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Outside Van Pelt Library, students held signs and spoke in protest of racist GroupMe messages.

Credit: Genevieve Glatsky

In the wake of a racist group message targeting black freshmen at Penn and other hate crimes against minorities, many students have been left fearful and rattled. Others, however, are wondering how they can help.

TableTalk, a student group dedicated to promoting conversations among students, held a forum Wednesday night on how students can become better allies for marginalized groups.

College senior Sophie Beren, the founder of TableTalk at Penn, explained her aspirations for the event.

“The official mission statement of TableTalk is to bring different types of people together at Penn who wouldn’t interact under ordinary circumstances,” she said. “Our goal today is to bring different people from the Penn community together who may not face issues of allyship, or are not experts on issues of allyship.”

“We hope that people walk away knowing a little bit more about what it means to be an ally,” she added.

The format of the event was greatly focused on individual experiences — a testament to TableTalk’s commitment to conversation.

College freshman Camila Johanek praised the event’s design.

“For me, TableTalk is about forging community,” Johanek said. “This event is especially important because allyship and understanding everyone’s perspectives and cultures are both crucial to forging that community.”

Many upperclassmen similarly recognized the merits of the discussion.

“I think it’s a really important event, especially in the context of the election and the way our country is going,” College sophomore Sophia Simon said. “It’s very sensitive, and we often think we’re being allies when we’re not.”

The event began with short speeches from representatives of historically marginalized constituencies on campus, before shifting toward smaller group conversations.

One such speaker was College junior Sean Collins, the newly elected president of the Lambda Alliance, Penn’s LGBTQ+ umbrella advocacy group. He explained that, despite some difficult times for his community, proving an effective ally for queer students is rather simple.

“We had a couple of difficult events with the preachers,” Collins said, referencing a preacher who has caused controversy on campus this semester by shouting homophobic comments at students. “But what really makes campus accepting or not accepting is everyday language.”

“We should use peoples’ preferred pronouns,” he added. “Every time you misgender someone, you delegitimize their identity.”

Collins expressed his gratitude for the event.

“I’m really happy TableTalk is putting this on, because support is really important,” he said. “If you don’t have anyone on campus who’s not in your community that you feel comfortable going to, you’re not going to succeed.”

Another speaker was College junior Esther Cohen.

“People have a lot of things to be angry about, and people love to delegitimize the anger of minority groups,” she said.

College senior Alec Josiah , a member of the Carriage Society — a senior society for LGBTQ students — and recent founder of the Greek Diversity and Inclusion Board, also said that he recognized the unfortunate and damaging biases that many implicitly hold.

“The sad reality is, people listen to, and are more persuaded by, people who look like them,” he said.

College senior Pearl Lo, a member of the Vagina Monologues, emphasized the importance of having steadfast allies on Penn’s campus.

“Allies should use their privilege to talk to others and help deconstruct oppression,” she said.