This article was written by guest contributor Blake Jones.
GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is a federally funded program aiming to positively impact underserved middle school and high school students. Activities range from tutoring and mentoring to the facilitation of lessons and conversations about financial literacy and college readiness. I’m currently working as a GEAR UP Coach at Ben Franklin High School. This experience has honestly been life changing in some of the most unpredictable ways. I did not have any expectations of walking into the school like someone’s savior, just as a student trying to help others. There’s a certain level of authenticity within the students that one can never fail to appreciate, especially if you communicate that same level of genuineness.
Most people see the world of cosmetics and efforts to achieve social change as spheres that do not touch. However, Penn students, Via Lim and Chloe Minjoo Kim, prove that the two can thrive when combined. Founders of the newly created club called Penn Beauty, the two freshman have launched their organization with full force, focusing on cosmetics, nail art, hair styling, hygiene, and more.
So far, Lim and Kim have held their first information session and general body meeting, garnering over 20 members, a large amount of interest, and a passionate group of board applicants. After discussion and planning, they’ve organized several proposals for the year that are on par with their mission statement of using beauty as a means to social impact.
To explore the nuances of the Pen Beauty’s mission, I spoke with President, Via Lim, and Vice President, Chloe Minjoo Kim on their project.
Vice President, Chloe Minjoo Kim, and President, Via Lim (credit: Via Lim)
They needed girls.
It was such a natural statement, such a normal predicament. And easily solved.
It was the first night of NSO, and as my roommate and I stepped outside the quad, our night’s plans were quickly determined. Guys were sweeping the streets outside the dorms – “Are you bored? We need girls.” – picking up female students to add to their growing masses on the way to the frats. They couldn’t get in without us; it was all about the ratio.
I was intrigued, not by the fact that they needed more girls – what’s a party without heterosexual interaction and the prospect of hooking up? – but by the nonchalance of such a statement. The guys said it, the girls laughed, and the party began.
I walked into the first day of RUSS001 excited to finally learn the language and culture that always left me in awe. The art and aesthetics I loved as a teenager were typically Soviet or Russian, from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita to t.A.T.u. I was going to take it freshman year at Penn before my pre-major adviser suggested taking Spanish to fulfill my language requirement, and then to take Russian if I was interested. She warned me of the agony if I decided to take Russian but ended up hating it. I took her suggestion, figuring that it didn’t hurt to improve my Spanish. Now that the language requirement was out of the way, I could have fun. I was ready.
Not so fast.
It’s hard to return from a leave of absence. It’s even harder to come back knowing that you feel worse than before.
Let me explain: I took a leave after fall semester last year because of unbearable circumstances and experiences that rattled my emotional core. I could write an entire book on the events leading to my leave, but this is sufficient for now.
Image from OFTW (http://www.1fortheworld.org/)
Most Penn students want to make a positive difference in the world, but many aren’t sure where to start. One For The World (OFTW) is a Penn-founded organization that makes giving back easy. Their goal is to encourage students to pledge 1% of their future incomes to effective charities that are in desperate need of help. These charities are carefully reviewed and selected each year by a group of Penn PhD students, along with Wharton MBAs and undergrads. The OFTW concept was originally intended for MBA students, but has since expanded to undergraduates thanks to two current seniors, Lauren D’Amore and Shayna Fertig. The MBA students have been extremely successful in encouraging fellow graduate students to take the pledge, rallying as many as half of MBA students to take the pledge. Last Fall, the MBA chapter raised $28,000 during pledge week. Now the undergraduate co-presidents Lindsey Li (W’19) and Lauren O’Mara (C’19) are trying to increase the numbers of undergraduates taking the 1% pledge. They have had success with many students, especially seniors, and are looking to reach more seniors as graduation approaches. Li and O’Mara interviewed two seniors who have taken the pledge, Lindsey Sawczuk and Kyle Kroeger. The co-presidents hope to inspire other Penn students to take the pledge after reading the firsthand perspectives of Sawczuk and Kroeger.
In 2006, my family moved into a brownstone in Harlem, New York. Though I was young, I remember other family members being skeptical about the decision. They questioned my parent’s choice to live in the ‘sketchy’ and supposedly dangerous neighborhood. For years, my parents and I were met with the question “Do you feel safe there?” whenever we disclosed where we lived, and we spent a great deal of time assuring people that whatever conception they had of Harlem was incorrect.
However, the nature of these conversations has rapidly changed over the past couple years. I haven’t been asked about my sense of security at home for some time, and people frequently comment about how ‘nice’ it’s getting in Harlem. Bodegas and empty storefronts have been converted into nook-in-the-wall coffee shops and barn-aesthetic restaurants. Businesses are more vibrant than ever, and now there’s always a group of children playing outside Alexander Hamilton’s house in St. Nicholas Park.
How do you feel late at night on Locust Walk?
Do you feel like you’re in danger? Do you think your college campus is perfectly safe?
The United States Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”  Many different actions fall under the category of sexual assault.
Women in college are three times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women in general—23.1 percent experience assault during their college years, as well as 5.4 percent of men . And scarily, according to a 2015 report, 20.8 percent of female undergraduate students (and 4.5 percent of male undergraduate students) at the University of Pennsylvania have experienced unwanted sexual touching . This year welcomed a new freshman class to Penn—the Class of 2020. With these frightening statistics, it would be understandable for women to feel apprehension about this potential campus danger. However, perceptions of this underlying threat seem to be very mixed within the freshman class.
Redlining [red-lahy-ning]: noun: a discriminatory practice by which banks, insurance companies, etc., refuse or limit loans, mortgages, insurance, etc., within specific geographic areas, especially inner-city neighborhoods.
The practice of redlining in cities across the United States, including Philadelphia, started with the creation of the Federal Housing Administration in 1934 and ended in 1968 with the Fair Housing Act.
A key that shows different rankings of regions, as written on security maps. [via The Atlantic]
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) created maps that ranked residential neighborhoods based on their desirability for further investment in a color-coded system. Often, higher ranks of “A” or “B” were likely to receive loans, while ranks of “C” or “D” were likely to be denied loans.
The FHA used various factors to differentiate rankings of zones, among which was the description of the kinds of people living in the area. Often, areas that were predominantly African American communities, or even immigrant communities, were ranked low on the scale. The common, but unstated, thought was that the arrival of African Americans and Immigrant in a community signaled the decline and ultimate demise of a neighborhood.
Dichotomy and juxtaposition are two words that University of Pennsylvania students love to use (and to hate, because Penn students also hate everything).
Dichotomy: noun di·chot·o·my \dī-ˈkä-tə-mē. : a difference between two opposite things : a division into two opposite groups
Juxtaposition: noun jux·ta·po·si·tion \ˌjək-stə-pə-ˈzi-shən\: the act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side
But no two words more aptly describe 40th Street in Philadelphia. From Baltimore Avenue to Chestnut Street, 40th is an apparent but unnamed boundary, a marker of dichotomy. The street is the edge of the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. It is where the meticulously kept pedestrian-only Locust Walk meets the littered and potholed streets of West Philadelphia, an area of the city with high poverty, evidenced by the average household income of $19,236. 40th Street is lined with police officers and security guards whose job is to make Penn students feel safe 24 hours a day. What are their own neighborhoods like? I do not know, and I’ve never gotten to know one well enough to ask.