Penn's minority student coalition groups, known as the 6B, are continuing to advocate for more University-allotted resources for their constituents this fall. The 6B comprises 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 6B leaders about their priorities and ambitions for the fall semester, especially as the groups transition to in-person activities during the pandemic.
Asian Pacific Student Coalition
College senior and APSC chair Kingsley Song said the group's main goals this semester are building relationships with its constituents and pushing Penn to provide more physical space for cultural centers on campus.
The 6B groups have been advocating for more space for cultural centers for years, particularly for Makuu: The Black Cultural Center, La Casa Latina, and the Pan-Asian American Community House, which are housed in the basement of the ARCH building. Song emphasized the need for not only more room, but for a central location on campus, such as on Locust Walk.
"Now that we're in person, it's really in your face when I see underclassmen or new first years who are literally sitting face-to-face in the only space we have on campus," Song said.
Other goals for APSC this school year include building relationships with organizations and communities in Philadelphia and pushing for more funding for cultural centers, many of which haven't seen a budget increase in more than 10 years, according to Song.
After the majority of students spent the last year and a half online, APSC is also focused on building relationships with its constituents by making the group more accessible. Potential activities include meeting with constituents in spaces on campus outside of the ARCH building, such as through study breaks or picnics, or by providing wrapped lunches during internal constituent meetings.
“I think in general we’re just trying to make ourselves more visible and accessible to the rest of the AAPI community on campus,” Song said.
College senior and Lambda Alliance chair Blake Rubenstein said the group is focusing on important issues this semester, including advocacy around increasing diversity and multi-stall all-gender bathrooms, and on the transition to in-person programming. The group is also continuing to advocate alongside the other 6B groups for more space for cultural centers on campus.
Most recently, Lambda Alliance is developing its buddy program this month, which pairs LGBTQ undergraduate students with each other to help facilitate a sense of community. The program, which was primarily virtual last year, is hoping to organize in-person events for its participants.
Lambda Alliance is also planning for QPenn, a cultural week in March that celebrates LGBTQ identities through social and academic events, and is continuing to advocate for more diversity at Penn, particularly among faculty, and for services such as Student Health Service and Counseling and Psychological Services. Rubenstein emphasized the limited number of transgender and gender non-conforming faculty members and the need for transgender counselors and counselors of color.
“A lot of times when someone who is a diverse candidate does get hired to work [at CAPS], they’re not retained that long,” Rubenstein said. “We’re really trying to work on not just hiring and reputation, but how do you maintain individuals?”
College junior and Latinx Coalition Chair of External Affairs Gabriela Alvarado said the group has three priorities for the fall semester, each of which are tied to the push for more space for cultural centers: sexual violence, police violence, and COVID-19 safety.
Providing more space for cultural centers such as La Casa Latina would provide refuge to students of color who feel unsafe on campus, especially students who feel they are at greater risk of experiencing sexual violence in fraternities on Locust Walk, according to Alvarado.
Studies of sexual misconduct on Penn's campus have documented how women, students of color, and transgender and gender non-conforming students are disproportionately harmed by sexual violence. In 2019, more than 25% of undergraduate women reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact, according to results from the 2019 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct conducted by the Association for American Universities.
“For me, the sexual violence aspect is not extricable from the space aspect,” Alvarado said. “You’re saying through the campus layout by the space that it’s OK for [fraternities] to be doing this, even though it’s not all of them.”
Creating a central location for cultural centers where students can seek refuge can also help alleviate concerns about police violence, Alvarado said. While Penn Police are an accessible resource on campus for students who feel unsafe, many students of color do not feel safe around police officers.
Another concern for the Latinx Coalition this semester is COVID-19 safety measures in the cultural centers. Although Penn administrators previously informed the cultural centers that ARCH building’s ventilation had been renovated recently, Alvarado said it’s difficult to socially distance in the building’s basement. Alvarado said students in Makuu, PAACH, and La Casa Latina are in often close quarters, and an event in front of one center can make it difficult to host an event in another center due to the limited space.
Penn Association for Gender Equity
College senior and PAGE chair Sam Pancoe said their primary goal this semester is supporting the 6B's efforts to gain space for cultural centers on campus.
“In addition to the space concern, cultural centers are highly lacking in resources,” Pancoe said. “Many of them don’t have the number of staff they need or the amount of money they need to address the concerns of all of the students on campus.”
In addition to advocacy for cultural centers, PAGE is continuing to focus on addressing sexual assault on campus. The group is currently in conversation with Greek life student leaders about enforcing bylaws that require mandatory sexual assault trainings through Penn Anti-Violence Educators, and PAGE is working with Penn Violence Prevention and Restorative Practices @ Penn to consider how sexual assault impacts different campus communities and how to address community harm.
PAGE is also planning to expand some of its current initiatives, Pancoe said. The group is seeking more funding for its menstrual product distribution program, which provides free menstrual products in some academic buildings across campus, and is currently expanding PennGenEq, a first-year pre-orientation program focused on exploring gender equity and social justice.
PAGE is also continuing to work on the trans-include language guide developed in collaboration with Penn Non-Cis, a group for trans and non-cisgender students on campus, that was released this March, Pancoe said.
United Minorities Council
Wharton junior and UMC chair Jessica Liu said the group's board is exploring ideas to implement ongoing programming for its constituents and the wider Penn community, including a potential mentorship program and speaker series.
“We haven’t had a ton of integrative events with our constituents,” Liu said. “I think there’s a lot of potential there to get more students involved.”
Liu was elected as chair at the end of the spring semester, and said UMC's board is almost entirely new this semester. UMC elections are typically held in December or January, but were delayed last semester.
UMC is also looking into increasing its funding capacity this semester. During a general body meeting with its constituents on Oct. 4, UMC was unable to approve funding requests from constituents when the group discovered approving requests would cause UMC to go over its semesterly budget, Liu said.
"It was disheartening to tell our constituents that we didn't have the funds to sometimes even make a dent in supporting their events," Liu said.
UMC currently has 30 constituent organizations, including Natives at Penn, the Korean Students Association, the South Asia Society, and the Caribbean American Students Association.
Liu also said UMC is considering methods to strengthen its relationship with the Greenfield Intercultural Center, which houses the group on 37th and Chestnut streets, and is supporting the 6B's efforts to provide more spaces for cultural centers.
College senior and UMOJA co-chair Justin Arnold said the group's primary goals this semester are establishing a cultural center for Black students in a central location on campus and increasing the participation of students in its constituent organizations.
UMOJA previously urged Penn to move Makuu from the ARCH basement to Locust Walk as a means of prioritizing the health of Black students during nationwide protests against police brutality. Since then, Arnold said Penn has directed UMOJA to University working groups that research the purpose of a Black cultural center instead of implementing a new space on campus.
“At the end of the day, we just want a space where people can congregate, and people can talk, and it can be more than a room in a basement enclosed by glass doors,” Arnold said.
There was also a large decrease in club activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, Arnold said.
Many constituent organizations under UMOJA either decreased or stopped activities, or are currently undergoing board changes. However, now that students have returned to campus, UMOJA is hoping to increase community involvement, especially among first years and sophomores.
“We would love to have the opportunity to have some sort of activity where there could be older students mentoring younger students in the Black community, and really just a space for campus life to come back to life,” Arnold said.