In April, College seniors Natasha Menon and Brian Goldstein were elected to lead the Undergraduate Assembly as president and vice president. Now, at the halfway point of their administration, the leaders of Penn's student body say they are focused on inclusivity, citing their resolution condemning University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School professor Amy Wax.
But the two leaders said they could do a better job supporting student groups they have not worked with before, while other UA officials pressed for an increased focus on climate change.
The student governing body’s leaders campaigned on a five-point platform, pledging to improve transparency, inclusivity, accessibility, wellness, and academics.
This fall, the UA demanded that Penn increase faculty sensitivity to diversity, an initiative that Menon said was her administration's biggest push for inclusivity. The push was a key provision of the UA's resolution urging Penn to fire controversial Penn Law professor Amy Wax. Yet the impact of the resolution remains unclear and may serve as more of a symbolic stand against Wax's past comments.
The resolution initially called for mandatory annual sensitivity training for academic faculty. The final draft that was sent to administration demands mandatory discussion-based trainings, Menon said, a change to make the resolution more feasible and facilitate conversations rather than force faculty to sit through presentations.
“We’re putting together an extensive report, including focus groups with constituents that might be interested in having their voice heard about these trainings, that we’ll present to administration and the Provost,” Menon said.
Chair of the UA’s Equity and Inclusion Committee and College sophomore Mary Sadallah praised Menon and Goldstein for passing the Wax resolution, but said she wishes the resolution condemning Wax had led to more concrete results.
Maria Curry, chair of the UA’s Dining, Housing, and Transit Committee and a College and Wharton senior, also praised the Wax resolution, but said she wishes the UA would take a more active and visible approach to issues like climate change and expanding space for cultural groups.
"I think the UA could be more physically present on campus," Curry said. "Why don't we have a physical protest and sit-in for these issues that we believe in?"
Menon and Goldstein said their campaign promise of bringing Counseling and Psychological Services embedded models to cultural centers like the ARCH or the Penn Women’s Center was fulfilled by Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé’s Let’s Talk program. This project provides access to clinicians at cultural centers and other popular spaces, like Van Pelt Library.
The UA was not directly involved in creating this project, but Menon said members have previously worked on projects bringing CAPS embedded models to all four undergraduate schools. These projects have not been achieved because Dubé's program fulfilled some of these aims by bringing wellness officers to more campus locations.
Goldstein said the UA tabled on Locust Walk to discuss projects and garner feedback from students in order to make the UA more transparent. Although the UA undertook this project in previous years, Goldstein said this year differed because the tables were run by UA Steering, which consists of the UA and 41 large student groups. He said 50 students offered suggestions on Locust — an increase from past years.
Menon said she wants to extend the UA’s outreach beyond just UA Steering groups. In addition to the tabling initiative, Menon said the UA often collaborates with Steering groups, such as at the 6B town hall during Penn Student Government Week.
“Something I want to do more of is work with groups that we traditionally have not worked with,” Menon said. “There are groups like the Student Labor Action Project, Penn for Immigrant Rights … groups that aren’t in Steering already and don’t have that platform.”
Menon said one of the biggest ways the UA addressed accessibility was with the launch of the Penn Clubs website, a database that consolidates club information to make choosing extracurricular activities more convenient for students.
Next semester, the UA will roll out one of their biggest academic promises, the Know Your Rights campaign, Menon said. Menon and Goldstein campaigned on this promise, which will be a compilation of academic rights for students to help them understand when their rights may be infringed upon in the classroom.
The UA has worked with the University Honor Council and the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education this semester to aggregate relevant University policies, Menon said.
Menon said she also aims to hold a sustainability town hall next semester, bringing administrators together with students to discuss the University’s plan to combat climate change. Goldstein said Fossil Free Penn and the Student Sustainability Association at Penn have attended UA meetings to encourage the UA to take action.
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