Wharton alum petitions to preserve FreshEx
House Dean Frank Pellicone says loss of FreshEx will impact Harrison's retention rate
December 10, 2013, 5:02 pm · Updated December 10, 2013, 8:26 pm·
Amanda Suarez | DP
The possible cancellation of Harrison College House’s Freshman Experience program has drawn considerable backlash from students and alumni alike.
Pending the successful transition of Harnwell College House to an upperclassmen-only residence next year, College Houses & Academic Services anticipates the same change will be implemented in Harrison as early as 2017. This change could mean the elimination of FreshEx, a residential program that helps freshmen adjust to life at Penn and Philadelphia.
Concerns of former FreshEx members have materialized into a petition circulating via email started by 2012 Wharton graduate Beth Deane, with the subject line “Save FreshEx!!” Deane lived on a FreshEx floor during her freshman year and served as coordinator of the program for the remainder of her time as an undergraduate.
After reaching out to other FreshEx alumni who shared her feelings, Deane sent an email to Penn President Amy Gutmann and CHAS Executive Director Martin Redman explaining the value of the program and describing the vibrant high rise freshman community it created.
Deane then sent a subsequent email to other FreshEx alumni with a template for them to write their own emails defending the program. Deane’s email blast has sparked an impromptu movement to ensure that FreshEx continues thriving in the years to come.
“I received an overwhelmingly passionate response,” Deane said, adding that she was “getting calls and emails … from people who wanted to help” within a few hours of sending the petition.
Some critics of freshman high rise occupancy have expressed that living in high rises does not offer the same freshman experience as living in traditional freshman residences, like Hill College House or the Quadrangle.
However, many alumni of FreshEx disagreed with this claim.
“I think that you would be hard pressed to find anyone who felt that they missed out on any of the typical Penn freshman experiences because they lived in Harrison their freshman year,” said Dawen Shen, current FreshEx graduate advisor and FreshEx alumnus.
Like Shen, the first thing most supporters of FreshEx point to is the tight-knit community that program residents establish, both through the presence of mentors and from the push by Harrison to become involved in college house events.
“The program really helped me adjust to Penn because I was living with not only other freshmen, but also upperclassmen who helped me navigate the resources and other things the University had to offer,” College junior Jasmine Pang, a FreshEx alumna who was a mentor her sophomore year, said.
Redman, who directs the College House system, acknowledged receiving the complaints from alumni and current students about FreshEx. “Their comments will be added to the evaluative efforts next year as we look at the impact of the changes to Harnwell,” he said in an email.
“A decision regarding Harrison is at least a year away,” Redman added.
Although Harrison House Dean Frank Pellicone was not aware of the ongoing petition, he said that many FreshEx alumni go on to become some of the most involved students in Harrison. They become involved in house council, work as part of house staff and serve as resident advisors.
FreshEx, which was started in 2003 by Pellicone and a small group of first-year students living in Harrison at the time, now consists consists of 82 freshmen and occupies three floors in Harrison. The program continues to grow in popularity — this year, they had to turn away about 150 applications, Pellicone said.
Many FreshEx residents feel a sense of pride in their house, though.
Eighty-four percent of first-year students who lived in Harrison during the 2012-2013 academic year returned to live there this year, said Taylor Tomson, Harrison’s staff manager. However, Pellicone said that the loss of FreshEx would “absolutely” impact Harrison’s overall retention rate.
Pang, like many former FreshEx residents, still lives in Harrison. “Starting sophomore year, I felt like I had a community in the college house because of FreshEx,” she said. “It wasn’t like starting over again in a new place.”
As for Deane, “when I came to Penn, I was moving from Germany and my family was moving back to the States … I was starting a new chapter [in] my life and with FreshEx, I had an instant family, community and support group,” she said.
“I want every freshman who comes to Penn to have this opportunity,” she added.