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Even when free food is provided, it isn’t easy to get 40 Penn students to attend a club meeting that doesn’t improve their chances of becoming a future executive.

Penn Reflect , a new club founded by College junior Jared Fenton, doesn’t have official membership — just a listserv notifying subscribers of meetings. Penn Reflect is a place open to all students to talk whenever they want about whatever they want.

“The club’s motto is be open, be real, speak your mind,” Fenton said. “Penn Reflect is a club dedicated to providing students with a forum to speak and reflect openly about student life at Penn.”

After Fenton explained the rules, which included prohibitions on texting and repeating anything that an attendee revealed during the meeting, attendees broke out into discussion groups of twelve. Between bites of sushi and pizza, they opened up about how they made sense of Penn’s culture. A trained student facilitator moderated each group’s discussion, and each group’s discussion was guided by what the attendees had proposed.

Pressure, stress and “Penn face” were hot topics. But discussions weren’t limited to mental health.

“In my group last time we had a pretty long discussion about the decision calculus involved in MERTing someone,” Wharton sophomore and Penn Reflect facilitator Aaron Smith said.

“I can’t really think of a situation where someone would bring up an idea, and I would censor it” he added.

Whatever the topic, discussions were fluid, honest and insightful.

“It’s so wonderful to see such a big group that’s committed to having conversations,” Wharton junior Tai Bendit said, who was an attendee at the first meeting. “I feel like we can feel very alone at Penn sometimes when we want to talk about difficult issues because people are too busy for us, and what Penn Reflect is doing is creating a space for that, so I really see in the future a way for people to see that there are a lot of people who want to take time out of their day to support me and have conversations. I think that’s pretty powerful.”

The power of Penn Reflect’s mission might be able to overcome the challenge of people feeling uncomfortable about sharing personal stories on sensitive topics with what may often be strangers.

“My experience with the first session was that people were already sharing personal things and and no one knew anyone,” Bendit said.

Smith and Fenton added that they anticipate the club will develop a voluntary group of regular attendees, which will build trust and encourage deep and open discussions. They hope that future new members will feel the sense of community and feel comfortable sharing — especially knowing that what they shared wouldn’t leave the meeting.

Penn Reflect is “definitely not an alternative to CAPS,” Smith said. Although Fenton and his facilitators have received training from psychologists Sue Webber and Steven Treat, Smith affirmed that participants facing more severe mental health issues should seek out professional help.

Nevertheless, Fenton views Penn Reflect as a club that fulfills a need at Penn. “You go, you be real, you be open, you leave with a sense of where you are in the moment and where you want to go,” Fenton said.

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