I miss the Quad.
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The downtown. The BYO. The frat party. These and their variants are the social currency that we engage with at the “social Ivy.” Our “work hard, play hard” mentality permeates every aspect of our Penn experience. While Sundays and Mondays are reserved exclusively for the grind, the rest of the week tempts students into a precarious balancing act. White Claw Wednesdays with a problem set chaser. Thursday night downtown, Friday night frat party, and Saturday night mixer. If it’s a midterm week, well, guess it’s also a no-sleep week.
“Well, guess I’ll die.”
Full disclosure: I don’t know what a 401k is. My understanding of the stock market is rudimentary at best. My budgeting skills are laughable, and at the end of each semester, I can’t help but wonder how my bank account got so low. Personal finance is not my forte, but I need it to be: I am an English major after all.
When I was first thrown into life as a freshman at Penn last year, I was struck with a nauseating mix of euphoria and anxiety. During New Student Orientation, it was easy to get swept up in a flood of new faces, names, and prospective majors as everyone scrambled to lock down friends, clubs, and classes. The experience is utterly overwhelming. What makes it even harder is how difficult it is to open up to new people. Enter: My friends from high school.
Penn Law Professor Amy Wax has come under fire this past week for advocating for a “cultural distance nationalism” at the National Conservatism Conference, where, according to a Vox reporter, she stated that “our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.” This is not the first time that Wax has made comments of this variety. In an op-ed published two years ago, she advocated for a return to the ideals of the bourgeois, white culture of the 1950’s, while sharply criticizing “the anti-‘acting white’ rap culture of inner city blacks [and] the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants.”
Joe Biden recently released his tax returns as part of his bid to win the Democratic nomination. As the DP reported last week, according to those tax returns, Biden’s salary as the Professor of Presidential Practice at Penn was $371,159 in 2017 and $405,368 in 2018. Compare that to the $225,000 salary he earned while he served as Vice President of the United States, and to the $213,613 salary earned by the average Penn professor. These numbers paint a clear picture: Joe Biden is paid an egregious amount of money for the limited amount of work that he does on this campus.
When I first toured Penn as a high school junior, the selling point that most stuck with me from the admissions office was Penn’s seemingly-flexible curriculum and institutional structure. Although I knew going into my college search that I wanted to major in English, the fact that I could take coursework from any of the other three schools seemed like a tantalizing opportunity. I saw myself taking coursework from each of the schools so that, from at least a fundamental level, I could understand the basics of engineering, business, and nursing. While the pitch of Penn Admissions is not necessarily untrue, it is somewhat disingenuous. From both an institutional and cultural point of view, Penn acts less like one university and more like four schools pretending to be one.
I always thought I hated my high school. Although it was relatively large as far as public high schools go (around 2500 students across all grades), nestled as it was in a small town, I couldn’t help but feel that by the time graduation hit, everyone knew each other just a little too well. The school board was embroiled in small town politics, and the decisions they handed down on a number of issues rarely lined up with the interests of the students. The physical structure of the building in which I spent four years of my life had started to feel small and suffocating, and I was ready for a change. When I walked across the stage at graduation, diploma in hand, I fully intended to never look back.
Penn students don’t occupy the Penn mindset for just nine months a year; it’s a year-round state of mind. While that reality does have its merits (pre-professionalism does prepare one well for the professional world) it also tends to bulldoze through the open spaces of summertime, forcing students to grind for twelve months a year instead of nine, and creating a culture of perpetual burnout. While Penn students should not be ashamed to pursue their aspirations and professional goals throughout the summer, they should also not forget that summer is one of the few times a year when they can easily prioritize themselves and enjoy life without undue stress.
Full disclosure: I need to get better about calling home.
Almost no Penn student is a stranger to the all-nighter. Whether it’s because class assignments happen to be due all in the same week, back-to-back midterms, or because it’s in the middle of a busy season for a club or sport. For better or for worse, late-night and all-night studying are integral parts of surviving Penn. Given how frequently Penn students find themselves burning the midnight oil, there is a dearth of suitable study places for students to go to after the clock hits twelve. Due to how common it is for Penn students to study so late, the University ought to provide more 24-hour study spaces.
They might not be seen, but they sure are heard: from the moment students receive their acceptance to Penn, to four years later when they cross the stage at graduation, the music of the Penn Band plays on. The band is the face of the University — whether it’s cheering on the Quakers in the Palestra or at Franklin Field, marching down Locust Walk for Hey Day, or playing for students starting their time at Penn during NSO. However, for the amount of time and dedication that many members of the Penn Band put in, they receive very little compensation. Because of the band’s integral role in publicity initiatives undertaken by the University and its highly visible presence on campus, the University should divert more funds to support the band’s efforts, and perhaps even pay its members for their services.
Penn has been nicknamed the "Social Ivy," and Penn’s campus culture finds much resonance in the phrase “work hard, play hard.” Although some of us couldn’t help but laugh when Playboy named Penn the number one party school in America in 2014, there’s some truth to the title, even if it is more than a little undeserved. Penn students are mercilessly efficient at packaging their time and squeezing the most out of every last hour of Friday and Saturday night. People fly from classes to BYOs to pregames to frat parties to downtowns and back again, and this sort of social aerobatics is absolutely draining, both to experience and to watch.
Sometimes it feels like it’s everywhere — the couple smashing faces in a sweaty frat basement, neon dating app banners popping up on phone screens, students walking down Locust in their party clothes just as the sun crawls over the Philadelphia skyline. Whether it be a freshman experimenting for the first time during NSO or a junior looking for some stress relief in the middle of finals season, hookup culture follows and shapes the Penn experience for countless undergraduates on this campus. Hookup culture at Penn, like it is at most colleges and universities, is highly visible and widely loathed.