Penn's main minority group coalition, known as the 6B, is mobilizing to increase spaces for minority groups on campus. Student leaders say despite the slow administrative progress, they remain hopeful that space for cultural centers will expand beyond the ARCH basement.
In meetings with several Penn administrators, student leaders of the 6B discussed the ongoing need for more space for minority students. The three cultural centers — the Pan-Asian American Community House, Makuu, and La Casa Latina — are all located in the basement of the ARCH building. Students are also advocating for the cultural houses to be moved into fraternity houses, which occupy more prominent spaces on Locust Walk.
Members of PAACH constituent groups met with Provost Wendell Pritchett on Jan. 28, said College sophomore Mohammad Samroz, who is the Asian Pacific Student Coalition vice chair for constituent affairs. The 6B also recently met with Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, Associate Vice Provost for Equity and Access Will Gipson and other VPUL administrators on Feb. 12. The 6B scheduled another meeting on Feb. 20 with Penn President Amy Gutmann, Pritchett, and McCoullum, but the meeting was delayed in light of University operations being suspended due to the winter storm.
Samroz, who was at the meeting with Pritchett, said several students compared the location of the cultural houses to the prominent locations of fraternities on Locust Walk.
"Somebody talked about fraternities in general having a history of misogyny, having a history of all of these different things that are exclusionary, and being behind the LOVE statue, versus us —minority communities housed in the basement of the ARCH building," Samroz said.
"I think Provost Pritchett was a bit defensive about it. We talked about it as being in a basement but he was like 'it's not really a bad basement. It's a nice basement,' which is absolutely true," Samroz added.
The 6B started to push for greater administrative action toward the end of last semester. Students leaders met with McCoullum and Gipson in November 2018 to advocate for more space, United Minorities Council Chair and College sophomore Kevin Zhou said.
After the Nov. 14 meeting, VPUL increased space for cultural groups by removing ARCH 106 and the ARCH Fireside Lounge from the university reservation system with the intention of making them only available for cultural groups. ARCH 106 was previously a space reservable for all student groups, and the Fireside Lounge was allocated for the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, Zhou said.
Zhou added, however, that the reservation process for the rooms is unclear. Currently, the rooms are unused.
Members of the 6B have also proposed occupying one of the fraternity houses more visbly displayed on Locust Walk in meetings with administrators.
In the recent February meeting with PAACH student members, Pritchett said the move into a fraternity house on Locust Walk is currently not possible because these houses belong to fraternities.
APSC chair Kamal Gill said both the Penn Women's Center and the LGBT Center occupy former fraternity houses, so he sees moving the cultural centers into fraternity houses as a feasible alternative. Penn Association for Gender Equity chair Tanya Jain added it took years for the Penn Women's Center to occupy their current house after the fraternity was removed from the house due to a violation of University policy.
PAGE has contributed to 6B discussions with administrators about "taking up space on Locust Walk that are taken up by frat houses which make it difficult for women on campus just to go to class," Jain said. "[The women] get harassed by people sitting outside their frat houses.”
Several members of the 6B said the University has launched a space reallocation survey within the past year to make note of underused space on campus. VPUL administrators said in their last meeting that the university is conducting a space survey to try to look at what spaces are existent, Gill added.
"I think one big step would be to try to figure out how to repurpose ARCH so the ARCH building could truly be an intersectional cultural space, so that would mean having CURF move out of the second and third floors and be repurposed into a building that would more directly meet students' needs," said UMOJA Political Chair and College junior Jordan Andrews, who is also the Undergraduate Assembly vice president.
Zhou added that UMC's immediate request to administrators is for CURF, which is located in ARCH, to move to the McNeil building with Career Services.
"VPUL looks forward to the space planning results next year and other opportunities to make the ARCH and Houston Hall, and all of centers and campus union buildings, even more of a campus home for our important community," VPUL Communications Director Monica Yant-Kinney wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian on behalf of VPUL administrators, including the cultural center directors.
"The ARCH is an essential, centrally located hub of activity that was designed in partnership with the cultural centers," Pritchett wrote in an email to The DP. "I have spoken with the centers and with many other members of our community about how we can best sustain the centers’ needs and continued excellence as our campus becomes ever more inclusive."
Despite the lack of concrete plans to increase space for cultural groups on campus, student leaders say they are still hopeful.
"In terms of tangible progress, that comes really slowly. My expectation was not to have any sort of tangible result out of all this," Samroz said. "It feels like the administration is listening to us."