The Penn LGBT Center hosted its first events with the Inaugural Endowed LGBTQ+ Scholar-In-Residence.
ALOK, an internationally acclaimed author, poet, comedian, and public speaker, performed a mix of stand-up comedy and poetry routines at the Annenberg Center Zellerbach Theatre on April 11. They also hosted a Radical Self-Love & Poetry Workshop the following day.
The April 11 event included ALOK comedically describing straight, cisgender, white culture from the perspective of an outsider and them using poetry to discuss their grandfather's experience with dementia. The hour-long comedy and poetry routine was followed by a half-hour Q&A session with preselected questions submitted by the Penn community prior to the event. At the conclusion of the event, attendees had the opportunity to participate in a meet-and-greet and book signing with ALOK.
In hosting the event, ALOK wrote in a statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian that they wanted to “create a show that allowed people to feel their grief, their rage, their joy, their humanity."
ALOK has been on tour in over 40 countries, according to their website. Yet, they said that each rendition of this show is unique.
“I'm constantly coming up with new jokes on stage and after I go home and decide which to keep, and which to discard,” ALOK said, adding that the Q&A at Penn felt particularly special.
The LGBT Center announced ALOK as its first-ever scholar in residence in March following an anonymous $2 million gift to the center. The Scholar in Residence program is the first residency of its kind at any university in the United States, according to Penn Today.
“Oftentimes in universities we are taught a narrow and one-dimensional way of what knowledge production looks and feels like…I believe art can also be a form of scholarship,” ALOK said when asked how they see the event in relation to the goals they want to achieve in their residency. “Poetry and comedy are tools of knowledge production and have long been for historically marginalized communities. I wanted to honor that: how the aesthetic, the emotional, the comedic can be intellectual.”
According to Jake Muscato, the associate director of the LGBT Center, the Center was able to bring ALOK to Penn because of this gift and its collaboration with University Life, Penn Communications, Asian American Studies Program, Gender, Women and Sexualities Department, the School of Social Policy and Practice, and Penn Live Arts.
“The entire LGBT Center staff worked closely with ALOK and their team the past several months on the logistics for this visit,” Muscato said. “For weeks and months, we have been collaborating on the day-to-day details of ALOK's residency to ensure that our LGBTQ+ students were getting the most out of this opportunity, and so that ALOK could feel welcome throughout their time at Penn.”
ALOK was chosen over other candidates for the residency due to an overwhelming amount of support for them.
“We informally polled and solicited suggestions from as many LGBTQ+ graduate, professional, and undergraduate students as possible,” Erin Cross, the director of the LGBT Center, said. “...[T]he name that kept arising was ALOK," adding that students pointed to ALOK as an inspiration.
Muscato echoed the sentiment that students overwhelmingly supported ALOK as the choice for the scholar-in-residence.
“Many of our trans and non-binary students were thrilled at the idea of bringing a trans scholar to Penn,” Muscato said. “During a tumultuous time for the trans community, it's important to create space for trans joy and artistry.”
“I thought it was really important for this event to happen because the trans and non-binary community doesn’t get as much attention,” Haydr Dutta, College first year and a Program Assistant at the LGBT Center, said. “ALOK is one of my favorite artists and activists…they really tried to bring a personal element in interacting with us.”
In addition to the two events, ALOK’s residency will last four days, including guest teaching in Asian American Gender and Sexualities (ASAM 1400), Gender and Sexuality (GSWS 0002), and Gender and Social Policy (MSSP/SWRK 7410), according to Muscato.
“In the future, each residency will look different depending on what students want and the availability of the scholars,” Cross said. “We want to ensure the program can grow and flex so our LGBTQ+ communities can truly see themselves.”