For the past three years, Penn students in the LGBT community have reached out to welcome prospective freshmen before they even arrive on campus.
This year, the Lambda Alliance, Penn’s umbrella advocacy organization for LGBT student groups, has already begun contacting prospective future freshmen through its outreach program.
Since 2010, the Lambda Alliance has been working with the admissions office to gather information about prospective LGBT students in order to begin contacting and reaching out to them.
College freshman Roderick Cook, the vice chair of outreach programs in Lambda, said that when students self-identify in their applications or mention that they are allies, the admissions office will flag their applications and give the names to Lambda.
Cook’s job is to then match those names up with current students in the LGBT community who are willing to reach out and make contact with the applicants.
For students who were accepted early decision, mentors reach out to them in an effort to get them acquainted with the LGBT environment as well as provide them with a source to contact with any questions or concerns.
With students admitted regular decision, the goal is to convince them to attend Penn.
But because not everyone self-identifies on their applications, Cook, along with fellow members of the LGBT community, will be working together to make a video geared toward incoming freshmen so that everyone can see what it is like to be a freshman and a LGBT community member on campus.
The emails that the mentors send out, however, do not overtly focus on the LGBT aspect. When incoming students are contacted, the email is formatted with the subject “Welcome to Penn,” and the LGBT life and resources are only mentioned at the bottom.
Wharton sophomore Andres Martinez, who is a current mentor, said that “this prevents parents from possibly finding out their children wrote about LGBT life” or that they expressed themselves in the applications in ways they can’t around their family members.
“I didn’t self identify in my application when I applied and it’s something I regret because it’s not something I thought would define me … I didn’t know that Penn had this awesome opportunity to allow other LGBT people to do outreach,” said Martinez.
Although this program attempts to reach out to all students, not all of the mentors receive positive responses.
Rosa Escandon, a sophomore in the College and another mentor, said, “I think you get a little bit of a mixed reaction, you reach out to [students] because they put something vaguely LGBT-related in their application but that doesn’t mean that everyone wants to be in a queer community or is necessarily ready to really feel comfortable with that.”
“I think people who are outside the community don’t understand how much internalized repression can be in the community,” and how much externalized hatred people may face, she said.
“It can cause a lot of psychological hardship, especially in your college years. [So] I think having a support network during these times is really helpful for a lot of people,” Escandon added.
Mentor and College sophomore Joy McKinley feels that this program gives incoming students a sense of what the community is like and what the LGBT community is about.
“It takes a lot of the mystery out of what the LGBTQ community is at Penn,” McKinley said.
The mentorship program is not the only facet of the Lambda outreach program.
Cook also focuses on programming for Scholars’ Preview Days as well as Preview Days for regular decision applicants.
“We are going to make sure to have a presence at the Activities Fair,” Cook said. His plan is to ensure that as a Lambda board, they will not only be talking about what Lambda does but also have a presence from their constituent groups so that students can get a sense of the LGBT community as a whole.
They want to ensure that students will feel comfortable with their decision to come to Penn.
“I think knowing that there is someone here waiting for you that will fully support whatever you do throughout your life and act as a mentor is a great way to start your college years,” said Martinez.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.