Students looking for a space to celebrate their cultures and identities are no longer able to find comfort in the basement of ARCH, where three of the six cultural resource centers are housed.
In line with the online fall semester, all six cultural resource centers transitioned their programming to a completely virtual format. The centers are looking forward to hosting online spaces where students and staff can meet one another and foster a sense of community — despite the remote setting.
“The kind of isolation that can set in is something that we’re very in tune to, and [all six center directors] make every effort to help create these communities where students really feel engaged with peers, but also staff members at the cultural centers,” Associate Vice Provost for Equity and Access William Gipson said.
Greenfield Intercultural Center
The Greenfield Intercultural Center for first-generation, low-income students will continue to make itself available to students by hosting online gatherings and one-on-one appointments with staff, GIC Director Valerie Cruz said.
GIC will also use its virtual platform 'Penn Flash,' where FGLI students can connect with other students and alumni to discuss challenges for FGLI students at Penn and concerns about their professional path after graduation.
“We want to be mindful of the fact that when you’re virtual, you may actually feel more of a need for community,” De Cruz said. “We want [students] to still be able to find those outlets to engage creatively through your student organizations.”
GIC hosted their virtual open house for new students on Sept. 10. While an exciting part of GIC's traditional in-person open house is celebrating foods from different cultures, Cruz said students were still able to connect with other students and staff and learn about GIC's programming and student organizations.
La Casa Latina
La Casa Latina, the main hub for Latinx students located in the basement of ARCH, will conduct all programming online this semester, including its 35th annual Latinx Heritage Month throughout the month of September.
Celebrations of Latinx Heritage Month will include keynote speaker events, panels featuring local community leaders supporting Afro-Latinx and Latinx community members in Philadelphia, and game nights, Associate Director of La Casa Latina Kareli Lizarraga said.
While hosting events virtually, Lizarraga said a priority for the center is to make sure students are engaged and making connections with other students and staff. During La Casa Latina's open house on Sept. 14, Lizarraga used Zoom breakout rooms to encourage student interaction.
“It’s something that all of us are being really mindful about, of how we make sure that we still help students foster connections and community with one another,” Lizarraga said.
As a first-generation immigrant, Lizarraga said she is familiar with the difficulties that come with connecting with someone who is hundreds of miles away, as she has done with her family in Mexico where she was born.
“That connection to me is not foreign, of hearing about someone even if you’re not able to see them on the day-to-day,” Lizarraga said. “I think that’s something we would like to continue doing with our programming, of letting students know that they still have this anchor and home base at Penn.”
In addition to conducting some of its regular programming in a virtual format, the LGBT Center is developing new events this fall to support the LGBT community, Director of the LGBT Center Erin Cross said.
The LGBT Center will host virtual programs for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as bi-weekly meetings for LGBT staff and faculty to meet other people in the community and share resources with each other. Cross added that the center will continue LGBTQ+ Tips, a video series that addresses issues affecting the LGBT community, including how to prioritize self-care during the pandemic.
The LGBT Center is working to create a new mentorship program for LGBT high school students in West Philadelphia and a program with Career Services called 'What to Wear' about professional attire for non-binary individuals, Cross added.
Makuu: The Black Cultural Center
Makuu Director Brian Peterson said it has never been more important for Makuu to continue offering community building events and a space where Black students can feel supported during the pandemic and a time of heightened awareness of systemic racism.
Following a summer of widespread protests against police brutality and racial injustice, Peterson said he hopes Makuu's virtual programming, such as regular check-ins with students and the Makuu Living Room — an open virtual space where students, alumni, and community members can come together and meet one another — will help students feel as if they are part of a community despite the remote setting.
“I think that the programming we’re doing to help make a space where Black students can thrive is tackling all of these things and more,” Peterson said.
For Peterson, Makuu’s physical space at the basement of ARCH often served as a “drop-in” spot for students to speak with one other and staff, and he hopes to cultivate a similar welcoming environment online.
“You can’t replicate the energy of bumping into people on Locust Walk when you saw this person at Makuu, when you saw this person at a party,” Peterson said. “[But] I do think that in the Zoom space that we’ve been able to cultivate, there has been a sense of family and looking out for each other.”
Pan-Asian American Community House
PAACH Director Peter Van Do said the center, which supports South Asian, East Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander students, will focus virtual programming on self-care and mental wellness for both students and staff members during the pandemic.
“I understood that this would be a very stressful time for not only the PAACH staff, but also the communities that are connected with us,” Van Do said. “Looking towards the long run, I really wanted us to practice self-care, especially because there are certain communities that really need us.”
Van Do said PAACH is working collaboratively with students in order to reimagine its programming and how PAACH can meet student needs this fall. PAACH has created a feedback system for students to share information with staff on how PAACH can best support its students, Van Do added.
Van Do also acknowledged that some students may prefer to decrease their involvement with PAACH, and said PAACH allowed its interns and student leaders to take time away from their positions in order to focus on their wellness this semester.
Penn Women’s Center
Over the summer, the Penn Women’s Center worked on adapting its programming to address the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism, while also emphasizing self-care, Director of the Women’s Center Sherisse Laud-Hammond said.
Penn Women's Center will continue to offer student check-ins with its staff and expand hours of availability to accommodate students in different time zones, Laud-Hammond said. She added that the Women’s Center, in collaboration with the Penn Family Center, is hosting events for Black Penn parents to support them in light of the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests.
For students currently in Philadelphia, Laud-Hammond said the Women’s Center’s garden is available as a study space for students as long as they practice social distancing. She added that for women who need breast pumps, PWC will continue to distribute free breast pump kits as part of their Medela Pump-Kit Giveaway Program for any student, staff, or faculty member near Penn's campus.
Laud-Hammond said she hopes that students will prioritize their mental health, especially during this online semester.
“My hope is that students, staff and faculty come out of the semester stronger and more self-aware than they went into the semester,” Laud-Hammond said.
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