Activism has been a cornerstone of the Penn student experience for years, and 2017 was no different. Throughout the year, undergraduate and graduate students penned more than a dozen strongly worded letters and collected thousands of signatures for a wide range of issues.
From Penn's dining hall policies and new rules surrounding social events to the Trump administration's appointment of key personnel, here's what students got up in arms this year:
Students, staff, and community members took on University policies
The fall semester got off to a contentious start with a column titled "Who killed Asian American studies?" penned by students from the Asian American Studies Undergraduate Student Advisory Board.
Alongside the column, students involved in the ASAM program launched a series of petitions and protests in response to the departure of Grace Kao, a founding faculty member and longtime director of the program. Kao left Penn and became a professor at Yale University. But months after these efforts, students and faculty say the University has still left many of their requests around the ASAM program unaddressed.
In the fall, student outrage was channeled towards Penn's new policies governing social events. In response to a series of policies stemming from recommendations set forth by Penn's Task Force for a Safe and Responsible Campus Community, College senior and 34th Street writer Cami Potter wrote an online petition titled, “The Ability to Have a Social Life at Penn.”
While the letter drew criticism for arguing that new event registration policies were actively worsening Penn's issues with mental health, it still managed to collect over 2,000 signatures within a day.
This year has also seen two major petitions made against Penn Dining.
In June, students launched a petition to protest Penn Dining’s policy of disallowing students to cancel meal plans they chose during on-campus housing selection. Engineering junior Colby Cox, who wrote the petition, said it was "insane" that Penn did not allow students to cancel their dining plans before the semester started. More recently, in November, numerous Penn freshmen signed a petition calling Penn's dining plan policies the equivalent of "simple robbery."
The petition, which gathered close to 600 signatures, called attention to the dining plan's conversion rate between meal swipes and Dining Dollars, which can lead to a nearly 50 percent loss in value for students.
But students weren't the only ones who aired their grievances against the University this year. In January, the Fresh Grocer supermarket launched a petition urging community members to speak out against the University's decision to end their lease. The supermarket's efforts to stay seems to have worked — at least momentarily. Months after Fresh Grocer was asked to leave, it remains operational at its Walnut Street location.
In September, the Penn Police Department called on the University to “compensate their police department fairly.” While representatives from the Penn Police Association and the Division of Public Safety began discussions over a new contract in the summer, they have yet to come to an agreement as of November.
Students responded to President Trump and his policies
The election of President Donald Trump began with tear-filled protests last November, and continued with protests throughout 2017. Hours after the 1968 Wharton graduate was inaugurated, dozens of students walked out of their classes to demonstrate their opposition to his administration.
When Trump announced his initial proposal for a travel ban, students also took to the streets in protest. The March for Immigrant Rights, which was sponsored by a number of campus groups, was accompanied by two petitions: one for signees to indicate their solidarity with the immigrant community to University administrators and another that called on Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to reject Betsy DeVos’ appointment as secretary of education.
And students aren't the only ones who have voiced criticism of the Trump administration.
Penn President Amy Gutmann broke her silence on Trump's leadership in January at a public speech where she called his executive order on immigration “injurious to our work and inimical to our values.” In February, she joined 47 other university presidents to sign a letter condemning the immigration ban.
Penn faculty have also made their dissatisfaction known. In March, nearly 200 faculty members wrote a petition objecting to the Trump administration's proposed elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Graduate students pushed to increase visibility of their activism
This year has been particularly eventful for activists within the graduate student community.
In the spring, graduate student workers moved to set up a labor union by filing a petition with the Philadelphia’s National Labor Relations Board to hold a formal union recognition election. Months later, the voting process has yet to move forward, even though graduate student groups at other peer institutions have successfully unionized in a shorter timeframe.
In October, following a series of national stories on sexual assault, graduate student leaders wrote a petition to Graduate School of Education Dean Pam Grossman. The petition gained over 90 signatures from Penn students, faculty, and alumni and calls on the dean of the Graduate School of Education to “strengthen and clarify” sexual harassment procedures.
Less than a month later, graduate students were sent into a frenzy following reports of the new GOP tax plan, which threatens to significantly increase the price of a graduate education. In response, Penn students have organized a petition and “work-in” calling on University administrators to “protect” grads from the tax plan.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.