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Cornelius Range V
Plead the Fifth

Credit: Cornelius Range

“Hi! My name is Bobby Frosh! Will you sign my petition for student government?”

“Sure, Bobby, what exactly does student government do again?”

“Uhh… we do whatever it takes to make your collegiate experience better!”

“Really? That sounds great! A rabid mama squirrel follows me to Spanish class every morning. I’m pretty sure that one of these days it’s gonna cause me bodily harm. It would really make my collegiate experience better if it stopped stalking me. Can you guys work on that?”

Having played the part of Bobby Frosh as a freshman and sophomore, I am almost 82 percent certain that this conversation has taken place at some point in time on this campus. Maybe a rabid mama squirrel was involved. Maybe not. The point here is that, year after year, students campaign for the Undergraduate Assembly without a clear understanding of what the body does.

The problem is that even after serving on the UA, its function and relevance can remain ambiguous. As a result, the UA claims to have power to be able to do things that are simply unrealistic, which inevitably leads to disappointment. The UA is never going to have much weight in changing Penn’s financial-aid policy for international students or for changing safety policies, for example. These types of things are handled by people who are far more qualified and experienced than college students.

While the UA’s influence might be overstated somewhat by its members, it is not without potential. It is important, however, to be pragmatic about what the UA can do. For freshmen making a run at student government in some fashion or another and still in need of a campaign platform, I encourage you to make promises that you are 100 percent certain you can fulfill.

Do not promise to get air conditioning units installed in Hill College House or bring Dining Dollars to Chili’s. Everyone knows that these things are not feasible. The UA and Class Board’s greatest strength lies in the fact that they both bring together passionate members of the student body. Instead of making unattainable promises, promise instead to bring even more members of the student body together after you are elected. Promise your peers that you will work to promote interculturalism.

Penn is one of the most diverse institutions in the world, and in many ways, the student population here exists as a microcosm of society at large. There are groups on campus representing a plethora of cultures and communities ranging from the Penn Hawaii Club to Penn for Palestine, from the Japanese Student Association to Grupo Quisqueyano. Beyond ethnic or cultural interest groups, there are fraternities, athletic teams and performing arts groups. The number of student groups at Penn is difficult to quantify. In the absence of a bridge to connect the many communities found here, students forget to take advantage of the opportunity to build meaningful friendships and relationships with people that come from different walks of life. This type of networking is important to every student. Student government should become the bridge that connects the many student groups found on campus; it should be used as the vehicle that eliminates barriers between different communities and brings people together by establishing a platform for interaction that might not exist otherwise. It should unite the student body by creating a larger community.

If the UA, or student government as a whole for that matter, commits itself to promoting interculturalism, then it will have adopted a mission that will never exhaust itself, and it will be to the benefit of the student body at large. Since the UA claims to be an entity that advocates on behalf of the student body, it should have always been working to bring students together. After all, in any form of advocacy, there is strength in numbers.

And then, after we are all together, we can take up the task of fighting that freakishly strong rabid mama squirrel with her crew of squirrel flunkies. Depending on how mean the squirrel is, we might lose that fight. However, the relationships and memories we make together from the experience will last a lifetime.

Cornelius Range V is a College senior from Memphis, Tenn. His email address is Plead the Fifth appears every Wednesday.

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