Freshmen arriving wide-eyed to Penn for New Student Orientation hear ample praise of the University’s values, its prestige, and its gifts to the local and global community.
But new students this year were also greeted with pamphlets emblazoned with the title, "Penn Disorientation Guide 2019" in bold text. At Convocation and other NSO events, members of Penn's activist community handed freshmen copies of the guide, which heavily critiques the University’s impact on its own students and the local Philadelphia area.
"There are a few things our wonderful admissions office forgot to mention in all those other orientation packets you’ve been given,” the introduction reads.
It is the second time the Disorientation Guide has been published since the first issue was released in August 2017. The 2017 guide was inspired in part by similar guides that existed for freshmen at Wesleyan University and Cornell University, according to one of the student creators at the time. The first version included articles from individuals and student groups which condemned the Penn administration and campus culture, but did not have contributions from local organizations.
With detailed articles and personal advice for freshmen, the writers of the guide incorporated campus history and University policies into categories of "what Penn does to students" and "what Penn does to the world." In 63 pages, the authors describe controversial issues that have mired Penn's campus, including the University's role in gentrifying West Philadelphia, its stance against making payments in lieu of taxes, its opposition to graduate student unions, and its employment of Penn Law professor Amy Wax, who has repeatedly made racist remarks.
The Disorientation Guide received written contributions from students and endorsements from student activist groups, including Penn Student Power, Student Labor Action Project, Fossil Free Penn, Penn for Immigrant Rights, Penn Association for Gender Equity, Radical South Asian Collective, and Beyond Arrests: Re-Thinking Systematic Oppression.
One of the articles, entitled "Amy Wax, Face the Facts,” addresses the controversial Penn Law professor Amy Wax who has promoted claims such as the United States being "better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites."
"Amy Wax is an outspoken and notorious racist and white supremacist," the article read. "Despite numerous petitions circulated garnering thousands of signatures calling for her removal, she remains a tenured professor at the Law School."
College senior Claudia Silver, a member of SLAP and FFP, said she hopes that in the near future a strong activist community will "be a permanent fixture on Penn's campus."
“Penn is able to act in unethical ways by taking advantage of complacency and lack of awareness in the University community, so the more people know about Penn as a whole institution and the people trying to change it, the more powerful these movements will get,” Silver said.
Wharton senior Michelle Lyu, a SLAP and PSP member, said finding her way as a Penn student during freshman year was a slow and painful process. Lyu hopes the distribution of the guide helps freshmen become more engaged with activism and politics on campus.
“I certainly wish I’d received a guide like this myself when I had first arrived here, starry-eyed in the fall of 2015," Lyu said. "It’s something that really could have supported me along the way, given me the hope and ignited the clarity I’d been searching for."
“It was beautiful and moving seeing so many students come together to take on such a large-scale project, with commitment and integrity, out of the sincere desire to uplift the conditions and consciousness of the student body,” Lyu said of the organizing efforts.
College senior Jacob Hershman, the actions coordinator of FFP and a contributor to the guide, said Penn has shut down student voices in conversations about divestment from fossil fuel, including numerous student divestment proposals.
The guide references Penn's 2007 Climate Action Plan and 2014 Climate Action Plan 2.0, which included goals of environmental progress including "integrating sustainability into coursework, community outreach, and campus planning."
“There is this lauded omnibus plan to step up sustainability overhaul in the next 50 years, and it’s so unambitious,” Hershman said. “The emissions goals for Penn's climate plan 2.0 are measly. With 3.0 coming, we don’t anticipate much improvement.”
Student affinity groups and local resources for mental health, sexual assault, and first-generation, low-income issues were also listed in the pamphlet. Several off-campus groups also contributed articles, including The Party for Socialism and Liberation, Philly Socialists, Juntos, and Our City Our Schools.
“Freshman year can be such an illusory, confusing, and contradictory experience for students. I wished for the disorientation guide to present an alternative — something distinctly and refreshingly honest — to freshmen during the often neurotic and superficial chaos of New Student Orientation," Lyu said.