These days, Penn's catchphrase seems to be, "We'll take care of it with the Postal Lands."
Because of this, students may think that the newly purchased 24 acres east of our current campus will contain scores of youth-centric delights, such as a 24-hour student union outfitted with a bowling alley, sports bar and a Chipotle. Even if such hopes are farfetched, we tell ourselves, surely 24 acres is enough to accommodate the basic programming needs of undergraduate student groups.
We may be wrong. Perhaps we were led on by the extravagant publicity staged for the expansion or by our own overactive imaginations. In any case, the actual development planned thus far for the Postal Lands - part of the larger PennConnects scheme - overwhelmingly ignores the wider population of undergraduates.
Specifically, the published slate of projects for the Eastward Expansion fails to include facilities for student group programming, such as arts, culture and religion-based activities.
Instead, PennConnects places immediate priority on the construction of Penn Park, a massive 24-acre complex dedicated to recreational and varsity athletics. Taking up the most land are four athletic fields, two of which will be devoted exclusively to varsity sports. According to Mike Mahoney, director of athletic communications for the University, Penn Park will also include a 12-court tennis facility, a varsity athletes' fitness center, a softball stadium, and even a ropes course, where "students can build teamwork" (as if Management 100 weren't enough, Wharton students can now literally push each other to their deaths).
In short, this vast area will predominantly cater to the needs of less than a quarter of Penn's student population. Expanding these facilities makes us more attractive to potential recruits, but no matter how fancy our fields are, they still come with a $200,000 price tag. I doubt the quality of Penn's AstroTurf mitigates our hefty, unsubsidized tuition, so why ignore non-athlete students' needs for additional activity space?
Indeed, any undergraduate who has ever tried to reserve a room for an event knows how exasperating the process can be, especially for larger performance venues such as Irvine Auditorium. The lack of student activity space is a very real problem for organizations such as the Performing Arts Council. With six auditoriums and 44 constituent groups, PAC's dilemma reads like a math problem from event-planning hell.
When organizations such as SPEC, Management 100 teams, and Music Department orchestras are added to this mix, a battle for space ensues. The problem is worse for large groups such as the South Asia Society, whose semiannual cultural shows draw over 1,000 people per night.
"Finding space becomes more difficult with every semester," Wharton senior and club president Swathi Bonda told me. "This problem has increased our costs and has strained our relationships with other organizations, because we're all vying for the same venues."
In response to the need for space, the University has promised a full-scale renovation of the ARCH building to make it a "student union for diversity" in the Provost's own words. However, what seems like a highly ambitious project hasn't yet warranted a mention in the newly-launched PennConnects Web site.
To be fair, Anthony Sorrentino, spokesman for Penn Facilities, said that the University is keeping their options open.
"The Postal Lands are years away from actually hosting buildings," he told me.
While this uncertainty may be preferable to explicitly eliminating additional student programming spaces, Penn's lack of commitment to constructing such facilities reflects the University's trivialization of this undergraduate demand.
Perhaps Penn's decision to place such a high priority on athletics in its Eastward Expansion plan arose in conjunction with its Making History capital campaign.
After all, images of football players sprinting into the end zone in front of cheering crowds singing the "The Red and the Blue" are highly marketable, evoking feelings of nostalgia in alumni that compel them to make million-dollar - but tax-deductible - contributions to the trustees. Ethnic a cappella, hip hop dance and off-color stand-up comedy are considerably less profitable.
This line of logic would be fine if Penn were a corporation concerned only with maximizing its endowment. Obviously, it's not. Instead, the University must balance the needs of all its stakeholders, especially its 10,000-strong undergraduate population.
For a school which constantly prides itself on the diversity of its student body, Penn should pledge to provide students with the space they require to truly celebrate their artistic talents and cultural backgrounds.
Lisa Zhu is a Wharton and College junior from Cherry Hill, NJ. Her e-mail is email@example.com. Zhu-ology appears on Fridays.Comments powered by Disqus
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