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The Asian Pacific Student Coalition and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly presented at Penn’s last University Council meeting for this school year on April 19.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Penn’s last University Council meeting for the 2022-2023 school year included presentations from two student groups.

During the April 19 University Council meeting, the Asian Pacific Student Coalition and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly delivered presentations on the proposed 76ers sports arena near Chinatown and graduate students’ financial insecurity.

APSC’s Vice Chair of Political Affairs Fariha Nawar delivered the presentation on the economic and cultural cost-benefit analysis of the arena. The content of the presentation was supplied and supported by Penn faculty members, including Urban Studies professor Domenic Vitiello, Co-Director of the Asian American Studies Program Fariha Khan, Chair of City and Regional Planning Lisa Servon, and City and Regional Planning professor Zhongjie Lin.  

Nawar said that the topic of the arena is especially pertinent as the Asian and Asian American undergraduate population represents approximately 25 percent of the undergraduate student body, and Philadelphia’s Chinatown serves as a cultural hub for the Philly community. 

“Asian and Asian American students make up one of the largest constituencies on this campus. Many of them find a home away from home in Chinatown,” Nawar said.

According to Vitiello, placing a large development next to a neighborhood like Chinatown is detrimental to neighborhoods.

“It is part of Penn's responsibility to the Philadelphia community and its own academic integrity to lead efforts in promoting sustainable development in the city of Philadelphia, which by definition does not include an arena next to Chinatown,” Nawar said.  

APSC, which is involved with the Chinatown community and offers a number of courses in partnership with its organizations, urged the University to utilize resources to study the arena and contribute professional research to the discourse. 

“It is imperative that Penn fosters a positive relationship of trust with the community of Philadelphia," Nawar said.

GAPSA Vice President of Advocacy and first-year graduate student in the School of Social Policy and Practice Joelle Lingat and Director of Wellness and Wharton MBA candidate first-year Kerone Wint led the presentation on financial insecurity. 

Financial insecurity has been documented to cause ongoing stress, anxiety, and depression and prompt the students to be less likely to attend and finish graduate school, the presenters said.

The Graduate and Professional Student Survey regarding financial security has replicated these findings. It found that nearly 50 percent of graduate students have debt that exceeds $30,000 from their undergraduate education, with 45.8 percent with debt related to graduate education.

At the end of the presentation, GAPSA delivered two recommendations to the UC for moving forward. The first recommendation included subsidized graduate student housing, which comes after Penn eliminated its on-campus graduate student housing option. The second recommendation was to expand access to family grants, insurance grants, graduate emergency funds, and funding for international students. 

“We are very excited to work with you all to make Penn more accessible and to remove barriers to academic progress and success because we believe that that is the type of institution that Penn is and we have seen a track record of us being able to collaborate together on these creative and dynamic solutions,” Lingat said.

During the question and answer portion of the University Council meeting, Professor of Sociology Tukufu Zuberi shared his own experience with financial insecurity and expressed hope that the University takes the issue seriously. Assistant Professor of Architecture Masoud Akbarzadeh expressed gratitude to GAPSA for raising the topic of financial insecurity, and expressed hope that the University takes the issue seriously. 

This meeting comes after months of back-and-forth with Penn administration as GAPSA and ASPC attempted to schedule their presentations before the University Council.