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Credit: Sam Holland

My time at Penn has provided me with more growth than I anticipated upon opening my acceptance letter. During my campus tour, my program director, Kathy Urban, gave me some unexpected advice: don't arrive at Penn with a strict plan. She emphasized making the most of the many opportunities Penn students are privileged to have access to. Her words continue to be extremely valid today. Over the last few years, I have developed extensively from my academic interactions and the friendships I’ve gained. My Penn experience has emphasized the limitlessness of opportunity. As my senior year approaches and Hey Day inches closer, I’ve been reflecting on some of my cherished Penn experiences and some of my not so cherished experiences. 

Cringey. That word appears in my mind when I think about my experience with Spanish 110. I enrolled in Spanish 110 as a person with no experience speaking Spanish. As the base level Spanish course, Spanish 110 is meant for students who need to set their focus on the "development of foundational listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills," according to the Hispanic and Portuguese Department website

For me, as with many college students, learning a new language proved to be extremely complex. Conjugating verbs was a struggle. I felt a wave of anxiety every time I attempted to speak Spanish aloud in class. I did not connect with my instructor's teaching methods. I became increasingly aware of this when Chad Everrett Allan covered one of my Spanish 110 classes. I became attached to his methods of teaching. That particular day, I was less anxious. I was excited to learn more. He was greatly enthusiastic. Unfortunately, the add/drop period had ended by that point. The possibility of switching to his Spanish 110 class was non-existant.  

Throughout the semester, emails to my instructor went unanswered, impromptu after-class conversations with my instructor lacked clarity, and finally, a meeting with the Spanish 110 coordinator resulted in a hindering conversation. This conversation was spoken mostly in Spanish and predominantly between my instructor and the Spanish 110 coordinator. The small office in which we met quickly filled with patronizing words.

Being a student at Penn is expensive. Attending this institution is a huge investment for many students. Student loan debt is one of the hottest topics in our current political atmosphere. As a student, I do not want to pay for a single moment of impudence in my academic journey. And so, I have arrived at this very important belief: it is a necessity that all students' academic needs be treated with compassion and understanding. Incidents like the one I experienced with Spanish 110 should be unacceptable. Anyone that finds themselves struggling in a course should be able to convey the same in an open and safe environment. They should be heard. There is no benefit to taking the course otherwise. 

I don’t see myself enrolling in another Spanish course during the remainder of my time at Penn. My experience was too uncomfortable. But that isn't the final point that I’d like to emphasize. I would like to highlight the bigger lack of caring some students at Penn experience. My experience caused me to reflect on whether my Penn interactions are common to all students. Should I anticipate walking into an office to have my academic concerns ignored? No student should be uncomfortable when meeting with Penn employees. It is imperative for students to feel secure when advocating for themselves and communicating their needs and concerns.

We need to prioritize a culture and environment that is safe and agreeable for all Penn students. We all deserve respect. The only way to ensure this goal is to be honest and vulnerable about our interactions. We have to acknowledge bad experiences for what they are and figure out ways to address and combat them accordingly.

JESSICA GOODING is a College junior from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania studying History and English. Her email address is jgooding@sas.upenn.edu.

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