The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

This past weekend, I decided to partake in a Philadelphia tradition that, for years, I have struggled and failed to understand: the Erin Express. Featuring buses that transport you from “Irish” bar to bar, it is the ultimate way for Philadelphians to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

While on this extravaganza, a couple unexpected things happened. Throughout my day of travel, I spent time and had fun with Philly residents without being surrounded by a crowd of fellow Penn students. As a result, I got to know Philadelphia and its residents a little better. More importantly, I got to know a little more about what Philadelphians think of Penn students. And it wasn’t pretty.

Every time someone discovered I was a Penn student, I got the same kind of response — a slight sneer and mild disgust. The word “prick” came up at least once.

My initial reaction was mild indignation. I am no stranger to spending time in the city, so I’ve always known that Philly residents and Penn students aren’t best friends. But this wasn’t about your usual town-gown relations. It was about a deep-seated dislike for Penn students.

Now, it’s definitely true that Penn students are far more invested in their community than almost any of our peer schools. After all, we were rated the No. 1 neighbor school last year in a national survey. And, when it comes to why many distrust Penn, you can make an argument that it’s not about us — it’s about increased real-estate and retail prices and general socioeconomics. But this disdain was not about the University.

It was about Penn students. After a day on the Express, I think I understood, maybe for the first time, that good community relations are not just about helping Philadelphia. Because Penn students are really good at that. We’re just not good at actually being Philadelphians.

Something a recent graduate told me the other day highlighted this: He said he was excited to live in Philadelphia after graduation because he had never known it while at Penn.

As Wharton senior Laura Boudreau puts it, we are all members of a Penn community that we love. But we seldom give a second thought to the Philadelphia community we also belong to.

This is something Boudreau has been thinking about for some time. She still remembers a letter to the editor than ran in The Summer Pennsylvanian in 2008 that discussed this very issue. In it, a Philadelphia resident and Penn employee discussed the blatant disrespect that Penn students show Philadelphia.

“Even though Penn participates in various recycling and other ‘green’ efforts, the sloth of the off-campus students is atrocious,” he wrote.

We’re so caught up in Penn that we forget we’re part of Philly. Many of us vote here. We have as much a say in the City’s next mayor as someone who has lived here for 40 years. We need to stop thinking of Philadelphia as something there for us to exploit when we feel like it.

Maybe this strained relationship is the same at every school. In fact, I would argue that, for the vast majority of schools, it probably is. But since when is that a reason for Penn students to not care about something?

It starts with the little things, not the big ones. It’s cleaning up after your parties (and not leaving broken glass all over your sidewalk). It’s partaking in fun Philadelphia traditions — like the Express — and getting to know Philadelphians. It’s about treating City Hall the same way you would treat College Hall. After all, if what everyone said this weekend was right (“Penn students are too smart for their own good”), then this really shouldn’t be that hard. Juliette Mullin is a College senior from Portland, Ore. She is the former Executive Editor of the DP and editor of The Report Card. Her e-mail address is In Case You Missed Me appears on Tuesdays.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.