked out uneventfully, said a brief goodbye to my co–workers, and didn’t look back. Sometimes, I miss it: the sounds of the coffee shack, the meditative practice of steaming milk and pouring lattes, the sweetness of being the first face people saw in the morning. I like to think that in the trauma of the pandemic, serving people coffee was a source of comfort in their lives, that maybe my “Good morning!” anthem was a momentary bright spot in their day. It wasn’t what my college life was supposed to be, but it was an honor to spend that semester as a passing face in people’s morning routines. When my world felt like it was collapsing, when life was defined by uncertainty, serving coffee was one sweet and consistent joy.

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On Grieving Unevenly During the Pandemic

How the COVID–19 pandemic caused grief for so many yet prevented us from mourning properly | FERNANDA BRIZUELA

Illustration by Tyler Kliem


rief is a complex emotion. Everyone grieves at different points in their lives. Each one of us feels it differently. Nonetheless, during COVID–19, we all went through a collective experience of loss. The sentiment of grief rang true in every household. We felt sorrow for different reasons: worry about our loved ones, feeling trapped inside the house, Zoom fatigue, and the pang of missed milestones. Grief was a major part of my life during the pandemic. Initially, I mourned my college experience. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it felt like a minimal issue. However, I couldn’t help but think about the experiences I missed out on, the "best four years" of my life that I wouldn’t get to live to their fullest extent. I missed spending time with my friends, studying in campus buildings, and walking around Philly. Even

when I had the chance to come back during the fall 2020 semester, I wished I could engage with my professors and have an in–person education once again. Looking back, some of these concerns seem frivolous, especially as my experience with grief would evolve about a year into the pandemic. By late 2020, I felt resigned that COVID–19 was part of everyday life. And even then, it felt like things were looking up—at least in part. That was until January 2021, when my grandparents tested positive for COVID-19. I was terrified. Throughout the pandemic, my grandparents getting sick was my biggest fear. Overall, not being able to spend time with them due to their high risk was the hardest part of those early months. When they tested positive, I told my parents I wanted to stay home until they got better, just in case. They told me everything should be fine and sent me out to school again.

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At first, the symptoms were minimal. A cough here. A sniffle here and there. I talked to them over the phone often. Seemingly overnight, however, it felt like the situation turned around completely. My grandpa—my Guelis, as I called him—was taken to the hospital. I felt powerless; I was more than 2,000 miles away and an already–uncertain situation was getting even worse. Soon, my grandpa was able to go home, but the virus had already weakened him. A couple of days later, he passed away in his house peacefully, surrounded by some of the people who loved him the most. He passed at sunset, a moment that he and I would usually spend together. He loved watching the birds fly in flocks at that time. My dad says that soon after that moment, they all went outside, and, sure enough, the birds were flying about. I would say the way I mourn is expected, maybe even “tradi-

tional.” I usually let it all out; I cry. More than anything, I spend time with my family and people I love, seeking their comfort. At that time, however, what caused my grief also prevented me from mourning properly. A couple of days before my grandpa passed away, my roommates and I were forced to isolate ourselves in our apartment due to an unexpected COVID–19 exposure. When my mom broke the news, it was impossible for me to leave my apartment at all, much less travel to Mexico to mourn with my family. COVID-19 transformed everyone’s grieving experiences, especially after the loss of a loved one. In the moment when we needed the most comfort, gathering with loved ones conferred greater risk. I, like many others, had to learn to adapt my mourning, which felt like no small feat. I listened to “marjorie” by Taylor Swift a lot at the time; a song had never felt more relatable to me. The track is about everything Swift learned from her grandmother, Marjorie—who was also a singer—and how she can still feel her presence so many years later. Even as she remembers their moments together and is thankful for them, she acknowledges that she wishes she could've had more time with her grandmother. Similarly, I felt like I hadn't learned much about who my grandfather was, not as my grandpa, but as Pablo Brizuela. I read about his accomplishments, his leadership, his legacy—he was a pioneer of the radio in my hometown,

Mexicali. I knew little of his passion for communications and media, something I now know I take from him. I had the opportunity to listen to a radio special in which people who had worked with him talked about who he was as a leader. I certainly knew my grandpa as a man who was hardworking, kind, and honest, someone who used to sing to me and sneak me apple pie when no one was looking. Nonetheless, I was learning about a side of him I didn’t personally know. It was devastating not to be with my family, but it felt like I was sharing a special moment just with him, like every single piece of information I learned was meant for me to find. Although it had been months since he had passed, I continued to grieve. I eventually had the chance to go home and spend time with my family. But it was different. It wasn't the crying and hugging I had expected. More than anything, we celebrated his life. We looked back at funny moments, talked about his favorite restaurant, watched the birds fly at sunset, and observed my grandma's wrist, adorned with a bracelet he used to wear. Almost a year into his passing, I still think about him and how much I wish he could have personally taught me how to be more like him, a person I aspire to be, every day. Sometimes, I recognize attributes of him in myself. Other times, I see him in my dad. But mostly, I find little bits and pieces in his house that make it seem like he never left.


Notes From The Anxious Girl Underground Navigating the anxiety of death and isolation amid a pandemic | MEHEK BOPARAI


’ve always had a fear of heavy, devastating loss. It’s not irrational by any means to be afraid of losing the ones closest to you, but it’s become an overwhelming staple of my everyday life. I didn’t stop sleeping in my parents’ bed until I turned 11, and I still spiral over every missed phone call or unanswered text message. When I was younger, I spent hours in bed meticulously going over what could happen if my close friends or siblings passed away. As I have aged and adopted coping mechanisms for my bouts of anxiety, I believed I had found a safe haven. I started sleeping with classic literature audiobooks crooning in my ears and repeatedly checked my phone notifications between classes and meetings. Every second of my day was dedicated towards keeping my brain on track, away from plunging into the abyss of distressing thoughts. During the initial COVID–19 lockdown, I spent two semesters at home in California, where I got to avoid breakdowns catalyzed by the overstimulation of college life. Most importantly, I got to see only my family, the pieces of my life I couldn’t bear to lose. It was almost shameful, using the

pandemic as an excuse to enjoy isolation when the rest of the world was grieving. I felt all patched up as an entirely new version of myself when I came back to Penn in January 2021. This was the year for me to navigate my anxieties, to spend time alone and indulge in my writing. I didn’t want to tarnish my progress by falling back into my old habits of nail–biting and staring at the wall, imagining the worst that could happen. A spike in COVID–19 cases meant I could get away with distancing myself from ev-

"You cannot prepare for loss. You cannot run through the routine of healing and gather materials in a bunker until it’s safe to come out You cannot prepare for loss. You cannot run through the routine of healing and gather materials in a bunker until it’s safe to come out"

Illustration by Tyler Kliem eryone, not realizing that my fear of loss was stifling my desire to form deep relationships with those around me. Worrying about my family was already exhausting; allowing others to get close to me would be catastrophic. I trudged through the dozens of texts from people asking me where I’ve been, to catch up, why I wasn’t responding to anyone. I didn’t know how to explain in a blue iMessage bubble that the only way I could be happy was to abandon anything worth losing. One April morning, I woke up with a chapter of Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground still playing in my headphones. I checked my phone to read my notifications and found out that my closest cousin passed away in a train accident. His older sister had posted a photo of them with the news online. I had talked to him two days prior, begging him to change his trip to California to overlap with my summer vacation. I called my father who could hardly choke out what happened between dry sobs, and then I had to call my sister to tell her the same news through my own tears. I didn’t leave my room for two weeks.

You cannot prepare for loss. You cannot run through the routine of healing and gather materials in a bunker until it’s safe to come out. After the initial shock wore off, I folded into myself without speaking much about it to my friends. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, because I didn’t know how to. The frustration of being unable to put my sadness and grief into sentences was overbearing, and I stopped writing in my journal for weeks. All I could do was think about how life and love meant suffering and the melodrama of it all made it even worse. Shutting myself off from everyone to avoid losing them made dealing with the pain of loss nearly impossible. I resented myself for being unable to confide in people, even though I desperately needed any form of human interaction to remind me I would be okay. My anxiety became unavoidable, and I fell back into questioning who was going to leave me next. I considered booking a plane ticket back home for the rest of the semester without telling anyone, retreating into the safe haven that could no longer serve me.

A few days after the news I got a text from my older brother: “See your friends, don’t tell yourself you need to be alone, do what you need to do. Much love.” Seven months later, I can understand that the only way I got through my pain was through my close friends gently prodding me to see them. I hate admitting when my older siblings are right, and I still don’t know what I needed to do, but gradually the feeling of being with people who care about me washed away the fear of losing who I cared about. I’m not sure to this day if I’ve healed from the death in the family. When my father shows me old wedding photos I run to my room so he cannot see me cry, knowing someday I won’t have photos of my cousin to share with my kids. I don’t know how to grieve over memories that will never be made, but I’m trying, just as I’m learning to sleep in silence. Life is only truly bearable if you have others to share the burden of it. I still spend some days underground, too paralyzed by my anxiety to make an effort. But I'm learning to come up for air every once in a while.

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COVID-19 Forced CSSP Programs Out of Philly Schools. Students Still Found Ways to Show Up. As COVID–19 exacerbated inequities in the local school district, student volunteers helped make virtual learning impactful. | JOANNA SHAN Photo courtesy of Om Manghani


enn’s role in West Philadelphia has always been complicated— existing both within it and yet distinctly apart from it. The history of University–community relations is long and complex, as Penn has long acted as a landlord, legislator, and landmark for a neighborhood in change. Examples of Penn's impact in West Philly are innumerable, touching areas of policing, urban planning, and neighborhood funding. The University City district didn’t even exist until the 1950s when Penn coined the name as part of an urban–renewal and gentrification effort. This power can, and should, be yielded for the benefit of the neighborhood's inhabitants. As a research institution with a $20.5 billion endowment located in a neighborhood with a median income of $28,433, Penn has a unique responsibility to support its surrounding community. 22 34TH STREET MAGAZINE

Penn primarily works to bolster local communities through the Civic House and Netter Center for Community Partnerships, supporting a set of University–Assisted Community Schools (UACS), or public schools, throughout the city. The troubled history of volunteer programs like these reveals holes in their impact, namely Penn attempting to solve systemic issues by bringing in undertrained college students as tutors, rather than paying Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTS) to the city. Even though volunteer–based programs at Penn are largely bandaids for the harms the University has caused, they have helped local schools shoulder the burden of learning loss. “Our intention isn’t to reach as many schools as possible. It’s more to integrate and aggregate our resources,” explains Anna Balfanz (C '19), the Netter Center’s current

DECEMBER 7, 2021

Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) Coordinator. “With the community school, it’s this idea that a school should be a hub for a full range of integrated supports that humans need: academic, mental health, physical health, wellness, social services.” A school should also be a place where everyone can obtain their needs, she says, not just students and staff. When the COVID–19 pandemic hit, Penn successfully moved classes online, but many of these community partnership programs had to halt operations entirely. “For the most part, most tutor and tutee pairs just stopped tutoring because we didn't expect it to happen,” remembers West Philadelphia Tutoring Project board member Katie Muir (C '22). CityStep Penn, a community service organization teaching dance to Philadelphia youth, was forced to cancel their spring 2020 show. “Since

the students were just getting into virtual learning, we weren't able to continue to meet with them virtually. Their schools were just figuring that out for themselves during the springtime,” said Ally Margolis (C '22), one of CityStep’s chairs. Unable to continue working in local schools, ABCS courses reoriented their curriculum. Case in point: EAS 242. Also known as “Energy Education in Philadelphia Schools,” EAS 242 was a brand new course that launched in spring 2020 where students partnered with the Energy Coordinating Agency of Philadelphia to create a teaching plan about energy efficiency for middle and high schoolers. Students were only able to teach in one classroom before being sent home indefinitely after spring break. Still, coordinators and class members managed to find novel ways to make an impact. “That semester, we actually had


the teachers Zoom in instead to the Penn student courses and work with the Penn students in refining these newly created lesson plans,” said Balfanz, the ABCS Coordinator. “And they really co–designed them, which is not something we've been doing before.” After a summer of planning, almost all ABCS courses that worked with UACS were able to continue their partnerships virtually throughout the 2020–21 school year. In some cases, virtual volunteering proved to be advantageous. “People would do more than they were doing in person ... There would be more back and forth with the teacher, like over phone call, text, or email just because of that new openness with communication,” Balfanz remembers. “And some of it actually helped translate to this year.” With physical programs like CityStep, however, the transition to virtual teaching was much more difficult. During the 2020–21 school year, CityStep shifted from their usual two 45–minute sessions per week to one virtual 30–minute one. Despite the change, student– dance teacher relationships still managed to flourish. “We got to know more about our kids during virtual times, specifically things they’re interested in, since we had such a short amount of time together. I learned that the students loved anime, and I really need to incorporate those types of songs into our dances,” Margolis laughs. Om Manghani (C '24), a general assignments reporter for The Daily Pennsylvanian, began working with Community School Student Partnerships (CSSP), a student organi-

zation under the Netter Center, last fall. Although he was stuck in California, Manghani had the opportunity to mentor a seventh and eighth grade classroom at Andrew Hamilton High School. “Once a week for three hours, I would go into the Zoom room and be of support in any ways that I could,” he says. But the following semester, when Om and other Penn students returned to campus, the School District of Philadelphia continued to operate virtually. While he wishes that he had the opportunity to meet with his students in person, Manghani was able to appreciate many of the challenges that virtual tutoring provided. “I feel like we’ve become more flexible in our mindset, thinking about our role as a way to support in any way we can, like wanting to just be there for our students and be there for our schools regardless of the situation,” Manghani says. Some students, like Hakiem Ellison (C '22), took the initiative to

the Keystone Exams, a graduation requirement and college readiness measure for high school students in Pennsylvania. Ellison says the program has made significant progress toward that goal, an achievement he’s proud of despite the challenges of pandemic–induced learning losses. Still, the pandemic isn’t the "great equalizer" some initially believed it to be, democratizing access to educational materials previously resigned to well–funded school districts. Within Philadelphia alone, COVID–19 exacerbated the city’s digital divide, with students who lack stable internet access, miss lessons, or go entirely ghost. Before the city’s PHLConnectED program provided free broadband access to low–income households within city limits, 30% of public school learners lacked internet. 16% still do, according to the recently published “Connecting Philadelphia” report. Many of those students

found that learning losses were most acute in schools that predominantly taught students of color, reinforcing how statewide school funding laws force BIPOC–serving districts to constantly play catch–up. Penn’s ABCS and CSSP offerings play an important role by enriching underfunded schools during a time where the odds are stacked against their students. But, these programs can’t do it all. “While for college students, virtual learning isn’t great, we’re able to do it … [But] for younger students, the comparison between virtual learning and in–person learning is so much more vast and so much more important for kids, especially if they can be there and be safe,” says Margolis, the CityStep chair. In some ways, COVID–19 has fostered a culture of collaboration, flexibility, and compassion. Nonetheless, the pandemic has also unveiled that the relationship between West Philadelphia schools and Penn is still the same. Penn students are temporary residents of the city, and their impact on local schools will wax and wane. As the University fails to contend with how it can financially support the West Philadelphia c o m m u n i t y, it’s important for Penn students who choose to volunteer to ensure they make this relationship less transactional. “Something we stress at CSSP is the value of a mutually beneficial partnership. Mentoring isn't kind of this transactional relationship where we put ourselves as Penn students on a pedestal and think of ourselves as greater," Manghani, a CSSP mentor, says.

“I feel like we’ve become more flexible in our mindset, thinking about our role as a way to support in any way we can, like wanting to just be there for our students and be there for our schools regardless of the situation.” – Om Manghani (C '24) create new community service programs during the pandemic. Ellison co–founded a program called Robeson Writes, which provides writing support to Paul Robeson High School students. Ellison talked with the principal and other school staff, with consensus settling on a targeted goal: to prepare students on writing for the literature portion of

were initially told to sit in school parking lots until their homework was completed while the school district figured out how to make remote learning more accessible. Tackling the digital divide doesn’t even begin to address the other problems that make remote learning reinforce class and racial educational divides. A 2021 McKinsey report



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