Many students groups on campus are highly selective and hierarchical. Minority coalition groups strive to break this mold by providing a more inclusive community. They work particularly hard at the beginning of the year, using a range of strategies to engage minority students who are new to Penn.
“I think it’s hard to find people on campus from my kind of background,” said College junior Justina McMinn, who is a member of Penn First, an organization that provides resources for first-generation, low-income students. “It’s a safe space. You know when you come in you’ll find someone who has something in common with you, who understands the struggles at Penn.”
Penn First reaches out to incoming freshmen before they even reach campus by making use of the Penn College Achievement Program, which is geared towards FGLI students and is jointly funded by the University and federal grants. Through PENNCAP, Penn First identifies and connects FGLI students to discuss the resources available to them on campus.
A challenge faced by minority coalition organizations is reaching out to students who may be weary of joining groups with members of similar backgrounds, said Chair of the Asian Pacific Student Coalition and Wharton senior and Yen-Yen Gao.
Gao said within the Asian-Pacific Islander community on campus, there is a fear of being stuck in the "Asian bubble," but added that there are many different opportunities that the community can offer students.
“On one side, we have a very student-activist feel where we will organize people for different causes and rallies," Gao said. "On the other side, we’re very much about uniting the community with casual events like study breaks and movie nights.”
Minority students who want to become involved can also build relationships with upperclassmen through various mentor-mentee programs.
APSC, the Latinx Coalition and Penn First all offer mentor-mentee programs to new students. College sophomore and Penn First Mentorship Co-Chair Daniel Gonzalez said the group plans to expand this to a “family model,” which would pair FGLI students with graduate students and even Penn alumni.
Minority coalition groups also offer new students a channel to interact with University administrators.
2017 College graduate Bianca Molina described her time on the board of La Casa Latina as a “formative experience,” where she, along with other members of minority coalition groups, was able to meet with Penn President Amy Gutmann once a semester.
The La Casa board also works in conjunction with administrators working at La Casa Latina, one of Penn’s six cultural resource centers. The same collaborative relationship exists between APSC and the Pan-Asian American Center, Penn First and the Greenfield Cultural Center, as well as Lambda Alliance with the LGBT Center.
Wharton sophomore Athena Panton said the LGBT Center provides an essential, physical space for members of the Lambda Alliance, the umbrella advocacy group for queer students on campus.
“I felt like there was only something to gain,“ Panton said, reflecting on her decision to join Lambda. “I can be 100 percent myself here.”
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