From the Eagles' first-ever Super Bowl victory, to a contentious Amy Wax op-ed, the Class of 2020's sophomore year was defined by controversy and celebration.
In May 2018, Penn launched the Penn First Plus office to better support first-generation, low-income students. The office is intended to serve as a place for FGLI students to form a community, and to learn about and utilize campus resources. The office's establishment came after Penn admitted an increased number of first-generation students into the Class of 2022.
Penn administrators and student leaders committed to strengthening mental health resources after 2017 saw the death by suicide of seven students. Penn held a “Campus Conversation” to discuss community resilience in the wake of different tragedies, including student deaths, and the University hired five new Counseling and Psychological Services staffers. Students, including Penn's chapter of the national nonprofit organization Project Let's Erase Stigma, encouraged dialogues around mental health to de-stigmatize mental illness and unhappiness at Penn. In August, Penn came under criticism for its method of notifying the University community about student deaths, and moved to standardize that process in October.
The 2017-2018 academic year saw several controversies from Penn faculty and affiliates.
In August 2017, Penn Law professor Amy Wax co-authored a controversial op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer. The op-ed argued that white, Anglo-Protestant culture is superior to non-white cultures. The piece sparked outrage on campus, and in March, Wax was banned from teaching a mandatory first-year course.
In February 2018, after multiple reports of sexual misconduct by former Penn Trustee Steve Wynn, Penn removed Wynn’s name from the common area outside of Houston Hall. The common area, formerly named Wynn Commons, was renamed Penn Commons.
In April, allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against then-Psychology professor, Robert Kurzban. Multiple students alleged that Kurzban had romantic relationships with undergraduate students he directly oversaw. These alleged relationships are violations of University policy that prohibits sexual relationships between faculty and students for whom they have “supervisory academic responsibility.” Kurzban eventually resigned in July after University investigations. In March, the University changed its policy to prohibit all sexual relationships between current undergraduate students and faculty, instead of just "during the period of the teacher-student relationship."
On Feb. 4, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl for the first time. On campus, students watched the game from Houston Hall and college houses, and others crowded in different bars around Philadelphia. In the aftermath, students took to the streets of University City to celebrate.
Former Penn football star and wide receiver Justin Watson was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, making Watson Penn’s first player to be drafted to the National Football League since 2002.
Penn Athletics celebrated their own victories this year. Penn track and field took home first place in the women’s competition and second place in the men’s competition of the 2018 Ivy League Outdoor Heptagonal Championship, with the women scoring a program-record 177 points, and the men scoring 142 points.
Men’s basketball defeated Harvard in the Ivy League Tournament, clinching its first spot in the NCAA Tournament since 2007. Although the Quakers were eventually eliminated by the Jayhawks, they built a strong lead.
Activism on Campus
In September 2017, graduate student leaders wrote a petition to improve sexual harassment policies and procedures within the Graduate School of Education. The petition, addressed to GSE Dean Pam Grossman, started after students brought attention to sexual harassment by faculty. Students found current sexual harassment policies inadequate, with unclear reporting procedures and doubts about confidentiality. In response to the petition, Grossman reaffirmed existing harassment reporting procedures, and promised to establish mandatory sexual harassment training for faculty and staff.
Graduate students took further steps in activism that year. On Dec. 8, about 50 graduate students met with an administrator and faculty during a town hall to discuss Penn’s response to a Republican tax bill. A provision of the bill would have taxed tuition waivers for graduate students, causing them to lose almost 40% of their income. Students worried about the bill urged Penn to draft a response to the bill and create a plan to protect graduate students in the event that the bill is finalized. In December, the final draft of the bill ultimately scrapped the tuition waver tax.
In November 2017, many Penn first years signed a petition that criticized the conversion rate for meal swipes to Dining Dollars. The conversion offered is $4.87 Dining Dollars per meal swipe, which is a nearly 50% loss for students. For first-year dining plans, a meal swipe is worth up to $16. The petition gathered almost 600 signatures, but administrators responded that the conversion rate is designed to prevent operating losses.
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