pennfaces

The Undergraduate Assembly plans to launch a website that aims to deconstruct "Penn Face," the phenomenon where Penn students put on a facade of happiness and self-assuredness even when they are struggling.

Photo: Guyrandy Jean-Gilles

At Stanford, it’s called ”duck syndrome.” At Penn, students casually refer to it as the “Penn Face.” These expressions, which students use to describe when they act happy and self-assured even while sad or stressed, have become the status quo at elite universities.

But the Undergraduate Assembly hopes to deconstruct the Penn Face. At the end of this semester, the UA will launch a website called Penn Faces on which students can share their own stories through videos and images.

UA Director of the Student Life Committee Emily Hoeven, a College sophomore and Daily Pennsylvanian columnist, said she was motivated by her own freshman experience to start the project.

“I knew I probably wasn’t the only one feeling like I didn’t fit in perfectly, but I didn’t have concrete evidence,” Hoeven said. “With the Penn Faces website, I want to create something where students can share their experiences.”

Hoeven and Executive Director of the Weingarten Learning Resources Center Myrna Cohen were inspired by other websites like Harvard’s Success-Failure Project. Cohen said that the website will be specific to Penn students, however.

The administration has also stated its support for the project. The website will have a ”.upenn.edu” URL, and a professional web developer will help design the project.

“There is something special about Penn backing this website,” Cohen said. “It’s their way of saying, ‘We recognize the existence of a Penn Face, and we want to support people sharing their stories.’”

Cohen also said that student initiative is essential to completing the project. A student group will be assembled and work with the web developers. Hoeven added that the designing process will be highly collaborative and will feature both professional and amateur student media elements.

However, prospective Penn Faces committee member and College freshman Julia Pan said that getting students to view the website will be difficult.

“We have to think about what will make people watch these videos — it could be social media presence or getting interviews with high-profile alumni,” Pan said.

College sophomore Isabella Cuan said she hopes to photograph for the website because she feels the Penn Face is an important part of campus culture.

“It’s something that exists at Penn whether people want to recognize it or not,” she said. “This website is a great way to connect students and show people that there is a commonality among all of us.”

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