As the new academic year begins, The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke to leaders of Penn’s main minority coalition student groups, known as the 7B, about their goals and plans for this semester.
The 7B consists of the seven constituent groups which center and serve minority students on campus. Formerly known as the 6B, the coalition expanded last December to include Natives at Penn.
After years of campaigning and student advocacy, Penn has begun renovations on the ARCH building, designating it as the home to the 7B and cultural resource centers. However, group representatives said that they intend to continue to fight for increased cultural spaces for students on campus.
United Minorities Council
Wharton senior Jessica Liu was initially drawn to the United Minorities Council because she wanted to make a positive impact on campus; she now serves as the chair for the organization.
Liu said that one of UMC’s main points of focus for this semester is funding. The UMC Board is working to help their constituent groups gain access to funding, particularly given the establishment of the revamped ICF. UMC is also working on adjusting its own internal funding process.
“I’m hoping that we can help other groups access the same level of support and continue to increase the level of support for cultural organizations and minority groups on campus,” Liu said.
The group also hopes to host Unity Month this semester, which they hope will take place in person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Unity Month will bring a keynote speaker as well as engage members of the community in intercultural and relationship building activities.
“After the progress that was made last semester, we’re trying to continue to build community on campus and help out in any way we can,” Liu added. She also extended her gratitude to the GIC and her fellow UMC board members.
Natives at Penn
College senior Nyair Locklear said she never thought she would become a leader of Natives at Penn. However, she was inspired to run for the position after being empowered by the people around her and in the organization.
“I never really got to embrace my cultural identity until coming to Penn,” she said.
Locklear has worked closely with Penn administration to realize NAP’s goals, including the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the University’s academic calendar.
Now a member of the 7B, NAP continues to fight for more space after previously being housed in a room on the third floor of the Greenfield Intercultural Center. While NAP will soon relocate to the ARCH building, the organization is only recognized as a student group rather than a cultural resource center.
Locklear said that it seems that University wants to support NAP becoming a cultural resource center, but the group does not currently have a full-time staff member. Their current staff advisor, Toyce Holmes, is a volunteer.
“It’s a lot of work and she really enjoys doing it, and we all love her so much. We just really wish that she could be supported in that role, actually be granted a formal title and position with NAP and to be paid fairly for that as well,” Locklear said.
NAP’s other goals include increasing the number of full-time Indigenous faculty and staff, improving retention efforts for Indigenous students, and working with the admissions office to improve recruitment of Indigenous students to Penn’s undergraduate and graduate schools.
For College senior and co-chair Chime Amaefuna, UMOJA represents the strong Black community he didn’t have when growing up in King of Prussia, Pa.
“UMOJA goes the extra step in making sure that all the Black voices on campus are heard,” Amaefuna said. “I wanted to be a part of that.”
Along with UMOJA co-chair and College senior Lauren Simmons, Amaefuna led UMOJA’s involvement in creating the ARCH Planning Committee and planned the first Black Convocation since 2019 — which had been canceled in previous years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amaefuna said that he hopes UMOJA will be able to have more events with alumni and members of the West Philadelphia community. He also hopes the group can forge a stronger relationship with Penn administrators.
“I just want more presence in University Council meetings, talking with the administration, meeting with the president. I feel like this is the movement towards Black voices being heard,” Amaefuna said.
Echoing other 7B leaders, Amaefuna said he envisions space for the 7B and cultural resource centers beyond the recent expansion into ARCH.
“We had the reopening of ARCH, and that was nice, but that is not our ultimate goal. We want individual cultural houses, specifically we want a Black house for students,” he said.
More than just having the space, Amaefuna added that “this is something that Penn owes its Black students because of its history of how it treated Black people and its students in the past.”
Asian Pacific Student Coalition
College senior Jeffrey Yu, the chair of the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, named three advocacy points for his term: space, staffing, and funding.
Yu said he is looking for University support in increasing the number of staff members at the Pan Asian-American Community House. Some of these goals have come to fruition — PAACH recently gained two graduate assistants — however, the search for an assistant director is still ongoing.
Yu added that, while the recent reimagination of the ARCH building was important, it was not the end goal for APSC.
“ARCH is not the final step. It’s currently not really solving a lot of the problems that we had previously, which is a little disappointing,” Yu said.
In his tenure, Yu has helped to create a $105,000 fund available to any student groups that center marginalized identities by combining the Intercultural Fund and the Tangible Change Fund, in addition to a $40,000 grant from the University.
He added that APSC has been contending with several “little fires” that have impacted the AAPI community, including the loss of funding to the Penn Middle East Center and Amy Wax’s Aug. 31 memorandum. APSC is also trying to mobilize Asian voters during the election year and plan to host an Oct. 5 event with Pennsylvania AAPI organizing groups.
“We’re responding not just to the needs of our constituents but also all AAPI folks at Penn,” Yu said.
Penn Association for Gender Equity
College junior Rachel Collison became involved with Penn Association for Gender Equity during her first year at Penn, became a first-year coordinator during her sophomore year, and is now the group’s chair.
One of Collison’s goals for PAGE is community building through programming and events. This is PAGE’s second year hosting their pre-orientation program, PennGenEq.
“Creating that safe, inclusive, environment for people with marginalized gender identities on campus [is so important],” she said.
PAGE also hopes to develop a relationship with the new administration to ensure that PAGE and the rest of the 7B have a seat at the table and that the voices of all their constituents are heard. The group is also working in conjunction with Penn Period Project to distribute menstrual products in on-campus bathrooms.
Collison said that PAGE — which is housed in the Penn Women’s Center — is dedicated to supporting the ongoing fight for cultural space on campus.
“We are really passionate about making sure that all of 7B has adequate space for their needs,” she said. “The ARCH expansion is a great first step, but we definitely don’t want that to be the final step.”
College senior and Lambda Alliance Chair Nathalie Marquez said that the organization was a “really important part” of her time at Penn. Marquez’s main goal for the semester is to foster a sense of unity and community between all of the LGBTQ+ groups at Penn.
“My mission before I am elected out is really just standardizing the queer groups at Penn, creating that sense of community,” she said. “Just really creating connections within the larger community to make it more accessible for undergraduate students who are looking for that community.”
In the past, Lambda has worked to create a plan with Facilities & Real Estate Services to include gender-neutral bathrooms in buildings and it continues to advocate for transgender-inclusive health care.
“Becoming chair meant kind of paying back that community [that] it had given me,” Marquez said.
College senior Camila Irabien, the current Latinx Coalition chair of external affairs, said they joined the organization as part of her journey in exploring what it means to be Latinx in America.
“Latinidad is more than a race. It’s like a culture, and I think it’s important to share it and learn from other people,” they said.
Irabien spearheaded the Latinx Resource Hub, a centralized online guide with various tools that address common issues faced by students. She has already completed the first part of the guide, which describes how student groups can apply for funding.
During the rest of her tenure, Irabien hopes to strengthen the feeling of community within Latinx Coalition as well as the entire 7B. They also hope to bolster the relationship between international and domestic students, as well as the connection to alumni.
“I’m really looking forward to this year. It’s been challenging, but I’m really excited to work with my board,” Irabien said.