At Penn, we like to complain. We criticize the University’s hypercompetitive culture, lack of mental health resources, and social scene that feels very Greek-centric. These are extremely important issues that demand attention. And we, as a student body, have done a good job of holding the Penn administration accountable for their mistakes in order to promote policy change. 

For example, following the recent Campus Conversation, Penn President Amy Gutmann announced new wellness initiatives, including increased funding for Counseling and Psychological Services and a new system to evaluate the administrative process at CAPS. These efforts are by no means the ultimate solution to Penn’s mental health crisis, but are steps in the right direction. There are many other prominent issues that the administration has yet to address like the intrusive efforts of the Task Force on a Safe and Responsible Campus Community to curb on-campus parties and social events. 

Still, a lot of the time, we are so busy pointing fingers at the administration that we fail to recognize our own responsibility for Penn’s culture. Our actions shape our own environment, and they speak much louder than our complaints. Our neglect to take responsibility for our contribution to the toxic parts of Penn is what allows it to persist.  

We are critical of forced grading curves and how they encourage competition, not collaboration. But for the moment, the curve isn’t going anywhere. Yet, we continue to refuse to find ways to be collaborative and share our notes. A few weeks ago, the Class Boards, Undergraduate Assembly, and Penn Wellness created the Random Acts of Kindness initiative. Jars were placed around campus with suggestions of nice things to do. 

During Random Acts of Kindness, College junior Maria Formoso noted that she “overheard one girl pull out a deed that read ‘share your study guide,’ and right away she said, ‘no way that’ll mess up my curve.’” 

Even an attempt to foster a sense of community on campus brought out Penn’s cutthroat culture, which clearly we perpetuate by rejecting opportunities to be collaborative and kind. We are the primary forces that shape campus culture here, not the administration. So the responsibility to change Penn falls on us. We need to rethink how we approach everyday life here and how we can make positive contributions to the community. 

What’s more, we talk about “Penn face” like it is a distant issue instead of understanding that it is something we contribute to. We can discuss the University’s issues at length, but when it comes to admitting that we ourselves are having trouble, we continually fail. It makes sense that it is difficult to say that we, as individuals, battle mental illness or struggle to keep up in our classes. Still, if we want to have a healthier campus culture, these are the steps we need to take.    

We criticize the amount of power held by fraternities on campus, yet continue to attend their parties every weekend. Perhaps if we got serious about boycotting frat parties, they wouldn’t hold so much clout on campus. 

Simply put, if we are going to complain about Penn, we need to make sure our actions do not undermine our words. Although it might not feel like it we, as individuals, have the power to change our school. 

A lot of upperclassmen I’ve met have noted that the Campus Conversation was the first attempt of the University to address student concerns during their time at Penn. In other words, the administration has historically not jumped to dismantle the many toxic elements of this campus. We need to hold the University to a high standard, but we also need to recognize that we can effect change ourselves. Our campus culture will only evolve to meet our standards if we make sure that our actions align with our values. Demanding kindness, collaboration, and honesty from ourselves is the ultimate way to shift our campus culture so that it reflects our ideals.


ISABELLA SIMONETTI is a College freshman from New York. Her email address is isim@sas.upenn.edu. “Simonetti Says So” usually appears every Tuesday.

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