It was supposed to be a mass protest, with more than 300 guests indicating "going" on its Facebook event, and even more who indicated "interested." But when the hour came, the sit-in to protest the changes to Huntsman Hall drew only a handful of students.
The sit-in was planned for early Thursday morning in response to the news that Huntsman Hall is no longer staying open 24 hours. It was scheduled to take place from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m., but only lasted until 2:15 a.m. At that point, Penn security officers waiting outside the building offered the attendees escorts home. Some participants took this as an opportunity to ask the officers questions about the policy change, and many stayed in the building until the third security announcement that the building was closing.
Senior Director of Operations for Wharton Maria O’Callaghan-Cassidy said the additional security was not planned in anticipation of the protest, but that the officers are a byproduct of the policy change to ensure students returned home safe at night.
“Penn security is now stationed nightly outside of Huntsman after closing in order to ensure the safety of students who walk back to the dorms or off-campus apartments,” said Cassidy. “This is a means of safety for those students who choose to study during later hours.”
Wharton senior Will Welland planned the protest of Huntsman's new hours, which are 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. The low turnout did not reflect the anticipated number of attendees based on the event’s Facebook page, which revealed 318 people who confirmed to be “going” and an additional 548 who clicked “interested.”
At 1 a.m., exactly an hour before Huntsman Hall’s newly designated closing hours and when the protest was scheduled to begin, the building’s forum remained deserted as the blue hue of the once packed but now abandoned GSRs informed the few students who stayed behind that they were likely alone.
By 2 a.m., Huntsman Hall was nearly empty, with only a total of eight students congregated in room JMHH 380 for the protest. Three had come to support Welland, and all declined to be named.
A few other students stopped by JMHH 380 and peeked into the room, but left soon after.
Welland said he created the Facebook event because he believed that shortening Huntsman Hall’s operating hours negatively affected student wellness. Despite the low attendance numbers, Welland said he thought the popularity of the Facebook event indicated that the protest was a cause that resonated with the student body.
“I don’t think that the school limiting work flexibility and opportunity makes people feel better,” Welland said. “I think that’s why there was so much backlash from the students; it seemed counterproductive to wellness. The branding was, 'We’re doing this for all of you' … but it felt weird to the student body to see a policy move that felt so wrong.”
Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett first announced the early closing hours of the former 24-hour building two weeks ago. While the new policy was an effort to improve wellness on campus, it was met with widespread criticism from students, who argued that closing Huntsman early wouldn't target the root cause of students' stress.
Shortly after the announcement that same day, a petition was drafted calling on Wharton to revert the decision. At the time of publication, the petition had garnered a total of 547 signatures.
According to some students who were part of a discussion regarding the policy change with the Wharton administration, the dissatisfaction should come as no surprise. When Wharton administrators consulted these students on an initial version of the proposal last spring, many reportedly said they did not think it was a good idea.
Wharton administrators say they actively sought student input and had numerous "collaborative discussions" with students, but it is unclear how many of those meetings took place and to what extent the student feedback was taken into account when administrators made their final decision.
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