The Ability to Have a Social Life at Penn
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It's 10:00pm on a Friday night. In years past, this was the best night of my week. After a full 5 days of laboring over school work and club commitments and internship searches, Friday night is my one release. It's my 5 hours of pretending that none of the impending assignments due Monday morning exist. It's my 5 hours where my group of friends can come together and hang out regardless of what majors we are, what homework we have, and what interests we don't share. All we care about is being together and making memories that 10 years down the line we can reminisce about. Ask any alumnus what their favorite Penn memory is: 9 out of 10 will not say something that happened in Van Pelt library. 9 out of 10 will cite a memory that likely happened off campus. While I recognize that there are problems within the Greek life community both on and off campus, appreciate the valiant attempts to shut down inappropriate and dangerous behaviors, and am in full support of an end to hazing, the act of grouping all off campus activities under one umbrella as something that should be shut down is blatantly disrespectful to many of the students who attend Penn. There are many ways to combat these problems that don't involve shutting down Greek and social life as a whole. Perhaps a more realistically and healthy approach could be discussed at students of all involvements.
We are an academically rigorous institution that puts unbelievable pressures onto its students to not just achieve but to over achieve, often at the stake or expense of peers and friends. There is a competitiveness that stems from an external pressure that the university places on its students, and for many, the 2 or 3 days that they have when they do not have to deal with those things are the 2 or 3 days where they find the most peace and camaraderie.
I came to Penn as a freshman knowing many people from networks I had been fortunate enough to have made throughout high school. But I remember standing inside an off campus fraternity on one of my first nights of school, feeling like I didn't know anybody. In this moment that felt foreign and strange, I met a girl, also a freshman. We hadn't known each other prior to Penn, but had similar interests. We were not living near each other in the quad, we did not have any of the same classes, and we were not from the same area at home. By any natural circumstance, we were not meant to meet each other. But we did, and it was a moment that changed both of our lives because she became one of my best friends and one of the best things that has happened to me here. Its a shame to think that 1200 of those kids just like me will not be able to have those spontaneously life changing experiences.
While Penn is focused on the activities that are happening after 8pm at fraternities, there are several other more important issues that are being overlooked by the administration's desire to shut down Penn social life. In just 5 years, over 12 people have taken their own lives. In fact, this university is one of the leaders in student suicide, a statistic that is often ignored and dismissed by the school's faculty. It is a statistic that gets a hefty sweep under a rug of issues that the university would rather just not mention, but instead keep in a little box labeled "problems that don't really apply to us." Rather than spend money and time on creating a task force to combat skyrocketing depression rates from academic and financial pressures, Penn has decided to create a task force that debilitates one of the very things that keeps its students sane: their lives outside of school. We are a community that is trying to not just be better students and innovators and businesspeople and philanthropists, but we are a community that is trying to be better people. The school's main focuses should to be make sure that it's its students are happy and healthy and thriving. With no students, there is no school. Instead of adding necessary programs for mental health awareness and creating groups that strive to put self-help and self-health first, the school is taking away things that for the most part, are options for freedom from whatever entrapment the week might have held. Because of the Penn Task Force, a group who's objectives are unknown, unclear, and not communicated to majority of the students, many Greek organizations are being forced to hold events off campus. These events are not cheap and can range from $20 to $100. Some students, like myself, are fortunate enough that the economic burden of going to an event on campus does not weigh as heavily. That being said, 99% of the campus does not feel the same way. Most, also including myself, would rather spend that money elsewhere or not at all. Over the course of my 4 years here, I have noticed Penn's administration working to eliminate the huge financial gaps between its students. It is attempting to create a community that is influenced by humanist values rather than economic values. This recent tendency toward downtown events that cost money is most definitely a huge step backwards as it limits the availability of social life off campus to the select few who are willing and able to pay unnecessary sums to participate. To ask fraternities to shell out over $500 dollars to host a party for students who came to this university to learn not just about school, but about life, is atrocious. To instill fear into a group of students that everything they have worked for, that their parents have worked for, and that they have sacrificed could be taken away because a police officer catches them at a college party is disappointing and will change the course of this university's success. College is about a wide range of experiences that encompass all walks of life. It is about relationships and not about statistics. It is about memories and not about assignments. It is about being a person and not a walking GPA.
At a small gathering of people that happened at off campus fraternity this past Friday night, a "task force" of two police and two university affiliated employees came to the door as everybody was leaving for the night. They were dressed in bullet proof vests over their respective uniforms and clothes. For the most part, we are a community of hard working, determined, intelligent, and kind individuals who look to bring each other up rather than tear each other down. To think that it would be necessary to blatantly wear a bullet proof vest to a frat party is just offensive. Instead of sending the police to patrol the campus and keep its students safe so that we don't receive texts weekly about another robbery at gunpoint or assault with weapon, the school is choosing to send its police to deal with a noise complaint at a party where no music is playing.
I respect Penn. I hold it dear to my heart. It is the best thing that ever happened to me. Academically this school has given me professors, lessons, and an education to a degree I never could have imagined existed, let alone receive. Beyond that and more importantly, it has given me memories and moments that I will never forget, opportunities that are incomparable to anything else, and a community of friends and peers who I have had the unique and fortunate opportunity to get to know and that I will cherish for a lifetime.
So here I am, at 10:00pm on a Friday night writing a letter to an administration that is supposed to have my back and raise me higher, but instead has put another weight on my shoulders to weigh me down. I ask of you something simple and something feasible: let us live
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