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Credit: Isabel Liang

On Wednesday evening, a first-year woman attempted to advertise an off-campus social group’s annual Valentine’s Day fundraiser to the first-year class through a post in the Penn ’24 GroupMe. The fundraiser allows students to send sweet treats to their campus crush, with the proceeds benefiting Philadelphia nonprofit Women Against Abuse.

The link provided in the GroupMe, however, was not to a fundraiser signup form, but instead a slideshow. The slideshow included pictures of 16 first-year men, with each picture accompanied by the number of shots of alcohol the slideshow’s creators would need to consume before they would “hook up” with the man in question, spanning from three to a whopping 27 shots, far exceeding any definition of binge drinking. Presumably, the more shots required, the less desirable the man. For good measure, each slide included objectifying commentary, such as “looks bland,” “looks like a thumb,” “eyebrow game not strong,” “short in real life :(” and other, more vulgar material not suitable to be printed in these pages.

To the men included in the slideshow, and to Quakers everywhere: This behavior is not representative of the Penn population at large, and we as a community will not tolerate the objectification of any of our members.

This is especially true because these individuals are all first years — the most vulnerable class year — who arrived on our campus only a few weeks ago. While the circumstances surrounding the creation of the slideshow remain unclear, the most generous explanation is that the creators acted of their own volition and simply had nothing better to do during their Quiet Period than make degrading presentations about their classmates. Whatever the case, the creators of the slideshow should carefully consider their significant error in judgement. The creators body-shamed, degraded, and objectified their peers. The victims were portrayed as nothing more than objects, as bodies to be used, and it was done in a way that was immediately visible to thousands of their classmates.

Those with memory of the soccer “scouting report”— first reported by The Harvard Crimson in 2016 — will immediately be able to see the parallels between the scouting report and this slideshow. The 2012 Harvard men’s soccer team produced a document — a so-called “scouting report” — that “individually assessed and evaluated [first-year] recruits from the 2012 women’s soccer team based on their perceived physical attractiveness and sexual appeal.” The thoughtful response from members of the women’s soccer team offers many insights to help us understand the gravity and impact of last week’s slideshow, as well as how we can move forward from here. 

Like many members of the Penn community now, the Harvard women were embarrassed, disgusted, and appalled that “these individuals could encourage, silently observe, or participate in this kind of behavior.” The women emphasized that the purpose of their community — Harvard athletics for them, and the broader Penn ecosystem for us — is to “lift each other up and bring out the best in those around us to achieve our goals.” 

The disgraceful slideshow that surfaced last week is antithetical to our community, and we must work together to ensure that no students suffer from this sort of deplorable objectification. The Harvard women concluded their piece by acknowledging that while the past cannot be changed, the future is very much within our collective control, expressing hope that the event would “catalyze the cultivation of an environment and a culture that strives to lift up all of its members.”

Voices across our university forcefully condemned sexual misconduct on campus in light of the 2019 Campus Climate Survey, which revealed that 7.3% of male respondents, 25.9% of female students, and 21.5% of students who identify as transgender, genderqueer or nonbinary, questioning, or an unlisted identity experienced unwanted sexual contact during their time at Penn. While “included on an objectifying slideshow” may not be a statistic tracked by the next Campus Climate Survey, it is sexual misconduct and completely unacceptable. Sexual misconduct should never have a place on our campus. It is up to us to create a school culture in which everyone — regardless of appearance — can thrive.

Students: In light of this slideshow, let us redouble our efforts to build a more welcoming campus community, and may we each find the courage to challenge our friends and classmates whose actions impede our beloved university from becoming a more inclusive institution for all.

CONNOR GIBSON is a Wharton junior from Ebensburg, Pa. His email is cpgibson@wharton.upenn.edu.

Campus Resources:

Reach–A–Peer Hotline: 215–573–2727 (every day from 9 pm to 1 am, texting available 24/7): A peer hotline to provide peer support, information, and referrals to Penn students.

Special Services: 215-898-6600: Special Services offers comprehensive victim support for any member of the University community who experiences interpersonal violence. Special Services has advocates on call 24-hours a day who provide options counseling, hospital and court accompaniment and take formal police reports.

Student Health Service: 215–746–3535: Student Health Service can provide medical evaluations and treatment to victims/survivors of sexual violence, regardless of whether they make an official report or seek additional resources.

Counseling and Psychological Services: 215–898–7021 (active 24/7): The counseling center for the University of Pennsylvania. They have a dedicated Sexual Trauma Treatment Outreach and Prevention (STTOP) Team to provide support specifically related to sexual violence and abuse.

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