I expected my freshman year at Penn to be consumed by late-night Wawa runs, interpreting syllabi, broken conversations over loud music at parties and cranking out essays in my dorm room. But my first semester of college has been packed with much more than the burden of finding friends and all-nighters in Van Pelt.
Given the recent deaths of students Nicholas Moya, Justin Hamano, Henry Rogers and Brett Cooper, it seems that each day a new tragedy strikes the Penn community. In addition, Penn’s Task Force on a Safe and Responsible Campus Community has been ineffective at addressing issues of sexual violence and excessive drinking. This has made it hard to feel positive about being a first-year student here.
On Oct. 17, the University sent an email that acknowledged some of these issues and urged students to attend a “Campus Conversation” next Monday to discuss “… what we can do, individually and collectively, to take care of ourselves and others and to foster individual and community resilience.”
It is encouraging that the administration is initiating a discussion; I applaud them for admitting that this semester has been challenging, because this conversation has the potential to stimulate positive change at Penn regarding these pressing concerns.
But what I want from the “Campus Conversation” is more than just a space to share my grievances and to have a list of campus resources thrown at me. The administration can no longer blindly point to Counseling and Psychological Services and shut down parties in hopes that mental health issues and the consequences of binge drinking will vanish.
I want policy change directly aimed at combating rape culture, more on-campus support groups for alcoholism and substance abuse as well as improved resources for mental health.
Nearly 27 percent of Penn’s female undergraduates have experienced sexual assault, according to a 2015 campus climate survey. Yet, neither the rape culture that persists on campus nor the failure of the task force to address such issues were mentioned in the administration’s email. This is deeply concerning.
As a freshman girl, I feel particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. Just a few weeks ago, one of my friends was cornered by a boy in a hallway in the Quad and groped against her will. It is becoming a rarity for me to meet women who have not fallen victim to some form of sexual assault at Penn.
Furthermore, in a recent 34th Street piece, Penn senior and 34th Street Managing Editor Dani Blum highlighted how the task force has failed to prevent sexual violence on campus, describing it as an “insult to assault survivors.” Where is Penn President Amy Gutmann's response to Blum’s call to action?
The task force hasn’t been effective in preventing binge drinking either. During New Student Orientation this year, which is notorious for slews of fraternity parties filled with drunk freshmen, there was a 20 percent increase in instances of students needing hospital transport from 2016.
According to a 2014 survey, two-thirds of the 60 percent of college students who consumed alcohol in the past month engaged in binge drinking.
Prohibition has rarely ever been effective in instigating change. So there needs to be discussions of better ways to aid alcohol abuse than acknowledging the fact that drinking does and will continue to occur at Penn.
Another issue that should be included in the “Campus Conversation” is the nationwide mental health crisis on college campuses. Suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst 15-24 year olds. Additionally, The American College Association’s spring 2016 National College Health Assessment found that 65 percent of college students felt very sad in the past 12 months, 36.7 percent felt so depressed that it was difficult to function and 9.8 percent seriously considered suicide.
Since February of 2013, 14 Penn students have died by suicide; however, it can still take months to secure an appointment with CAPS.
While Gutmann did not highlight these pertinent issues in the email she sent to students, these subjects must be discussed at the conversation. The email did not hesitate to point to crises like the recent natural disasters and the Las Vegas shooting. These tragedies are extremely important to discuss. But I fear that by solely highlighting things that have happened outside of Penn, the administration may be denying the issues that plague our campus.
My hope is that issues like sexual assault and mental health will have a place at the “Campus Conversation”; I urge the administration to make the space to discuss them.
ISABELLA SIMONETTI is a College freshman from New York. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Simonetti Says So” usually appears every other Tuesday.
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