Penn has declared this upcoming academic year as the year of civic engagement, emphasizing a commitment to our surrounding communities, like West Philadelphia, and the rest of the world. Almost 200 organizations listed on Penn Clubs fall under the umbrella of community service; with such a prevalent culture surrounding civic engagement and specifically community service, it is very easy to want to participate in as many projects and initiatives as possible. I encourage you, of course, to tackle issues you care about and enjoy your volunteering experiences. However, over my time at Penn, I have discovered that much of Penn’s philanthropic culture, whether due to bad faith or inefficacy, is not what it initially seems.
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Uber and Lyft have claimed that recent surges in prices in Philadelphia and across the country are a pandemic anomaly. Supposedly, there is a lack of drivers, and as the COVID-19 restrictions finally ease up, drivers will return, prices will bounce back to their normal, affordable prices, and they will stay that way. However, this is blatantly false, and all part of these ridesharing companies’ carefully curated plans to make a profit — at the expense of the American people.
I first learned about Penn President Amy Gutmann during NSO — a small group of students were reading the Disorientation Guide and cracking jokes about what they would do if they had her salary. Even since then, it seems as though most comments students have made about President Gutmann are negative, from joking about the repetitiveness of her speeches and statements to more serious criticisms of her policies. Speculation, and subsequent excitement towards her departure, grew when rumors spread that Gutmann would join Joe Biden’s new administration. Although many complaints, gripes, and jokes on issues ranging from mental health to politics to college affordability have been aimed directly at outgoing President Gutmann, a new president will not remedy many of these concerns.
Aside from the fireworks, parades, and barbecues, July 4th is a celebration of the great Enlightenment ideas that led to the founding of this country. Many of these ideas, including a nation built on a republic, freedom of speech, and the entitlement of every man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, were revolutionary and progressive at the time and are still a cause for pride among many Americans today.
Over half of American adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Loosened restrictions on masking and gathering gave Memorial Day weekend and the start to summer a semblance of normalcy. Yet, in many other countries, this is far from the case. India and Nepal have seen surges in cases and deaths in the past month, and many countries still haven’t administered a single dose of the vaccine.
NASA’s video of the Perseverance rover touching down on Mars on Feb. 18 has been viewed on YouTube over 14 million times. The first SpaceX astronaut launch this past summer had over 10 million live viewers. Clearly, since the Space Race, space exploration has brought a level of intrigue to the American public, including myself.
We’ve all seen the sentimental corporate ads praising essential and health care workers during the pandemic. These workers have been lauded by politicians, the media, and corporations as heroes. This positive publicity has likely contributed to medical schools, nursing schools, and public health programs seeing surges in applications, with applicant pools for some programs increasing by double-digit percentages. It is clear many students have been inspired by this pandemic to join the health field and help prevent or fight a future pandemic. Many students also recognized the many glaring shortcomings in the United States’s healthcare system, specifically, the shortage of health care professionals, including doctors, nurses, and public health professionals. Some are hopeful that the increased interest in health will help address this shortage. Unfortunately, America’s continuous lack of prioritization toward health care, as made blatantly evident during this pandemic, means the number of health care positions will not rise to match this interest. Penn students inspired by the pandemic should not be deterred from joining health-related fields, but should be wary of the lack of sufficient resources to support them and their work.
With first years already seen partying on campus, one might expect that offenders would have experienced a myriad of severe disciplinary action by now. Yet, it has become a running joke that partygoers are getting off scot–free and are continuing to break COVID rules even after being caught. Clearly, Penn is off to a rough start in enforcing social distancing rules, and the lack of punishment of COVID rule violators will further promote rule violations and, inevitably, more COVID spread.
During his inaugural address, President Joe Biden emphasized a goal of unity, stating that he will be “a president for all Americans.” In his decades in the Senate and as vice president, Biden’s political record is characterized by his willingness to reach across the aisle and pass bipartisan legislation. It is clear he will attempt to unify the country with a similar attitude. He has toyed with appointing Republicans to high-ranking Cabinet positions and he will attempt to pass his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill, his first major piece of legislation as president, as a bipartisan bill. Although this approach seems it could potentially be effective, bipartisanship has often historically hurt the average American and Biden’s bipartisan stances are unlikely to be any different.
As 2020 wraps up, this year will clearly be defined by the COVID-19 restrictions that began in March and persisted to varying degrees throughout the year. The scientific consensus is that lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and social distancing practices were at least mostly helpful at preventing the transmission of COVID-19 in the United States. This evidence is further corroborated with the fact that, internationally, countries with less-stringent lockdowns had worse outbreaks than their neighbors, (Sweden vs. the rest of Scandinavia, the U.S. vs. Canada). Based on the scientific evidence and recommendations of top doctors, the COVID-19 restrictions that were put in place seem like a no-brainer. Yet, opposition to restrictions has steadily increased, and it seems that people are increasingly unwilling to stay inside even as super-spreader events lead to spikes in cases and deaths. Although misguided, this opposition to restrictions is very understandable, and is indicative of a recurring trend of the government’s failure to respond to the economic needs of the working class after significant global changes.
With Joe Biden now the President-elect, many Penn students will want to breathe a sigh of relief. Not so fast. With both Senate elections in Georgia undecided and going to a runoff, there are two distinct directions this country could go and there is still so much more you can do to impact the trajectory we take these next four years.
Ask any Penn student what they want to do with their life. Ask them to explain why. In either their answer or explanation, probably nine out of 10 students will say something along the lines of “I want to change the world.” That overblown cliche has evolved into a mantra that many Penn students live by, and one I’ve heard President Gutmann use multiple times. That mantra is “doing well by doing good.” “Doing well by doing good” means doing things that are perceived to be good for the world or the local community while also benefiting oneself; today’s most common model is making billions of dollars from a tech startup and then starting a charity.
There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and college kids finding reasons not to vote. Aside from the utter inconvenience it is to vote in the United States in a normal year, let alone in a pandemic, young people have also been fed up with the two-party system consistently spewing out candidates who on the surface may contrast and spar, but fundamentally still carry out ineffective politics. This year, to many young people, it appears to be more of the same.