University staff reflect on assisting LGBTQ college students during pandemic

Monday, May 3, 2021

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, college students have had to live their lives a little differently than initially planned. This includes taking online classes and not engaging with that same sense of camaraderie they would have felt if they attended college in person. 

Many LGBTQ students, in particular, felt a specific form of isolation. But how did campus staff members assist these students? PGN spoke with representatives from departments specializing in diversity and inclusion at Drexel University and University of Pennsylvania on how students felt, what the staff did to combat these issues, and how they plan to move forward.

Erin Cross, the director for UPenn’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center, noted the impact of financial issues on transgender and gender-nonconforming students. She said there was a huge uptick in students who applied for UPenn’s Townsend Munro Fund, which assists students making gender transitions. She noted that a high number of students applied for it during the pandemic as they now had to pay for food and rent in addition to medical supplies and other things necessary for transition.

“That was something we were pretty shocked by during the first six months of the pandemic in particular. Our trans students were struggling financially a great deal.”
Erin Cross photographed outside on Locust Walk
Erin Cross
Director of UPenn’s LGBT Center

How to engage academic wellness services

Friday, April 16, 2021

I’m here to tap into my full potential,” says Niko Simpkins, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering. “That’s the quote that I live by.” Simpkins envisions excellence, which is why he found himself at the Weingarten Center, poring over past exams with STEM learning specialist Gabriel Angrand. Weingarten is Penn’s hub for tutoring, disabilities services, and academic supports for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students across all 12 schools. Weingarten staff collaborate with campus partners including Academic Advising, Athletics, Counseling & Psychological Services, International Student and Scholar Services, and Penn First Plus.

Academic learning isn’t just about attending lectures and taking notes. It’s about engaging with the textbook, reading the syllabus to see what the professor wants, understanding how tests are graded and where students may be losing points, and for some students seeking counseling or a diagnosis for undiagnosed learning disabilities.

Weingarten looks at student wellness comprehensively, says associate vice provost Sharon Smith. “So, if a student is with us in tutoring and it turns out they are struggling with concentration, we have the resources and expertise to help them with that within Weingarten,” she says. The goal, she says, is to provide multidisciplinary case management and connect students directly with the help they need.

Weingarten Center by the Numbers [Fall 2020]

Students who sought tutoring
Total tutoring hours
Students who sought a total of 1,098 virtual appointments
Students who attended a total of 156 workshops and programs offered
Students who sought 623 appointments, resulting in 77 referrals
Total accommodated disability exams

Students Engage with Philadelphia

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Monday, April 12 had neither course assessments nor asynchronous classes. The University offered self-directed activities that advanced our community, both to engage with Philadelphia for our Year of Civic Engagement and to explore opportunities and faculty expertise at Penn, including asynchronous preceptorials and other events with campus organizations.

Photos from Engagement Day

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Penn Glee Club becomes fully gender inclusive

Monday, April 12, 2021

Penn Glee Club becomes fully gender-inclusive after 159 years of all-male singers. In a merger with the Penn Sirens, the chorus will add soprano and alto voices and be open to singers of all genders.

The University of Pennsylvania Glee Club and the Penn Sirens have decided to merge their choral groups, meaning that for the first time since its founding 159 years ago the Glee Club will include singers of all genders and will perform repertoire for soprano and alto voices, in addition to tenor and bass, and for all four voice parts.

In the final step in a yearslong process to make the Glee Club fully gender-inclusive, currently active members voted unanimously Friday afternoon to approve an amendment to the Club’s constitution and by-laws to allow singers of all genders and all voice parts.

This is a discussion that we are seeing across student groups about equity and access and social justice. Students across campus are embracing a movement where gender is not a requirement for membership, and gender is not considered to be binary.
Laurie McCall
Laurie McCall
Director of Penn’s Platt Student Performing Arts House

“It’s a milestone day for sure; we are all really excited. It’s quite the accomplishment for all of us. It’s incredible that it’s done. It’s one for the history books,” said senior Jake Milner, Glee Club president, minutes after the vote. 

“This merger will provide amazing performance opportunities to all Penn students and creates a more inclusive performing arts community,” says junior Marina Dauer, Sirens President.

“The Penn Glee Club and Penn Sirens—two student groups near and dear to my heart who often perform at our most coveted celebrations on campus—have decided to merge, singing a most beautiful song of their commitment to gender inclusivity,” says President Amy Gutmann. “This change is historic, as the all-male choir component of Penn Glee Club is almost 160 years old. Both groups have exhibited enormous care, with the thoughtful direction of advisers and leaders at Penn, during the process of making this transformative shift, and I am proud to see where they’ve landed.”

The Penn Glee Club and Penn Sirens board members on College Green in the week before the Glee Club’s vote to merge.
The Penn Glee Club and Penn Sirens board members on College Green in the week before the Glee Club’s vote to merge.

Race-based hate is out there, but it’s inside of us, too

Monday, April 5, 2021

I’m concerned that even though vaccines will usher us closer to herd immunity, it still won’t be safe to gather. Why? Because hate and anger are raging, and there’s just no way to know when and where it’s going to boil over. When it gets to the point that bullets are flying, it’s too late because bullets don’t have names. Just ask the victims of the recent Atlanta shootings.

Those who study hate are predicting that hate crimes against Asian American Pacific Islanders will, unfortunately, continue to rise. And as Philadelphia and national officials relax COVID-19 restrictions, additional hate crimes will likely pick up steam, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of of Hate and Extremism at California State University. We’ve had a year filled with economic hardship and death, Levin said. People are angry. We’ve all been isolated so our discontent has grown out of control. People are looking for scapegoats. And gun sales, although they dipped in February, still remain at record highs.

All too often we cling to our beliefs because they play a role in defining who we are and at the end of the day we have to wonder if we are more interested in learning from a new opportunity or holding on to old ideas that don’t serve us? Isolation has led many of us to double down on our beliefs. And the separation has intensified this sense of other. When we feel the pull to resist a shift in thinking, we should consider the following: Do we want our resistance to turn into hate, or do we want to embrace the new ideas and look at them as an opportunity to do better?
Mamta Accapadi
Vice Provost for University Life

MaskUPenn: A year of mask-wearing in pictures

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Following CDC guidelines and campus mandates, the Penn community put their best face coverings forward for a masked photo series.

From cotton, cotton blend, plain black, floral, or even bedazzled, the ubiquity of face masks on Penn’s campus throughout the pandemic has marked the commitment of the community to do its part to keep everyone safe. The CDC called on all Americans to mask up to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in 2020, and Penn responded with guidelines making masks mandatory on campus. In response, faculty, staff, and students who remained in the city all masked up. While every member of the Penn community received Penn mask compliments of the Division of Human Resources, masks doubled as both necessity and accessory. And accessories often dazzle or express the whimsy of the wearer.

Eric Sucar, University Photographer, put together an amazing photo gallery of our community masking up.

Performing Arts Council Executive Team Video

Monday, March 29, 2021

The students from the Platt Performing Arts Council Executive Team put together a video demonstrating the struggle the community has endured.

Commemorating a Challenging Year

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

To mark one year since COVID-19 changed our lives, we honor the essential workers within our entire Penn Community for their selfless work and dedication. We also look to the future with hope and optimism for brighter days ahead.

Supporting Penn’s Asian community

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A year marked by the global pandemic was also marked by anti-Asian xenophobia, evidenced most recently in the Atlanta shootings. The Trump administration’s reaction to COVID-19…

Calling it the Wuhan flu, kung flu, the China virus, struck multiple chords. That rhetoric, combined with the increased violence toward Asians documented on the news and in lived experience results in many people living in fear of stepping out, even for something as simple as getting groceries.

In response, the University launched the Task Force on Supporting Asian and Asian American Students and Scholars at Penn in April 2020, affirming its commitment to diversity and anti-discrimination. As part of the task force, Van Do has been working with Penn Global and Pablo Cerdera, associate director for restorative practices at Penn, to hold healing spaces for Asian and Asian American populations.

COVID-19 and Women in the Workforce

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Sherisse Laud-Hammond, director, Penn Women’s Center

It is very difficult to juggle being a parent while working from home in the same space as your child, who is stressed out or frustrated with online learning, in addition to the social emotional piece with not being able to have playdates with friends.

Parents have also had to figure out childcare to support their children in their own home. Many people don’t think about how hard it is to work a full-time job and parenting through a pandemic. You have children with computer and Zoom connection issues—while in the middle of an important meeting. What if you are a parent who is a frontline worker or a single parent with no childcare? Thanks to GSWS [Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies] and Penn, many parent employees were offered a grant to subsidize these costs, but unfortunately, many other women have dropped out of the workforce or become unemployed. Women’s jobs are more vulnerable and women are leaving the job market with increased childcare burdens.

I have spoken to many parents who find it hard to grab a bite to eat, who many, many times skip lunch and don’t eat until the end of the day because of their own back-to-back Zoom meetings and childcare responsibilities. Graduate students have to shoulder writing dissertations without having a change of scenery when they hit writers’ block; other folks are also struggling to produce research in order to earn tenure.

There is also the health component. Reproductive health service appointments were canceled or delayed because of the pandemic. Women are also at greater risk of domestic violence.

Giving grace to other people and having grace for yourself is the most important tool through this pandemic.