Penn’s minority student coalition groups, known as the 6B, have elected new student leaders for 2021. The 6B is composed of the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, Lambda Alliance, Latinx Coalition, Penn Association for Gender Equity, the United Minorities Council, and UMOJA.
The Daily Pennsylvanian interviewed the leaders about their priorities and ambitions for the year, particularly as the groups continue supporting their constituents virtually during COVID-19.
College junior Kai Song is the newly elected chair of APSC. Song said their focus right now is to support Asian American students in grieving and processing the shooting in Atlanta last week that killed six women of Asian descent as well as the deportation of 33 Vietnamese refugees.
Song added that APSC is supporting efforts led by the Asian American Studies Program and the Asian American Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board in efforts to increase funding and administrative support for the program.
APSC is also working with UMOJA and Latinx Coalition, Song said, to advocate for the Pan-Asian American Community House, Makuu: The Black Cultural Center, and La Casa Latina to move out of ARCH, replace some of the fraternity houses on Locust Walk, and receive more funding to adequately staff each cultural house.
“Particularly with the Asian community, we are not a monolith. We have such varied experiences and needs,” Song said. “Our students that we serve make up Asian Americans, international students, and there’s also a thriving graduate Asian population. There’s just literally not enough staff to try to address everyone’s needs.”
College junior Blake Rubenstein is the chair of Lambda Alliance. He said his goals this year are to advocate for more gender non-conforming staff and staff of color in Counseling and Psychological Services and Student Health Service, more multi-stall all-gender bathrooms on campus, more queer faculty across schools, and increased faculty awareness of gender identity and pronoun usage.
“Almost none of the schools [at Penn] have any tenure-track faculty that identify as part of the trans[gender] community,” Rubenstein said.
Another goal of his is to strengthen the sense of community among LGBTQ students with events such as QPenn, a cultural week that celebrates queer identities through social and academic events, he said. He added that this semester, Lambda Alliance has implemented “coffee chats,” an opportunity for LGBTQ students to get paired or grouped together every two weeks to meet one another.
Rubenstein said that Lambda Alliance will support the rest of the 6B in advocating for cultural centers to have their own buildings on campus, and will advocate for these centers to have multi-stall all-gender bathrooms if the centers are created.
College sophomore and Latinx Coalition Chair of External Affairs Gabriela Alvarado said their goal is to create a safer space on campus for Latinx students, especially as more students return to campus in the fall.
Alvarado said that they would prioritize the issue of sexual violence on campus, as it affects the Latinx community at a disproportionate rate, as well as how policing affects the community and other students from underrepresented groups.
“Tragically, the events of this summer have also put [policing] at the fronts of a lot of people’s minds, but this is something that a lot of Latinx communities and other racialized minorities have had to deal with their whole lives," Alvarado said. "A lot of what we face is fear of [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and deportation, but also a fear of being stopped by ICE even if you are a citizen or have papers.”
Having a separate cultural center on campus that is open for longer hours and is staffed with full-time faculty can help create a safe haven for students who might otherwise not feel protected on campus, Alvarado said, adding that they will continue working with the other 6B groups to advocate for more space for the cultural centers.
Alvarado said that many issues in the Latinx community — such as homophobia, transphobia, and ‘machismo,’ or hypermasculinity — also affect members of other communities, noting that many constituents of the Latinx Coalition are also constituents of other 6B groups. They added that they are looking forward to working with the other 6B groups to identify and resolve intersectional issues.
College junior Samantha Pancoe, who is the chair of PAGE, said her primary goal for the year is to work on sexual violence prevention initiatives and creating a “culture of consent” at Penn. She added that PAGE has begun meeting with Title IX and Penn Violence Prevention this semester, and is working on an initiative to increase Greek life compliance with sexual assault trainings.
Pancoe said another goal of hers is to make the University a more inclusive environment for transgender students, adding that PAGE is working with Penn Non-Cis to create a “language guide” aimed at helping Penn students and faculty rethink gender, and is planning to bring more speakers on campus to talk about issues the transgender community faces.
Because PAGE has a space on Locust Walk in the Penn Women’s Center, Pancoe said PAGE will use their resources to support the groups without a cultural center and advocate for them to have their own space on Locust Walk.
College senior Brooke Price will continue serving as the chair of UMC until April, when the group will hold elections. Price said she has refocused her goals since the start of the pandemic, from holding collaborative and social events in person to now remotely supporting and assisting UMC constituents.
“Our [general body meetings] have been more discussion-based to give people a space to talk about current events that are affecting minority communities disproportionately,” she said.
UMC is working with Police Free Penn, an assembly of Penn community members calling to abolish policing on campus, to advocate for justice for victims of police brutality and for Penn to defund its police force, Price said. She added that UMC is also advocating for Penn employees — such as security and dining hall staff — who work in campus buildings to have greater access to medical resources when more students come back to campus in the fall semester.
“We’re also making sure that there are protections in place, whether it’s sanctioning students who break the [Student Campus] Compact or providing [workers] with the proper [personal protective equipment],” she said.
Price added that UMC is working with the other 6B organizations to draft and present proposals to top University administrators about increasing cultural spaces on campus.
College junior Justin Arnold, who is one of the co-chairs of UMOJA, said one of his goals for the year is to work with Career Services and Student Registration and Financial Services to ensure that there are ample summer internship opportunities and funding for middle-income and highly aided Black students. Arnold also echoed Rubenstein’s goal of increasing the diversity of staff at CAPS.
UMOJA hopes to collaborate with Police Free Penn and Penn for PILOTs, a group of Penn faculty and staff that demands the University pay Payments In Lieu of Taxes, Arnold said, to ensure that there is not an increase of police presence on campus.
“We know that the police often don’t keep our communities safe,” he said, adding that UMOJA plans to do more anti-racism work within the West Philadelphia community this year in collaboration with West Philadelphia activists and scholars.
Arnold said his goals for the 6B this year are to increase communication and collaboration among the groups to present their demands to Penn administration as a united front.
“It’s important that we explain to admin that we’re on the same page about a lot of the issues that we want [addressed],” Arnold said.