The opportunity that I was given to attend the University of Pennsylvania went by faster than I ever thought it would. The day I left felt like the first day I stepped into Philadelphia was only yesterday. I walked into the Quadrangle not knowing what I would expect. The only thing I knew were the people I came there with – Allonna, Chris, and Diana. I was released in an unfamiliar environment to adapt, learn, grow, and be strong representatives for our area. As I returned, I became more developed in my mindset, personality, beliefs, goals, and overall character from when I left the Bay Area. If it weren’t for the University of Pennsylvania, I don’t believe I would be as exposed and understanding to the world I have been living in my whole life.
|From the Beginning|
From the moment I had stepped onto the campus, I felt at home. The program directors, other students, and the dorm counselors made the UPENN campus feel extremely welcoming. All, were friendly and filled with eager and excitement to be and have us there. There were plenty RC’s around who helped us with our bags and showed us to our dorms. We were given tours of the Quad, campus, and “home” area to familiarize our surroundings. This hospitality and their positive attitudes made adjusting to the new area comforting and easy. The vibes and mood I sensed of the campus allowed me to feel comfortable being myself and opening up to new people. No one was judgmental and accepting of one another. It wasn’t difficult to grow so attached to the university.
At UPENN, I was always encouraged to experience new things. I was given plenty of opportunities to make new friends, know the people in my dorm, and have space to myself to settle into my dorm; we had ice breakers for an entire week. There were activity sign-ups for throughout the week with a variety of choices to choose from. The activities ranged from Phillies games, to the mall, ice skating, laser tag, magic garden (garden filled with mosaics and flowers), movie dates, duck tours, spa nights, talent shows, cheese steak days, trivia nights, and so much more. With all of these activities to choose from, it was hard not finding something that you would be interested in or even trying out for the first time. I am a major fan of baseball and the San Francisco Giants. Experiencing a free baseball game at a beautiful stadium could not get any better than the opportunity PENN had offered me. Along that trip, I also met a new friend from San Jose who’s a Giant’s fan too – we still keep in contact today.
Aside from the spectacular events they had lined up for us, the university had entrusted with us a great amount of independence. UPENN treated me as an actual undergraduate student enrolled at the school. I was living on the campus, I was expected to handle all my business, and I could walk anywhere within the “home” area and throughout campus with the comfort of knowing I was in a safe environment. I never was once scared or felt as if I were in danger or at risk. It was always best to go places with a buddy, but being alone never bothered me. I was independent and free – to an extent. I was in control of what I wanted to do, when I would do something, where I pleased to go, etc. I was still required to follow within the program’s boundaries and rules, but this opportunity gave me a taste of the college life and real world. I never really had this much leisure and independence back home, so when I first found out this would be my lifestyle for three weeks, I did my best to enjoy and take advantage of it. I explored the campus and home area, tried new food restaurants, and did my own thing. Getting a feel of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, I knew I belonged there.
With this great amount of privilege, I had at UPENN, came an equal amount of responsibility and trustworthiness that coincided with it. All students were required to go to class on their own, get up on their own, complete all assignments, be in your room by a certain time, follow all of the given rules, etc. Upholding my end to these requirements was not hard, at least I thought. Before I came to the University of Pennsylvania, I was naïve. I convinced myself that I could handle anything that was thrown my way, including the college life. Being at this prestigious university, I received a major reality check throughout my time there. I juggled between class, homework, and blogging along with giving myself enough time to participate in activities and get enough sleep for the next day. I had underestimated the energy it would take me to handle all of these efficiently.
Class was at least six hours each day with an hour in-between for lunch. The homework consisted of article readings, watching Ted-Talks or videos, and responding to discussion questions in relation to the topic of the day as well as a final capstone project with scholarly research. Trying to complete my daily responsibilities along with getting enough rest and down time was harder than I had anticipated. I began working through a system to where I would sleep for a few hours then stay awake the rest of the night completing my all my work and blogs before class started; it wasn’t the best system. This worked for the first week but after that, I began knocking out right when I got to my dorm room until sign-in time near 11:00 PM. As I got back, I would knockout again. Because I didn’t learn how to manage my time and allowed procrastination to get the best of me, I began falling behind in my blogs. I was aware of the challenges I would have prior to actually attending PENN when it was explained to me, but I never fully grasped the understanding of it until my warning became my reality. I, of course, got back on top of this...eventually. From what I learned out of this is experience, I will use best to my advantage in preparation of my future. This includes focusing my attention on skills such as time-management, multitasking, researching, and balancing out my budget. This lesson was only one of many I would have coming my way.
As I first started the Social Justice Research Academy, I thought I knew about Social Justice and the real things occurring in society – I didn’t. I was ignorant, more than I thought I was. Each day we unpacked an intriguing new topic ranging from the death penalty, LBGTQ+ community, race and policing, disabilities, social impact, violence against women, religion and discrimination, environmental injustices, poverty and housing, and the list goes on. We went into depth of what each topic is, why it’s considered as a social justice issue, viewed films about these issues, what causes these societal problems, etc. We participated in interactive activities such as listening to one another’s thoughts about these concerns and discussed ways that we could actually change this within our society in discussion groups, built our own ideal education system, taught the class about gender, sex, and sex category. Outside of class, we were taken through different parts of Philadelphia where we visually learned about these issues in museums dedicated to the topic we were learning about or different neighborhoods where these injustices are occurring in. The program helped us learn more about each other and the areas and backgrounds in which we all come from.
|To the Middle|
If I was not a part of the Social Justice Research Academy, I would not have fully understood the meaning or the history tying into today’s problems or even the real meaning of some of our topics. For example, the discrimination leading back toward the segregation times had, and still does, a major effect to housing locations and conditions of where people of color were living, the majority of them in poverty. Moving into a better neighborhood was made difficult due to the pricing and the violence used against them. In third world countries, young girls are getting kidnapped, raped, then married to the abductor as a part of the culture there. When you’re disabled, the real struggle is not just dealing with your disability, but the way in which you are treated by society for having that disability or accommodating to a world that is not accessible to you. Gender is a way of identifying with how you perceive yourself or who you define yourself as while sex, is the physical genitalia you were born with, and sex category is the male, female, transgender category in which you are labeled in society. These few things are only scratching the surface of what we uncovered.
Throughout the program, there has been a few things that stood out the most to me. As we learned for three weeks in class, we had touched upon the areas of privilege and social impact. Many of us are unaware of and don’t appreciate enough of having the things that we do or for who we are as individuals. There are things that put you at an advantage or disadvantage within our society that may or may not be able to control. Those things may be the gender you identify as or sex you were born, your race, social class, income, and the list goes on. For those areas you are at a disadvantage at, you may have wealth somewhere else such as a family, home, higher education, etc. A lot of these things can be turned beneficial depending on the choices you make. Every choice that we decide upon has an effect on not only our lives but the rest of society, whether it’s large or small. A decision you may view as so small or insignificant may lead to a great deal of change later on down the road. Even I had not realized this before until it was broken down right in front of my eyes. Learning this has made me feel more appreciative of my life and resources I have I never considered before.
Without the support of Professor Hansen, along with the TA’s, dissecting each issue with a guest speaker, I would not have absorbed so much knowledge and gained a deeper understanding of the society we’re living in. Towards the beginning of class, all of them would rotate days to instruct or break down a topic before going into further detail about it. This way of teaching allowed me to follow the lesson plan with ease if I had little knowledge of the topic itself. They have exposed me to so many different ways of learning and perspectives that I have never even thought of before. They encouraged me to think with an open mindset, use different methods of problem-solving, become interactive, and find my own definition of what social justice is.
During my time in the Social Justice Research Academy, I learned about the definition of Social Justice. The reality of this definition is that there is no specific meaning to these two words – we create our own meaning. What people see as a social justice varies on perspective of that individual along with what they choose to do about it. It’s not something everyone will agree on or even believe in and is realistically, something that seems futile to achieve. But, if we do not give any attempt to change this, these results will remain that way. My definition of Social Justice means balancing out our society to where everyone has access to resources, opportunity, education, affordable living areas, medication, health or support services, food, etc. or to where everyone has a fair chance at surviving. It will be challenging trying to achieve this with history being known to repeat along with long-lasted societal constructs and stereotypes, but a small effort can influence a change to be slowly implemented.
I have been educated greatly in ways that I could not have received from a more fitting university than UPENN. The many lessons I was taught, were instructed within the boundaries of the classroom as well as beyond the historic walls. Those lessons reflected on life, society, and the pursuit of seeking justice for all as we were promised back when this nation was formed. I chose to participate in the Social Justice Research Academy to learn these life lessons and find ways to apply it to my life and the ones surrounding me. With the knowledge I gained from this program, I know I can make an impact in the world in some way. This school, and program, has helped further guide me along the path in pursuing my passion and hopefully transforming into my future career. I longed to expand my horizons and actually open my eyes up to the things occurring around me that are overlooked too often or are underrepresented, and give those people a voice that the world will hear. Thanks to the University of Pennsylvania, the Social Justice Research Academy, the ILC, and others included, I am one step closer to achieving this.
Each day I spent at UPENN, I did my best to make each day last to its fullest extent. Day by day, the time had just been disappearing faster than I could even blink. I still cannot believe my time there has vanished so fast. I still reminisce on the little details of the campus, program, Philadelphia, and the people as if I were still residing there. I developed a deep attachment and love for UPENN that grew immensely after each day. If I stayed longer, I probably would’ve had attachment issues by the time arrived for me to depart and return back to my original home, the Bay Area. Looking back at this adventure of a lifetime, I already know this is the highlight of my year and I am proud to state, Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, will always be my other extended home.