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Perspective: Stepping up

(03/18/03 10:00am)

Chairs and end tables are shoved to the walls, morphing what had served as a Drexel student lounge just minutes before into a makeshift performance studio for a first-rate step team. "One, two, three, four!" An insistent rhythm erupts from the movements of a roomful of sorority sisters. Enter the zone: a blur of hands and feet accompanied by a roar of sisterly pride. You almost don't notice that backpacks line the walls, students are sauntering by outside and that the girl in the back just barely missed kicking that damn chair in her way. It's an extremely sophisticated form of patty cake that involves not only hand clapping, but foot stomping, knee slapping and often props. With just the right amount of energy, a pinch of humor and a zealous crowd, you have it -- stepping at its best. A fixture in minority Greek letter organizations across the country, traditional African step dancing has permeated the Penn campus for decades. Eight of the Divine Nine -- traditionally black Greek letter organizations -- were founded in the first two decades of the 1900s. With their inception came an African-American performance culture on college campuses that grew from the simpler songs and skits into the elaborate step shows seen around the nation today. While the origins of stepping are disputed, many believe the dance form can be traced back to South Africa. "It's tied to history... taken from the call and response of slaves," Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., President Taj Frazier says. "It's basically using the feet and the body to tell a story that goes beyond the articulation of words." And that history begins with gum boots -- worn several centuries ago by miners in Africa as protection. But the boots did more than protect, allowing the miners to create complex rhythmic combinations using the noises and clicks the shoes made. Enter step. • Step shows are the exhibition point for minority Greeks. The Philadelphia chapters get to showcase their skills at the Penn Relays in the spring, Temple University's Spring Fling, an annual show at the University of Delaware and the Philly Greek Fest. But "most teams, once they get a routine together, can pretty much do a show anytime," Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., brother Jabari Evans says. Some chapters perform upwards of eight times -- and that's just in one semester. And the step shows are not just stepping. "As the years go on, people have become more innovative," Frazier says. "Props... setting, scene, popular culture... all that comes into play when doing a show." Often, the shows include short skits. "A lot of times, the skits deal with... making fun of stereotypes of other groups," Evans says. Take Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., he continues. "They often bark like dogs because they are called 'Q-dawgs.' So we might make fun of the fact that they run around barking like dogs at parties and say that we're more civilized." He pauses. "But it's all in good fun," he adds. "Our stigma is that people say we're pretty boys. So... they might do a skit saying that we're looking in the mirror all the time." Additionally, some skits give the historical backgrounds of the groups. For instance, members of Alpha Kappa Alpha stepped in army fatigue at a show after Sept. 11, and they sometimes step with staffs decorated in pink and green -- the organization's colors. But a show doesn't magically come together. • Those short 10 minutes of rhyme and rhythm are the culmination of months of blood, step and tears. "The practices... they're intense, they're long, they're tiring," Frazier says. To help the practices along, these Greeks have step masters who lead the team. "If the step master is a drill sergeant type, then that's probably how the practices will be conducted," he continues. "But at the same time, he's your brother at the end of the day." At the end of this particular day, three Penn brothers in Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc., a traditionally Latino fraternity, have gathered to work on their step routine in a living room of sorts -- with couches against the walls and dirty dishes piled high in a sink -- at a house on 40th and Chestnut streets. "You clapped," Lambda Historian Fabricio Bedoya says. "You didn't clap before." "I skipped a part," Lambda Secretary Omar Delgado says, realizing his oversight. "But it was really short." So they go over it again. And again. And again. And that's just five minutes of a two-hour practice. And that's just one practice out of days and weeks and months of practices. "We don't want to look like assholes," BiCultural InterGreek Council President and Lambda community service representative Chris Padilla says. So the steppers scrounge for time and space, even resorting to the outdoors in Hamilton Village. "Technically, we are not performing arts groups," explains Larry Moses, program coordinator for the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs. As a result, they are not entitled to practice space. But the teams seem to make do. After all, it's just one of the challenges these steppers face. • The biggest challenge, explains Kappa brother Carl Foreman, is learning to step in the first place. Despite all the time they put in, Padilla explains that not everyone is gifted with "the ability to move their limbs." But with enough practice, the cacophony of beats eventually fuse into just one. Crooked lines straighten. Furrowed brows become smooth. And confused looks turn confident. Practice makes perfect, and perfect is a combination of chanted cheers, a driving beat and a whole lot of verve. For 10 or 15 minutes, each team stomps and shouts, proclaiming its organization's history, pride and music. As third-year Drexel student and Alpha Kappa Alpha co-step mistress Kristin Rogers says, they "get out there and make one sound." One sound, one rhythm and one voice -- the fuel for a dynamic stage show. The steppers hold the audience's gaze hostage as spectators make a futile attempt to differentiate one move from the next in the team's speedy fluid combinations. "Some try to perpetuate. Others try to replicate. But you cannot duplicate. Because this is, what? A serious matter!" AKA sisters shout in unison. But what it all comes down to is straight lines. "Everything goes back to the line thing," Padilla says. Brothers and sisters stand next to each other in time and space, and what the audience witnesses as a blur of hands, feet, arms and legs is actually the backdrop of history and culture. • It's game time. And it's a good thing, too, because Frazier's "definitely a game time person. "I love the moment of the show, the momentum that goes into right before you step onstage, that tight feeling you have in your stomach that... disappears as soon as you begin. "Once you start, you get up the energy of the crowd and then you take that and you try and do what you can with it," he says. "You don't have time to even worry about mistakes." After all, come hell or high water, the show must go on. "I've seen a show where this girl's breast popped out, and she didn't know," Evans says. "She stepped with it. She didn't even really fix it until the show was over.... They got a lot more applause." Then there was that show in New Jersey, the one where the wooden stage broke while Frazier was stepping. What did the Alphas do? "We kept stepping," he says. Bare breasts and broken boards are no hindrance to these Greeks. Apparently, neither is fire. Once, when dressed as a Chinese kung fu master, Moses' robe nearly went up in flames. "I'm going, 'OK, I'm on fire. It's a good effect. This can work,'" he says. And work it he did. In fact, stepping itself has been working it on campuses about as long as the United States has been working to adjust to minorities attending college.

U. swamped by illegal file sharing claims

(03/07/03 10:00am)

Penn's Office of Information Security was one of an unknown number of universities across the nation to receive an abundance of complaints from Universal Studios in the last week regarding students who were illegally sharing movie files. Penn received 100 allegations of misuse of copyright material. This reflects an upward surge from an average of five to 10 complaints that the University typically receives from media companies each week, according to University Information Security Officer David Millar. Millar said that his office has contacted the owners of the offending machines and referred the cases to the Office of Student Conduct. "Students, generally speaking, are contacted, told of the complaint, informed about copyright law and the vulnerability that they are exposed to if they are found in violation and asked to cease the activity and correct the problem," Office of Student Conduct Director Michele Goldfarb said. "Ordinarily, that's the end of the matter." More serious cases, such as repeat offenses by the same users, can result in more comprehensive follow-ups by the OSC. According to Millar, machines from which files are being shared have been linked to both students and faculty on Penn's campus. In addition to Penn, Universal Studios also sent a large volume of complaints to a number of other colleges, including Michigan State University, which received 500 complaints, Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, according to Wisconsin technology official Brian Rust. The University of Maryland at College Park received a large volume of complaints from Universal as well. According Rust, movie and music companies obtain users' IP addresses -- which serve to identify computers -- by searching the databases that people use to download movies and music. An IP address can also be used to obtain the e-mail address of the computer's user as well as its location. As a result, production companies are able to track who is sharing files and cite them for copyright violations. Technically, merely possessing a copyrighted file is illegal in itself. "By downloading the movie, you're basically engaging in obtaining stolen property," Rust said. The copyright law that Universal Studios claims students are violating states "that you need to have express permission to be able to copy, use or transfer to another medium... material that is copyrighted," according to Rust. However, only transgressors on the distribution end of the file sharing process have been implicated up until now. Millar said that while many users knowingly allow their files to be shared, some have no knowledge that their files are available to others. "Sometimes, it's intentional sharing of files," Millar said. "Sometimes, some of these machines have been hacked." This discrepancy has led to difficulties for officials required to reprimand and punish offending users. University of Delaware sophomore Patrick Riley received an e-mail last semester from Warner Brothers claiming that he had been distributing hundreds of copies of the movie Austin Powers in Goldmember across the world. The company contacted the University of Delaware as well, and then left the issue of disciplinary action up to the school's officials. "I was shocked," Riley said. "At first, I was really scared because I didn't know what was going to happen." The university simply instructed him to stop sharing his files -- something that he claimed was unintentional in the first place -- and also threatened to take away his Internet access for a year or for the remainder of his time at the school if he refused. Warner Brothers itself did not pursue the situation further. This seems to be the typical course of action for students across the nation found in violation of these types of copyright laws. In the case of Universal Studios, Rust said, the company does not hold colleges and universities responsible for its students offenses. However, the company does expect the universities it contacts to then relay the complaint to the offending students. "The schools really are just passing the word along to their users," Rust said. The commonality of file sharing and media companies' current high level of response has led to increased concerned at some universities. "We are considering our practices and consulting with our legal staff for what to do," said Amy Ginther, coordinator of Maryland's NEThics Project. She noted that Maryland has been in the practice of limiting the amount of bandwidth that can be devoted to peer-to-peer sharing and will continue to do so. "We have not talked about any more extensive prevention," she said, adding that Maryland has not yet contacted the list of offenders that were reported by Universal Studios last week. Other universities are working on ways to inhibit copyright infringement. Some have implemented firewalls, which prohibit the downloading of any files. Penn does not have a firewall because, Millar noted, "It blocks legitimate use of the network." "When you're talking about an institution of higher education, you have to give people access to any content that can be used for educational purposes," Rust said. So what does the future hold? "I think all intellectual property owners are making more and more efforts to protect their content," Millar said. "This is probably just the beginning," Rust agreed. Any regulatory changes could have serious implications for the countless number of students who download files. But at Penn and elsewhere, students disagree about whether media companies are justified in their concerns. College sophomore Erika Klingensmith said that she believes production companies shouldn't be concerned with losing money through illegal downloading. "If I download a song and like it enough, I'm going to buy the CD anyway," she said. Engineering freshman Scott Ferguson disagreed, saying that Universal Studios was "probably right" in taking action against offenders. Still, Ferguson, who shares files that he downloads from, noted that he was a little worried about the increase in concern from production companies and thought that their actions might affect his downloading behavior.

Bands at open mic make CD debut

(02/25/03 10:00am)

While television programs like American Idol highlight starry-eyed musical performers who dream of the Hollywood spotlight, one Penn student group has a different goal -- to showcase campus talent just looking for a stage. Toward that end, Penn Collective, an organization founded last year, has compiled a CD of songs by students who perform at "Up on Stage," the group's twice-monthly open mic night in the Rathskellar Lounge of Harnwell College House. Students got a preview of the CD, entitled ALINMA -- an acronym for At Least It's Not More A Cappella -- last night at Harrison College House's Cafe Prima, where it was played nonstop throughout the evening. Engineering senior and the group's co-founder Matt Russak described the venture as "just an effort to give local music more of a spotlight in the University." In an attempt to increase the featured musicians' exposure, 200 free copies of the CD will be distributed this Friday when Penn Collective hosts a release party in Harrison's rooftop lounge. The bands on the CD will also perform live that evening. "Things like this are great because you get people united, not through genres or political commonality, but a love of music," said College and Engineering senior Matt Keesan, whose piece, "Penn Song," was included on the CD. "As a listener, you come and are exposed to people who have the same passion." Engineering sophomore and performer Iqram Magdon-Ismail, who contributed the song "Come to Me" to the CD and is often an impromptu performer at Up on Stage, said he sees the open mic night as good practice for performing in public. "It develops confidence," he said. "It'll make me want to play places." Like the newly-released CD, admission to the Up on Stage events are free, as the group is funded mainly by independent companies as well as Harrison and Harnwell college houses. "The main drive behind the group has never been to make profits," Russak said. However, the organization may be looking into fundraising so it can continue its efforts in subsequent years. "We have a lot of big ideas," Russak said. "Like working with local clubs, trying to funnel bands into the city. [But] we have to build ourselves a little bit more." While students' reasons for performing vary, many use the venue as a form of escape from the pressures of college life. "I don't have any specific goals," performer and College junior Dan Craig said. "But [performing's] cool in the meantime." Still, some students at least half-heartedly indulge in a pipe dream of widespread success. "I'm doing it to see where it'll go," Magdon-Ismail said. "I'd much rather end up there than being a computer scientist somewhere.... It's more of a far-fetched dream, but [this] kind of keeps the aspirations alive." While Up on Stage and the CD were conceived with entertainment value in mind, Russak alluded to a deeper motivation. "Maybe we'll create some stars," he said Some of the performers have attracted quite a following on campus, according to Russak. Wharton sophomore Elena Avramov and College sophomore Malaina Freedman, two enthusiastic fans of Cheese on Bread, one of the groups featured on the CD, emphatically declared their intentions to attend the event on Friday. "It's a nice, comfortable environment where you don't feel judged and everyone's supportive," said Paula-Kaye Richards, a Wharton freshman and former member of New Spirit of Penn Gospel Choir, another group included on the CD.

Initiative to create portal of city stats

(02/21/03 10:00am)

In an effort to improve town-gown relations, the School of Social Work and Graduate School of Fine Arts have teamed up to warehouse government-collected data about city statistics online so it can be at the disposal of the community and the University. Compiling and making public this information has a dual benefit, according to School of Social Work Professor Dennis Culhane. The system attempts to establish a way Penn and the city can establish a "mechanism to more systematically make available their data for research purposes," Culhane said. Philadelphia's government agencies and community groups can use the data to identify anything from where rates of teen pregnancy in the city are the highest to the locations of abandoned homes. As a result, daycare centers and prevention programs can be properly placed, and because the database identifies the owners of abandoned homes, potential buyers can contact current owners with offers to purchase. This was just one of the initiatives discussed by members of the University's Board of Trustees at a Neighborhood Initiatives Committee meeting yesterday. Administrators also reported that that the Penn-Assisted School, known officially as the Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander University of Pennsylvania Partnership School, has been faring well since its opening just last year. Its students are performing in the middle 50 percent range nationally, quite high for a Philadelphia public school, Graduate School of Education professor Susan Fuhrman said. "We certainly feel that we are attracting families with younger kids back to the neighborhood." However, Fuhrman and others are concerned about recent federal legislation -- namely, the No Child Left Behind Act -- that could bring low-achieving students from throughout the city to Penn-Alexander, rather than limiting its enrollment the school's current catchment area. "We didn't want Penn-Alexander to be a magnet for low-achieving students from around the city," Fuhrman said. "The subsidy was meant for a neighborhood school." Trustees and administrators also discussed a plan recently launched by the Division of Public Safety to improve safety around campus. Part of this, the "Share the Road" campaign, will ultimately eliminate bikers on Locust Walk and other pedestrian thoroughfares around Penn in an effort to make the campus safe for pedestrians, Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said. Rush noted the decline in West Philadelphia crime since 1996, citing falling rates in all categories except bike theft. "They have flooded the street with police.... We are way ahead of the curve in terms of crime." Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate Omar Blaik touted the success of retailers in University City, citing the less than 10 percent vacancy rate in the community around Penn. The Bridge: Cinema de Lux "has contributed to a vibrancy of the 40th Street corridor that we haven't seen before," he said. "People told us that there was no business in Philadelphia, and now we've shown them that there is."

South St. bars closed for Mardi Gras

(02/19/03 10:00am)

Philadelphia has decided that beads, boobs and bubbly belong only in Louisiana during Mardi Gras. As a result, South Street will not be celebrating the holiday this year. Ninety percent of the bars along this typically active Philadelphia corridor have cooperated with the city's request to close at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4. This effort is aimed at deterring the riots and ruffians that plague the street annually on Fat Tuesday. "It's going to hurt us business-wise, but it's something the neighborhood feels is necessary," Filo's Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge worker Cheryl Richard said. "It's going to make it safer down here." Many Penn students indicated that they have no desire to attend Mardi Gras on South Street anyway. "I'm from Mississippi where they celebrate Mardi Gras, and here, it's just not really worth going," Wharton senior Erin O'Keefe said. South Street "is Philadelphia's attempt at recreating Mardi Gras, and my guess is it's not as good. I've heard about the past things that have happened on South Street, and it's just a bother." In fact, college students are not the demographic that has caused the city the most trouble in past years. "College kids are probably inside the bars," President of Queen Village Neighbors Association Colleen Puckett said. "The kids on the street look like they are 14 years old," she claimed. "The past couple years it's been pretty ugly," Fat Tuesday owner Rich Frank said. The street "is loaded with underage kids, either getting drunk, looking for a fight... looking for some girl to show her boobs." Still, while the bars generally support the city's request, they anticipate a sharp decline in revenue for the evening. "It's like telling Gap to close the week before Christmas," Frank said. "It is our day of the year, and we can't have it any longer.... By regulating the bars, you truly aren't addressing the problem." New Wave Cafe owner Nat Ross has refused to comply with the city's request to shut down for the evening. "We are open 365 days a year," Ross said. "We never close." "If you run the right kind of ship, you shouldn't be pressured to have to do anything," he continued. "It's a day that you kind of anticipate that there are a lot of amateurs out, so you staff yourself accordingly." Ross argued that if bars in possession of liquor licenses operate according to the rules and regulations governing that privilege, "then you can't see any problems." However, the detrimental effects of the ruckus that Mardi Gras creates have trampled retail businesses in the past. "Other business owners lose money," Puckett said. "The neighborhoods don't benefit from it. [The event] is extremely disruptive." "Our hope is that each year, as everyone stops promoting it... the street's essentially going to be shut down," she added. "You're going to march up and down South Street under the watchful eyes of hundreds of cops." According to Frank, South Street's Mardi Gras hasn't always been the free-for-all it has become in recent years. Several years ago, he said, "the media caught on that there were girls flashing.... The kids were like, 'Oh, that seems like the place to go.' It's a case of two or three thousand bad apples sort of spoiling the event for everybody." Increased police protection last year helped alleviate some of the chaos, but "it still wasn't pretty," Puckett said. The problem is really the spillover events, according to Puckett. South Street has accommodated nearly 40,000 partyers during past Mardi Gras celebrations, but "the rioting, smashing windows, vandalism on streets, riots spilling in neighborhoods" have become too disruptive for the street. "Events such as this, which are expressly drinking-driven, don't do anyone any good...," Puckett said. "There's not going to be Mardi Gras this year."

A look behind the scenes at two Philadelphia schools

(02/14/03 10:00am)

"'Eiver's' not a word," Barratt Middle School Principal Roy McKinney interjects, seizing an opportunity to teach a combined discipline and grammar lesson in the midst of a student-teacher confrontation regarding a student's misconduct. Although Barratt has seen a recent administrative turnover since it was privatized under Edison Schools, Inc., this year, some things never change. At the Philadelphia public school, students' daily routines still include all the staples of the typical middle school experience, from reading, writing and arithmetic to reprimands. All of this takes place in Barratt's historic setting at 16th and Wharton streets, where a marble staircase ascends from the school's foyer in the main building, which was built in the 1920s. Outside of the administrators' offices hang student artwork alongside the "Wall of Fame," a board with pictures of Barratt alumni, including Ollie Johnson, assistant athletics director at Philadelphia Community College. McKinney, a man with a serious demeanor but an easy smile, greets the students each morning, checks on classrooms throughout the day, visits the cafeteria at lunchtime, knows students and teachers by name and tap dances through the halls. • In Philadelphia, a district where students consistently score subpar on standardized tests and where quality education is the exception, not the rule, Barratt is trying to set itself apart. Just recently, it was awarded a $164,000 State School Performance Funding grant for improved attendance and test scores. Soaring math and reading scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test have manifested themselves in Barratt's jump from an unranked middle school to No. 3 on the list in Philadelphia this year. That was before Barratt came under the leadership of Edison, a private company that was brought in to manage about 20 of the city's public schools after a state takeover of the ailing district last year. According to its administrators, Barratt has come a long way from being just another impoverished inner-city Philadelphia school in a rough neighborhood. McKinney says that when he assumed his role as principal in 2000 after serving for two years as assistant principal, "the school was really off the hook." Parents were afraid of sending their fifth graders to a building where intimidating seventh and eighth graders were a dominant force. In response, McKinney moved his fifth and sixth graders to an annex at 11th and Catherine streets, about a 10-minute drive from the main building at 16th and Wharton streets. "That was one of the solutions we came up with as an administrative team," he says. "Kids are making progress academically. Things are altogether different." Having two locations requires teachers to travel between buildings during the school day, putting a "damper on flexibility," according to McKinney. "I hope to bring everyone back together." McKinney also introduced the "Reading by 9" program, designed to increase literacy in ailing schools, to Barratt. While Edison claims its rigorous curricula and financial resources used for first-class educational materials have been exceedingly beneficial to schools all over the nation, McKinney brushes off the influence of the company on his students' academic performance.

Rushdie event expected to bring full house to Irvine

(02/10/03 10:00am)

After nine years in hiding from the Iranian government because of the death sentence he received in 1989, writer and activist Salman Rushdie re-entered the limelight in 1998 -- and tomorrow, students can see him on Penn's stage. Interest in the event has been "tremendous," said Arthur Bochner, College junior and Philomathean Society moderator. "People are pretty excited at every level," Social Planning and Events Committee Co-Director Lisa Perez added. Rushdie is the Philomathean Society's annual speaker for 2003 and will deliver a talk tomorrow entitled, "Step Across This Line: An Evening with Salman Rushdie" in Irvine Auditorium. Judging from entries in the lottery, the organization seems to have been successful in drawing interest in the event. Over 2,000 students entered the lottery to win a set of two tickets, and about 600 people won. The event is expected to draw a full house, but College senior and Co-Director of SPEC's Connaissance branch Tim McCarten said the auditorium must be filled by 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Therefore, at ten minutes before 6 p.m., Irvine's doors will be opened for students who did not win tickets. Some students' expectations, however, aren't too lofty. "I'm just sort of going to hear him speak and hopefully be able to draw something from it," College junior Meredith Gamer said. "I would be interested to hear his comments on the current political issues with Iraq.... But I could understand if he chose not to address that." "I would like him to address theological questions," Wharton senior Mehdi El Hajoui said. "I think he might be a little more focused on political issues.... I see him more as a popular man speaking rather than a scholar." Rushdie's 1989 book The Satanic Verses incited the Iranian government to issue the fatwa -- a religious edict which condemned Rushdie to death. Regardless of the threat to his life, Rushdie continued writing while in hiding. The British government protected Rushdie until Iran lifted the edict in 1998. At the event tomorrow, Rushdie will discuss the collection of essays he wrote while in hiding, also entitled Step Across This Line. In addition to addressing his life under the fatwa, "I imagine he will talk about current events in both literature and the world," Bochner said. "He's a symbol for intellectual freedom over his entire career, but particularly since the fatwa was issued," McCarten said. "He continued writing despite the dangers of doing so." The Philomathean Society worked extensively to pick an interesting, relevant speaker, Bochner explained. "We were looking for someone whose talk would be timely... and would appeal to a wide range [of people] within the campus community," Bochner continued. To explore various contexts of Rushdie's work, the Philomathean Society sponsored several well-attended pre-Rushdie events this past week, including a film screening and discussions with University professors, Bochner said. "His work is of great significance," Perez said. "From an academic standpoint, we think he has a lot to offer... and [the talk] is timely."

Temple student shot in attempted murder-suicide

(02/03/03 10:00am)

Temple University student Cory Miller, 20, is in serious condition after former Temple student Sean Walker, 21, allegedly attempted a murder-suicide on Temple's main campus Saturday morning. Miller arrived for work at Vivacqua Hall, an administrative and academic offices building, located on the 1700 block of North Broad Street on Temple's campus, shortly before 8 a.m. on Saturday. Walker came by the building shortly after to see Miller, according to Barbara Baals, an official with Temple's Office of News and Media Relations. After firing two shots at Miller, Walker shot and killed himself. It is still unclear whether the attempted murder-suicide was premeditated, Baals said. She added that Walker may have been Miller's former boyfriend. Miller, a third-year student at Temple, is currently in serious condition at Hahnemann University Hospital.

UA proposal seeks to build close communities off campus

(01/31/03 10:00am)

While some students choose to move off campus to escape the structure and surveillance of dorm life, many still want to be part of a similar tight-knit community. That's the idea behind an Undergraduate Assembly proposal set to be put into effect on a trial basis this spring. The program will take selected off-campus residential blocks heavily populated by Penn undergraduates and integrate them into a closer community through everything from "block leaders" to safety initiatives. "While students move off campus to have independence, it's always nice to have the opportunity to have social interaction with neighbors," said College junior and UA University Council Steering Committee Representative Jason Levy. "The goal is to get students to think of themselves as a part of a community." The initiative -- which was developed through discussions with campus and city officials -- will be implemented as a pilot program later this semester on 41st Street between Spruce and Walnut streets and on Locust Street between 40th and 41st streets. Similar to the college house system on campus, each block will have a sum of money to fund activities and projects for the block, as well as a designated leader. Each leader -- or block captain -- would function much like a resident adviser. The block captains are still undetermined. The "administrative off-campus facilitator role" of the block captain would involve helping with landlord problems, providing a neighborhood watch program and facilitating an off-campus recycling program, said Wharton senior and UA Vice Chairman Ethan Kay. Kay said that a central difference between block captains and resident advisers is that block captains are "not authoritative at all." "When you live off campus, you kind of get isolated to your house," said Yelena Gershman, a Wharton sophomore and UA Campus Life Committee chairwoman. "It's a way to get to know your neighbors... and also to tie the students back to a sort of on-campus life." In addition to trying to build a sense of community, the proposal makes provisions to increase safety and communication. "The police department is very much involved with this," Gershman continued. One aspect of the program that its creators hope will increase off-campus safety is an e-mail listserv. If a robbery occurs in one house, all the houses on the block will be notified immediately. Residents may also be able to register their bikes. The listserv would ease communication among block residents, Gershman said. "Simple things like noise complaints or garbage complaints... if people know their neighbors, they can just go knock on the door and send an e-mail rather than complaining to landlords." Levy noted that not all residents on the proposed blocks are Penn students. "We're not going to exclude people who are not part of Penn from the community," he said. "It's an opportunity to build community between groups who wouldn't normally talk to each other -- the typical Penn student and a West Philly resident." "If the program is successful," he continued, "it will be an opportunity for each to understand the other." Already, the program has garnered unexpected support from the administration, according to Gershman. The UA's biggest concern, Gershman claims, is "getting students involved and caring about the program." "We don't want [students] thinking that this is a way for us to curb their independence." Gershman said. "This isn't meant to be a project to control them." "I've heard a lot of positive comments," Kay said. "The only apprehension is whether this program would in a way confine the independence of students who choose to live off campus for that reason, but I think we mitigate that here by having a more flexible and voluntary development of community." Students' opinions on the issue vary. "So far it sounds like a good idea," College junior Lateisha Moore said. "There doesn't seem to be too much harm in trying it out." Moore currently lives off campus, but she said that this project's implementation would not have affected her choice of housing. College senior Afnan Tariq, who lives on South 41st Street, disagreed. "I guess it's not a bad idea in concept, but in execution, I would have my doubts about how affiliated we want to be with the University," he said. "It's not a bad idea to set up an e-mail chain and have some communication, but it's a little too much like a college house." "As for block parties," he continued, "we can do that ourselves."

Penn's Landing planning continues

(01/30/03 10:00am)

Philadelphians crave both a pastoral haven and a commercial hub, but one 13-acre stretch of land along the Delaware River may be insufficient to accommodate both. Approximately 200 Penn students and city residents met last night in Meyerson Hall to discuss the developmental potential of Penn's Landing, an area between Market and Lombard Streets on the eastern edge of Center City. "It's about time the public was asked their opinion of what to do down there," Society Hill resident Pamela Todd said. Last night's event was the second in a series of three forums organized and sponsored by The Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Board and Penn's Graduate School of Fine Arts. In the past, "developmental decisions have been driven pretty much by a small, elite group of politicians," Inquirer Editorial Page Editor Chris Satullo said. "They haven't been too interested in public input." Satullo described the evening as an opportunity for "organic, civic dialogue." After representatives from project organizers delivered introductory remarks, attendants broke into small groups to discuss their disparate visions for the area. College senior Eric Mandel said he would like to see "something that combines public space, but you have to have restaurants and offices and something more so I have a reason to go down there." "I don't think there is a significant amount of park land where people can play sports," Philadelphia resident Chris Torpie said. Indeed, a central conflict arose between people who desire a retail and entertainment center and people who hope to reserve the area for recreational uses, such as parks and bike paths. "There's tension between public use and public amenity," said Stan Browne, who served as chairman of Penn's Landing Corporation from 1981 to 1997. "Where do you draw the line?" Multiple attempts have been made over the past 40 years to rebuild Penn's Landing. The most recent one, which would have brought retail posts, including a movie theater, to the area, failed when the Simon Property Group's development team pulled out of the project last summer. Major obstacles to following through with development plans include the presence of Interstate 95, which cuts Penn's Landing off from Center City. As a result of the highway's placement, accessibility to the area is difficult and unsatisfactory for most Philadelphia citizens. Developing the area could also be advantageous to the University if it could help keep former students in the area after graduation -- an issue which officials have addressed recently. Some of the people in attendance were skeptical of the city's promise to take their opinions into consideration. However, Satullo made it clear that the city is not willing to risk displeasing its citizens again. The Hyatt Regency was built on Penn's Landing, "despite their protests," and was very unpopular with area residents, Satullo explained. "I'm interested in what the public's interested in," claimed Bart Bernstein, a developer with Tower Investments, Inc. He will propose a $300 million "mixed-use development" project which would include "festive retail, residential and office space." The forums have been received positively. "It's always really powerful when people who have different opinions come together," said Jeff Gibbon, a second-year architecture student in Penn's Graduate School of Fine Arts. "It seems that there's movement." "It's a pleasure to see so many people interested in Penn's Landing," said Jodie Milkman, a Philadelphia resident who previously worked with a previous Penn's Landing redevelopment project. "I only hope these hearings play a role." The project is expected to take 24 months and will hopefully begin by the summer.

All scream for ice cream

(01/23/03 10:00am)

Whenever a Scoop DeVille employee spots a first-timer staring drop-jawed at the overwhelming chalkboard menu, he rings a bell behind the counter, and the more experienced regulars in the store have themselves a good laugh. They remember. "There's no real limit to what flavor we can create for anybody,"says Matt Shore, the store's co-owner. From just 12 original flavors, there are hundreds of combinations that can be created. Apple Pie a la Mode and Pumpkin Pie are two of the most popular of Scoop DeVille's concoctions. "And then people just get crazy!" Shore says. The independent ice cream shop is a Rittenhouse Square staple tucked inside Maron Chocolates, a candy store that Shore and his mother also own. The candy store has been at various locations in Philadelphia since 1850. Scoop DeVille was established in 1987, and the Shores bought both shops in 1989. Shore says that some customers come just for the ice cream and don't "realize they are walking past a candy store on the way out." He adds that the goal is "to mass market" the two stores as a single entity. The store enjoys a broad base of customers, including locals, business people and tourists. It also attracts a substantial crowd of Penn students -- both as customers and employees. "I've been coming [to Scoop DeVille] since the first time someone mentioned it to me," College senior Adrienne Mishkin says, as she orders a sorbet to go. "I've dragged so many people here." "Look how accommodating they are," she says. "They are putting a ribbon on my sorbet." "I'm literally obsessed with them," College senior Sarah Thompson says. "It just has a concept that I've never seen before.... You never have to get the same thing twice." "It's my goal to make it everyone's favorite ice cream store in Philly," Thompson exclaims. "It's always a happy place to be." Once, a group of 50 Penn sorority girls took over the store on a Sunday evening. "So you know we can have parties," Shore says with a smile. Shore says that he and his mother not only get to know their clients and employees on a personal basis but are also familiar with their favorite orders. One woman regularly stops at the shop on her way home from work. "It's part of her diet program," Shore says. "Granted, it's a large with Oreos." The store's Rittenhouse Square location is currently its only one, but Shore is considering opening another store in the future. Ideally, if one of Scoop DeVille's neighbors on 18th Street were to leave, Shore would move into another building for more space, he says. For now, however, Shore is working on expanding his offerings, until he can expand his store physically. He has entered the world of specialty products, a venture he is combining with his operation of the two stores. Shore has begun to design logos for his customers' own businesses, putting them on T-shirts, mugs, pens and other products. What Shore likes about this new business is that it's a more active process -- instead of waiting for customers to come to him, he goes to his customers. "With this stuff, a client sends me the artwork," Shore says. "I'm still doing the graphics work." Meanwhile, he continues to make his mark on the ice cream front. Scoop DeVille has won a plethora of first place awards, including Best Dessert from 34th Street Magazine in 2002. The shop was also awarded second place in the Best of City Search's 2002 audience pick for the city's Best Ice Cream, "but I think it was rigged," Shore claims, explaining how City Search is run by and, and Ben and Jerry's have a stake in Ticketmaster.

Yoga center settles into niche

(01/15/03 10:00am)

As students deal with the hassles that accompany the start of a new semester, at least one place along the bustling 3900 block of Walnut Street provides them with a place to relax. Power Yoga Works, a combination yoga instruction center and clothing store, opened this past October to little fanfare but continues to fill a niche along the Walnut Street corridor. "One of our stated goals is to vitalize the street, giving people places to go in the off hours," Associate Vice President for Business Development Lisa Prasad said. "We feel they've been successful." Most of the yoga center's classes are taught in the morning and evening, increasing activity on the 3900 block outside of the nine-to-five work day, Prasad continued. According to Power Yoga Works owner and operator Bill Raup, the center was a success from the start, serving approximately 100 people during its first day in business. Raup -- who also runs a second yoga center in Malvern, Pa. -- claimed that the center is unique because it is user-friendly. "We're not asking you to put your foot behind your head," he explained. "There's nobody who can't do this." "We're definitely a thriving business," Raup continued. "We'd love to stay here. The first month, we were meeting our goals, and it's gotten better every week." Raup added that he hopes the presence of Power Yoga Works will contribute to the spirituality of the community. Penn's own Pottruck Health and Fitness Center also offers yoga classes, but Raup said his classes differ significantly from those that most gyms offer. His center is focused completely on yoga and integrates Western spirituality into instruction by simplifying the principles of the Hindu religion. "It's not really religion," Raup said. "It's more spirituality." "I don't compete with anyone," Raup added. If anything, he said, the availability of other yoga classes actually helps his business. Power Yoga Works' clientele is distributed pretty evenly among Penn students and faculty and other West Philadelphia residents, including members of the Drexel community, Raup said. His two centers are the largest in the tri-state area, he added. Raup cites the centers' visibility as one reason for their success. While most yoga centers are not on busy streets, Power Yoga Works thrives in part because of its accessibility, according to Raup. Power Yoga Works employs approximately 25 volunteers who take yoga classes for free in compensation for their work. As a result, Raup can make yoga available to an even greater number of people. Though Raup appears to easily make ends meet through his yoga centers, many Penn students are unaware of Power Yoga Works' presence near campus. Still, many agree that the center is an advantageous addition to the Walnut Street corridor. "I would go. I think it's a good idea," College freshman Caroline Beebe said. Nursing sophomore Joseph Bui was also unaware that the yoga center had moved onto the block but said he would attend classes there if his schedule allowed for it. Yet other students simply don't see the need for a yoga center at all. "I don't like yoga," Wharton sophomore Anne Chen said. However, based on the success of Power Yoga Works, more members of the community share Engineering junior Allison Smith's sentiments. "I think it's good just for random classes during the semester," she said, noting that gyms like Pottruck lock members into semester-long commitments.

U. departments to stay put in building sale

(01/15/03 10:00am)

UrbanAmerica, L.P., a private company that invests in real estate ventures in inner city regions throughout the country, is making its entrance into the Philadelphia market. The company recently bought what is known as the Gateway Building at 3535 Market Street, where Penn currently houses several of its educational and research departments. The University owns approximately 25 to 30 percent of the building and currently uses the space for general University office and research purposes, according to Penn Facilities and Real Estate Services employee Karen Zinn. Among the departments housed in the building are the Department of Psychiatry, the Center for Cognitive Therapy, the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Department and the Alumni Relations office. But while the building may be changing hands, it shouldn't have any effect on Penn's programs, at least in the near future. "There are no immediate implications of the sale" for the University, Zinn said. The University has several 10-year leases in the building which UrbanAmerica, L.P. will honor through 2009. Penn will consider renewals at that point based on the fair-market prices of other locations, Zinn said. "You have landlords changing hands, but the tenants in the space continue on," Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate Services Omar Blaik said. "They do not change... so from our perspective, nothing really has changed." "Change of ownership is normal in real estate," Zinn agreed. When Townsend Capital LLC, based in Towson, Md., bought the 435,352 square-foot building in 1998, it was empty. The company completed a $30 million renovation project before selling it for profit, at a price of $80 million, to UrbanAmerica, L.P. on Dec. 24. "They strictly bought the property because it was a solid investment," UrbanAmerica, L.P. Public Relations representative Sionann Monroe said. The building's management will also remain unchanged for now. Research Park, Inc., a subsidiary and direct property management arm of the University City Science Center, will continue to oversee the space. The company also manages the University City Science Center building at 3401 Market Street. Penn leases space in this building as well. Penn departments housed there include the Bioethics Graduate Studies and Outreach Programs, the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, as well as Penn's Institute for Human Gene Therapy.

Forum explores life, vision of Dr. King

(01/15/03 10:00am)

Every year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day provides the University community with an opportunity to reflect on King's life and civil rights issues of the past and present. But now, as the country stands on the verge of a possible war with Iraq, some feel that the holiday -- and some of King's lesser known ideas -- are especially significant. "There are lots of messages in Dr. King's life," said History Professor Walter Licht last night as he mediated the forum, "The Other Side of MLK." At the event -- which was in part sponsored by the Penn Faculty and Staff Against War on Iraq -- students and faculty members came together for an in-depth discussion of King's life and philosophy. It was the first in a series commemorating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "King was a critical patriot," Religious Studies and African American Studies Professor Michael Dyson said. "He loved his country enough to tell it the truth." Licht led Dyson and his fellow panelists History Professor Mary Berry and Nursing Dean Afaf Meleis in a discussion of the need for the United States to establish a consistent code of intervention under President George W. Bush, and to avoid entering into an "ostensible war with Iraq," as Dyson called it. If the U.S. were to intervene in foreign lands where civil rights are threatened, Berry said, it would be involved in perpetual intervention. The panelists also discussed the effects of war on women and what King's reaction would have been. "If [King] were here today to speak, he would probably be talking about injustices to women," Meleis stated. "Wars are devastating to women." Berry also noted the sexual abuse that women in war-torn countries experience, and the U.S.'s more stringent policy of late, which restricts women refugees from entering the U.S. "Women's rights have been abrogated without any way to go in front of court," Meleis said. "They are kept in their situations because they have no place to go." She noted that war increases women's vulnerability and jeopardizes their human rights. As a result of the U.S.'s efforts to impose its values on nations such as Afghanistan, "a sense of 'we' and 'them' has been created," Meleis continued. Although the Bush administration claims that it attempts to "rescue" women from colonialism, Meleis said, essentially the U.S. is colonizing the countries whose women it is trying to save. The panelists identified another problem with U.S. foreign policy. "While being for peace is important, what really is needed is the redeeming of the American soul," Berry said. "We are in a situation where every one of us is a hypocrite. We pretend we don't see... oil and Saddam Hussein. We don't talk about the civil liberties crisis in our own country." Licht also asked panelists to comment on how war affects ethnic minorities. "Wars have been equal-opportunity employers," he suggested. "Is it possible that African Americans can gain from Sept. 11?" Dyson explained that some feel minorities can secure their places in society by ganging up on new minorities during times like these. For instance, he noted, since the events of Sept. 11, racial profiling has increasingly been directed toward people of Middle Eastern descent and less toward blacks. "I was a nigger the day before, but now I can get a cab," Dyson said, commenting on how different racial prejudices shift depending on current events. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," Dyson continued, quoting King. Dyson argued that minorities' involvement in the war is "involuntary volunteerism." Minorities volunteer to fight because they feel they have no place in society, he said. However, he continued, there should be opportunities for minorities to live out their vocations within society. "I keep waiting for someone to explain to me why in the absence of attack or the threat of attack... the United States has the right to tell every other country what they should do," Berry said. Licht agreed, saying that the U.S. reverts "back to this mode of a high moral sense where we are good and the rest of the world is evil or indifferent to evil." Dyson also spoke about King's belief that God is on the side of righteousness. King "tried to join that side," he said. The panelists weren't the only ones who enjoyed looking at King through a new perspective. "I'm really happy that the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. has been re-evaluated, not to under-emphasize the value of his civil rights work, but that he was involved in so many other issues," fifth-year Wharton and Engineering student Jesse Tendler said. King "was actively involved in a coordinated effort, trying to unite peace movements, a civil rights movement... a poor people's movement." "It's really important to link your opposition to the war to a broader vision," School of Education graduate student Tina Collins said.