To call this semester unprecedented would be an understatement.
At The Daily Pennsylvanian, many of us have been spending day in and day out in the newsroom. Even when we are not drafting and editing our upcoming stories, we are invariably affected by ongoing events on campus.
On Locust Walk, we’ve passed by on-campus protests and vigils at the LOVE statue. We have also walked past projections of pro-Palestinian messages that our university has designated as “antisemitic” and “vile.” On Walnut Street, we pass the Accuracy in Media trucks every day as we walk to class, but we also may pass Penn Hillel and AEPi, which have been subjected to antisemitic vandalism over the course of this semester.
There is no handbook for how to handle journalism, or just being a student, in times like this. It can be incredibly disorienting and debilitating to watch as a space that you have called home loses the comfort and safety you once saw in it. As news outlets descend on Penn — reporters from prominent outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and local television channels alike — to cover the ongoing campus tensions, our campus doesn’t really feel like a community anymore.
To be sure, these tensions are important to cover, and tie back to relevant and ongoing national issues such as antisemitism, free speech, and ongoing conflicts. But with all of this coverage, Penn begins to feel less like a community and more like a political battleground, or a theater where you don’t know what new plot twist will emerge next. And we still have our final exams and projects to get through, not to mention our personal lives and social events.
Right now, it seems as though everyone, everywhere has an opinion on what is happening at Penn. Earlier this week, a letter signed by 74 United States representatives called for the removal of Liz Magill and the other university presidents who testified at the hearing. Columnists at The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times have weighed in with their thoughts as news of her resignation reached national headlines. SNL featured Magill (or rather, Heidi Gardner playing her) and her congressional hearing in their cold open on Saturday.
In this moment of information overload, it is important to remember that we have the power to control the campus conversation, and, by extension, the national one. We are the boots on the ground, that witness first-hand what is happening — at the DP, we reported on Magill’s resignation nine minutes before The New York Times did.
As we were reporting on the hearing on Tuesday from Washington, D.C., two DP staffers were approached by The Boston Globe and asked if how members of the Congress were depicting the state of affairs at Penn right now was true to campus reality.
It’s an open question, and one that we hope that as the days go by, more and more students will feel comfortable answering, be it in discussions with the news outlets circling campus, or in more casual chats with peers and faculty.
When we all go home for the holidays, it’s a near certainty that we will be fielding similar questions about what’s been happening at Penn. But every student at Penn will have had different experiences and perspectives, which national outlets have oversimplified with limited coverage on the lead-up to the University’s leadership crisis.
Liz Magill and Scott Bok’s respective resignations did not occur in a vacuum. The tensions leading up to all of this have been palpable since late September, when the Palestine Writes Literature Festival took place. The event had garnered significant controversy because while it was held to celebrate art and culture, there were several speakers with an alleged history of antisemitic remarks.
Since the festival, Penn’s community has been hit hard by the reverberating impacts of the ongoing war in Israel and Gaza. Students and faculty have expressed concerns for their safety after involvements in pro-Palestinian demonstrations and have experienced strings of antisemitic incidents on campus. Students of Arab backgrounds have also stated that they feel less safe and supported than they did before. Outside of safety concerns, many Penn students are still processing their emotions and grief from the Oct. 7 attacks and the continuing violence that has ensued.
We have watched global and local events converge on this campus over this past fall, though it has picked up pace over the last few weeks. After Penn Chavurah screened “Israelism,” a documentary critical of the state and faced university attempts to postpone it, Penn’s Middle East Center Director resigned, citing violations of academic freedom.
Overarching this chain of events have been the prominent figures we see in the news: the Marc Rowans, the Elise Stefaniks, and the rest — withdrawing donations to Penn and speaking out against Penn’s administration in Congressional hearings.
While these figures are important to the narrative that we will tell months and years from now about what happened to the University of Pennsylvania in fall 2023, they have not been physically here. They have not stepped on campus and engaged with students, faculty, and the Penn community at large the way that we have and we continue to do everyday.
So, let’s take the initiative on filling them in. As global and local events continue to converge on this campus now and into the future, we should not let voices that are prominent, but distant, speak for us. We encourage our readers to take part in active conversations with the media — for instance, by reading articles critically and providing feedback on them, or writing and publishing their own content — and with each other.
The path forward for Penn must be paved with more, not less, speech. As members of the Penn community, we have a special opportunity, and some may even say responsibility, to speak up about our experiences here.
Editorials represent the majority view of members of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. Editorial Board, which meets regularly to discuss issues relevant to Penn's campus. Editorial writers are not involved in any news reporting on related topics.