I don’t know about you, but Philadelphia’s location was not one of the reasons I chose Penn. When I told my friends back in Texas that I was going to school in Philadelphia, I got a lot of funny looks.
The closest that most of them have come to the City of Brotherly Love has been through the TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” which hardly does the city justice.
I knew I wanted to attend college in an urban environment but I wasn’t quite ecstatic about Philadelphia. I had never visited before so whenever I had thought of this city, the theme song from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” would fill my mind. The way I saw it, the best thing about Penn’s location was its close proximity to New York City and Washington, D.C.
Fast-forward to the summer before freshman year: my family and I took a road trip along the East Coast and made a stop in Philadelphia. As we drove across a bridge from New Jersey to Philadelphia, I remember seeing smokestacks and wondering how bad pollution must be in the city. The junk piles we subsequently passed didn’t help either.
Our first stop was Penn. However, we got lost around 53rd Street. I remember driving past rundown buildings and dirty streets. My mom immediately told me not to go off campus come fall.
Of course, during New Student Orientation, I was shown the mandatory safety videos. Watching the video about the girl who got shot in the leg a couple of years ago sketched me out and I became wary of West Philadelphia. For the majority of my first semester, I stayed in the Penn bubble and only ventured to Center City.
But one morning, I decided to go for a run. Curiosity drove me to go west and boy, was I surprised. I remember seeing gorgeous houses lined between 43rd and 50th streets. I felt nothing but safe.
Students’ safety is one of Penn’s top priorities. But in maintaining this goal, it shouldn’t forget to tell students about the hidden treasures West Philadelphia has to offer.
Penn students have a lot to gain from engaging with the neighborhood. And it doesn’t have to be through tutoring kids in the area — it starts with getting out of the Penn bubble.
A college education is not just about academics, it also has a lot to do with learning from your community. It should invite you to think about your role in the neighborhood, the city and the world.
All you have to do is take a walk.
Head west to eat delicious hardwood-fired pizzas at Dock Street Brewery on 50th Street and Balitmore Avenue. Or to find a new study stop at Earth Cup on 45th and Pine streets. If you go far enough, you can grab some fresh air at Cobbs Creek Park, karaoke at Rodeo in Korea town at the 69th Street Terminal Square.
Another good way of getting acquainted is to check out Baltimore Avenue Dollar Stroll, an outdoor street festival with $1 food specials, live music and street performances. The last one of the summer is today, so clear your evening schedule.
Penn has made its name as the “social Ivy,” but we’re also starting to become the “civic Ivy.” This is in part thanks to Civic House and the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, which works with West Philadelphia through sustainable programs to improve the quality of life in the area.
One way this happens is through Academically Based Community Service courses, where students apply what they learn in the classroom to the community. Some of Penn’s premier community service projects originated from ABCS courses. These include the Penn Reading Initiative, which works to promote literacy rates and Moelis Access Science, which works to supplement science, technology, engineering and math education.
Penn’s relationship with West Philadelphia is imperative because its future is intertwined with that of the community.
Think of it this way: if the quality of life in West Philadelphia improves, it becomes a more attractive place for prospective students and safer for current students. Some areas of West Philly have poverty rates higher than the Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
While the University is not obliged to contribute to West Philadelphia, if they invested in this issue, both the Penn community and its neighbors would find mutual benefit.
So what are you doing? Get off Facebook and go explore. Go engage. Take a walk.
Joyce Kim is a College sophomore from Dallas, Tex. Her email address is email@example.com.