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The new pre-orientation program Pregame offers Black incoming students to Penn a mentorship experience before they arrive to campus.

A new program offers Black rising first years at Penn a mentorship experience beginning the summer prior to their arrival to campus. 

Founded last summer by College senior Mason Perry and College junior I’deyah Ricketts, the program — called the Pregame — attracted over 70 freshmen and 12 mentors in its second year. Although the Pregame is not directly affiliated with Penn organizations, its membership overlaps closely with the Black Student League, which helps advertise the program to incoming freshmen. 

Originally, Perry and Ricketts said they founded the program after Perry witnessed a need for a pre-orientation program specifically for Black first years. 

“I was the first from my school coming to an Ivy, and I didn’t know anyone here,” Perry said. “I wanted to create something that could help people not feel lost, especially within their own community. I created the Pregame so Penn students could have a real and uncut version of what it means to be Black at Penn.”

Mentors are selected through an application process, and the program is widely promoted through Instagram to Penn first years, including on an Instagram page specifically created for Black students new to Penn.

Each mentor is assigned a group of mentees, and sessions are held on Zoom throughout the summer for all program participants. Lessons — with topics ranging from academics and dating to parties and transportation around Philadelphia — are designed for each session. Additional "unfiltered sessions” are designed as a space for more personal topics to be discussed. 

“We talk about our personal experiences as Black people, and you see some very vulnerable and deeply personal stories [during unfiltered sessions],” College sophomore and mentor Corey Brooks, who participated in the program as a first year last summer, said. 

The Pregame is entirely student led, and although the program's founders plan to incorporate the program into the Student Activities Council in future years, Ricketts and Perry originally wanted to run the program adjacent to Penn. 

The student-led aspect of Pregame distinguishes it from other pre-orientation programs at Penn, which receive a greater level of direct support from the University. 

“I wanted to hear [about the Black student experience] firsthand from a student and not organized by the school,” College first year and mentee Mayokun Omitogun said.

Many students come to the program nervous about choosing Penn as a predominantly white institution. 

“We want to emphasize the challenges and adversity that can come with navigating a PWI, but also how to make the most out of your experience at Penn,” Ricketts said. 

Brooks, who attended a predominantly white high school, chose between attending a historically black college or university and Penn. 

“I didn’t necessarily know if I was going to find my community,” Brooks said. “The Pregame definitely opened my eyes and made me a little bit more confident in moving and acclimating into Penn.”

Perry, on the other hand, attended a predominantly Black high school, but the Black community at Penn still surprised him because of its diversity. 

“Our goal is to make sure that our mentees understand that the Black community at Penn is diverse, and that no matter who they are or what they are, there is a pocket in the black community for them,” Perry said. 

Another topic regularly discussed is safe spaces for Black students to go to on campus, including the cultural house Makuu: The Black Cultural Center, and social events that other Black organizations often host. Social norms at Penn are among the popular topics discussed, including the expenses often associated with the social scene at Penn. 

“I think something that a lot of people talk about are very pricey events that a lot of people who aren't used to this type of lifestyle can't get into, so I think having the Pregame early on before people get to campus allows them to be aware of what they're about to walk into,” Wharton junior and BSL President Claire Kafeero said. 

Perry said a defining moment for him for learning about Penn's social scene was when a group of Black students were egged during a Spring Fling party in 2022.

“It was a moment in my college experience where I realized racism is very much still alive,” Perry said. 

While the Pregame has concluded its summer mentorship sessions, mentors and mentees are given the opportunity to meet during a New Student Orientation event. The mentorship aspect of the program is anticipated to continue, although informally, throughout the year. 

“The epitome of this program is just the fact that this is everything I would have wanted as a freshman,” Perry said.

As Ricketts and Perry prepare to graduate, they said they are hopeful that the program will continue to grow and anticipate incorporating the program formally into Penn in order to receive funding and expand. 

“We have been passing the reins off to them a little bit more, being a little less involved than we were last year just to give them more agency and control over things,” Ricketts said. “I'm excited to see where it goes.”