Sharon Smith, AVP for University Life Receives Penn Dental Honor


Tuesday, June 21, 2022

As part of Penn Dental Medicine’s commencement ceremony for the Class of 2022, the school recognized Sharon Smith, Associate Provost for University Life, with a special certificate of appreciation for her service to students. In her role at the University, Ms. Smith oversees a number of campus support programs and endeavors to holistically serve students navigating Penn. 

Presently a member of Penn Dental Medicine’s Committee for Cultural Growth, Ms. Smith supports Penn Dental Medicine students and the administration in wide-ranging areas, including assisting with issues such as personal and academic emergencies, food insecurity, provision of urgent medical care, and providing assistance to the school’s international students.

Ms. Smith came to Penn in 1987, serving in various leadership positions throughout campus, including the Penn College Achievement Program, New Student Orientation, and Open Expression.  She was instrumental in helping to create the mission and framework of the Student Intervention Services Office (SIS), which leads Penn’s response to emergencies and critical incidents involving students.

“For over 20 years, Sharon has been a dedicated and passionate supporter of Penn Dental Medicine students,” said Uri Hangorsky, Associate Dean for Student Affairs. “She has selflessly made herself available to work with us not only during regular working hours, but also during nights, weekends, and major holidays. She embodies the very best humanity has to offer—wisdom, compassion, integrity, and dedication.”

Embracing Intersectionality: Sean Massa


Monday, June 6, 2022

Awarded prestigious foreign diplomacy fellowship, Alumnus credits a sense of belonging found in Penn’s LGBT Center, GIC, and Native communities.

Before Sean Massa (C’15) could apprehend the intercultural understanding needed to launch a career in foreign diplomacy, he first had to discover his own individual identity.

There was an immediate impact the day he set foot on the University of Pennsylvania campus. Massa began a journey into understanding his own self as a queer student with Native, Pacific Island, Latino, Asian, and Eastern European heritages — the intersectionality of his various identities.

Through acknowledgement of the different forms of discrimination faced as a diverse and queer student, Massa found a sense of belonging in University Life’s cultural centers that helped him thrive.

“[Sean] got involved in everything. He was thoughtful and always interested in meeting different people and understanding their perspectives.”
Valerie De Cruz outside on Penn's campus
Valerie De Cruz
Director, Albert M. Greenfield Intercultural Center (GIC)

It is no coincidence that his personal exploration began on the steps of the Greenfield Intercultural Center. The GIC became a home away from home during his time in Philadelphia. Through inclusive spaces and programming initiatives, as well as relationships formed with Penn students from diverse backgrounds, the GIC made a particular impact on his personal development as a multiracial student.

“It’s easy to feel like you’re not enough of one thing or the other – you’re not Latinx enough, you’re not Asian enough, you’re not whatever enough,” Massa said. “The GIC people came from these vastly diverse backgrounds. No matter what you were, you were accepted, and you belonged. Not only that, but they also took that angle to other forms of identity beyond ethnicity, like religious identity or socioeconomic background.”

Embracing his identities forged his passion for intercultural engagement and global affairs that shepherded his career path as a diplomat.

Massa graduated from Penn in 2015 with a major in Health and Societies with a concentration in global health and a minor in philosophy. He was a baccalaureate speaker, in addition to serving as a representative on the United Minorities Council.

Pivotal Moments

Massa grew up in San Jose, Calif., a multicultural city that in many ways was a melting pot that was much like his own. He identifies as Mexican and Apache on his maternal side, and Japanese, Hawaiian, and Lithuanian on his paternal side.

Almost immediately, he was drawn to Natives at Penn, a student organization that represents indigenous students. On his first day on campus, Vanessa Iyua, former associate director at the GIC, handed him a Natives at Penn brochure and a Daily Pennsylvanian article on its annual powwow. In many ways, Massa and four other students were being handed over the leadership. Together, they rebuilt the organization, formerly known as Six Directions, from the ground up.

As co-chair, Massa advocated for the Native community on campus by promoting the recruitment and retention of Native American, Native Hawaiian, and Native Alaskan students, as well as connecting students, alumni, and allies in cultural awareness events. Natives at Penn reorganized a room on the third floor of the GIC that they could call their own space, complete with a library and meeting room. The organization hosted a campus powwow that celebrated traditional and modern indigenous culture with singing, dancing, music, food, jewelry, and clothes.

“We were a community,” Massa said. “We looked out for each other. We came from different backgrounds – some of us came from reservations, but most came from the big cities.”

His involvement expanded to a vice president position on the Ivy Native Council, a consortium of the campus organizations across the Ivy League. In that role, he learned from different indigenous groups and understood best practices for addressing certain issues facing those communities. Ivy Native Council met with the National Congress of American Indians to discuss the name controversy with sports mascots, specifically for the Washington football team.

Massa was also involved with the Penn LGBT Center. He was a participant in the LGBT mentorship program and co-chaired the Queer Christian Fellowship.

Massa’s interest in global affairs was piqued by a unique semester-long study abroad opportunity through School for International Training’s International Honors Program. He studied global health and community health in Vietnam, South Africa, and Brazil.

“That was a very pivotal moment for me in terms of getting that international exposure that I had not been introduced to before,” Massa said. “It really changed my perspective upon coming back and then beyond Penn.”

“We were a community,” Massa said. “We looked out for each other. We came from different backgrounds – some of us came from reservations, but most came from the big cities."

UMC leaders graduating seniors at GIC's end of year senior bbq in the Lenape Garden where they received their graduation cords.
Sean Massa (fourth from left) with his fellow UMC graduating seniors at GIC's end of year senior BBQ in the Lenape Garden where they received their graduation cords.

Mentors & Safe Spaces

Director of the GIC Valerie De Cruz first welcomed Massa through his involvement with Natives at Penn and made him feel welcome in his first year. Like many minority students that arrive on an Ivy League campus, Massa, who also identifies as queer, felt imposter syndrome. Massa used De Cruz as a resource anytime he was processing issues of belonging or personal identity.

“She reminded me that I deserve to be there,” Massa said. “When I felt unsure of my own kind of place in the Native community because I am an urban Native, as opposed to someone that grew up on a reservation, she reminded me of my value. She even encouraged me to come out even before I fully accepted who I was.

“She recognized that and nurtured me to fully and authentically be who I am.”

De Cruz had the kind of warmth, attentiveness and caring that allowed her to listen to students in a way that makes them feel heard. In a lot of ways, Massa added, she saw through to the distinct parts of his identity.

Massa grew up in a conservative household and attended a private Christian school for most of his childhood. He took a course called iBelieve: Interfaith Dialogue in Action, a partnership between the GIC, Chaplain’s Office, and the Graduate School of Education. iBelieve was an experimental seminar that took students from various religious backgrounds and fostered a dialogue about different topics ranging from conversion to interfaith marriage.

“Most students come to college with what they were raised to believe,” De Cruz said. “Sean immersed himself in various interfaith groups. He expanded his worldview, and it allowed him to think how he would see himself in the world.”

Massa credits Steve Kocher, Senior Associate Chaplain and Director of the Spiritual & Religious Life Center (SPARC); and Kathleen Hall, Associate Professor of Education and Anthropology, for providing a safe space to confront challenges to his own beliefs.

“That was eye-opening to me in terms of expanding my own worldview and my own understanding of what faith meant to me and my identity,” Massa said. “In a lot of ways, I had grown up in a background that did not fully encourage me to be who I was.”

He served as an upperclassman teaching assistant for iBelieve. Later, as a Penn alumnus, he continues to make an impact at the GIC by mentoring first-generation and low-income students.

Massa’s experiences with the GIC provided him with connections to parts of his own identity that were disconnected to his Bay Area upbringing. He said he felt more grounded in his own Native identity through meeting other students from indigenous backgrounds. Before his sophomore year, he volunteered for College Horizons, a non-profit organization that helps Native American high school students prepare for college. Meeting Native Hawaiians that saw him as one of their own reaffirmed his own identity to his father’s Hawaiian upbringing.

Reviewing his graduation cord at Powwow from Vanessa Iyua, AD at GIC
Sean Massa receiving his graduation cord at Powwow from Vanessa Iyua, former Associate Director at GIC.
Sean Massa and Valerie deCruz at Penn
Sean Massa and Valerie De Cruz together during his time as a Penn student.

Pipeline of Diversity

In February, Massa was awarded the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship. Funded through the U.S. Department of State and administered by Howard University, the Rangel Fellowship is a prestigious pipeline program for diverse individuals that wish to pursue careers in foreign service.

As a Rangel fellow, Massa will intern with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). He is excited about the congressional internship with his home state’s senator because of her sponsorship of the Violence Against Women Act. Specifically, Massa said VAWA has several provisions that address violence against indigenous and native Hawaiian women.

Massa will intern with the State Department the following summer at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad to gain boots-on-the-ground experience in Foreign Service. Upon his receiving a master’s degree in May 2024, he will begin orientation to become a U.S. Diplomat, a five-year commitment at an international post in either a political or public diplomacy track. Massa hopes to advance democracy, human rights, and peace around the world.

“I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what kind of career would best suit me,” Massa said. “I realized I enjoy being abroad and navigating the daily challenges of being abroad through foreign languages, problem solving, and adapting. All those things make me come alive.”

After graduating from Penn, Massa was awarded a Princeton in Asia fellowship to teach at Atma Jaya University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and he interned with the United Nations Information Centre and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Jakarta. He received a Master of Arts in Religion at the Yale Divinity School and Master of Laws in Human Rights at University of Hong Kong. Through his LLM program, he picked up the knowledge and skills to promote LGBTQ rights throughout Asia. His dissertation analyzed the legacy of British colonial anti-sodomy laws’ roles in propagating anti-same sex legislation throughout Asia.

His post-graduate experience has also helped shape his career path. At an internship with the United Nations Information Center in Indonesia in 2016-17, Massa met with a mayor to discuss gender empowerment initiatives in the only Indonesian province to practice Sharia.

He moved to Hong Kong in 2018 through a Yale graduate school partnership with the Red Ribbon Centre to conduct research on HIV and ethnic minority and migrant domestic worker communities. Sean also did pro-bono work supporting low-income Hong Kong students pursuing education opportunities in the United States, and he created health and well-being programming with R.U.N. for Refugees, an NGO that works with vulnerable displaced people.

Experiencing Hong Kong’s political unrest movement related to a now-scrapped extradition bill has also motivated his aspirations to become a diplomat. Massa has seen Hong Kong’s ethos change first-hand: its liberal institutions and values have diminished slowly. Political protests have all but ceased, and citizens are hesitant to speak out or voice their opinions. “It made me more aware of the values that the United States upholds and its platform in the world to promote these values and protect them when they are threatened,” he said. “The more I’ve reflected on it, I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to make a tangible change in that way.”

 

Pride Flag

Throughout June, University Life will celebrate Pride Month with stories and interviews of influential figures in Penn’s LGBTQ community.

Change of Plan


Monday, March 7, 2022

During the pandemic, Oliver Kaplan transferred to Penn looking for a fresh start. A philosophy class altered his academic focus; he now hopes to shape educational policy for LGBTQ+ students.

Oliver Kaplan knew he had to make a change when, two months after his freshman year on a rural college campus, he was outed. Kaplan, who describes himself as “very closeted” until that point, had recently attended a discussion on LGBT rights, and his roommate started telling, first friends, then Kaplan’s parents, that Kaplan was gay.

“At that point, I thought, Well, do I try to correct people? Because I don’t know if I’m ready to be out, but if I correct people, then people are just going to assume I’m straight, and I’ll have to be closeted for the rest of my time here,” he says.

First, he met with the office of residential life, trying to get his roommate transferred to a different room. But since outing wasn’t a violation of any written rule, they “kind of threw their hands up and said, ‘Well, it’s not in our handbook.’”

Outing is a unique situation, Kaplan says. “If you’re not gay, you don’t understand how important that information is.” People try to equate outing to racial identity, and it’s not the same, says Kaplan, whose mother is Chinese and father is Jewish. “If someone were to say, ‘What if I tell other people that you’re Asian? What does that matter?’ Well, first of all, race and sexuality are not the same; you can tell my race from my face, but you can’t discern my sexuality,” he says.

Coming out, first to friends, then family, was a seven-month process that took place during the pandemic. At that point, Kaplan had become determined to transfer schools and had an interest in Penn. Kaplan contacted Erin Cross, director of the LGBT Center, who connected him with a Penn student who later became a mentor.

“Being outed is having other people share something about you that is so private and personal that, when it happens, it goes straight to your core,” says Cross. “It’s a complete lack of respect for someone’s humanity and agency. Someone’s sexual orientation is only for them to share if they want to,” she says.

Penn is consistently ranked as one of the top schools for LGBTQ+ support, says Cross. The LGBT Center is the second oldest of its kind in the country, she says, “so we’ve had a history to build up community, sub-communities, academic ties, and links across the University.” As a response to homophobic campus incidents, Penn included sexual orientation in the University’s non-discrimination clause during the early 1980s. “We were at the forefront,” Cross says. “Penn and the city of Philadelphia have worked hard to make sure LGBTQ+ folks feel as safe as they possibly can, but there’s always more to do.”

Oliver Kaplan in a blue jacket standing outside on Penn's campus

Spring 2021 In-Person Event Request Form – OLD


Friday, January 29, 2021

Beginning February 1, 2021 Penn undergraduate, graduate, and professional student organizations may submit requests for in-person meetings, rehearsals, and/or events (“events”) which the group hopes to hold this semester, indoors or outdoors. Student groups should not request consideration more than two weeks before the desired date, as all requests must be evaluated based on the prevailing public health guidance at the time of submission. 

  • Student organizations must make a compelling case why the activity cannot take place virtually.
  • Groups proceeding with unapproved in-person events risk referral to the Campus Compact Review Panel.
  • Each request will be sorted into one of three tiers based on the nature and complexity of proposed event.   
  • Requests may be denied for myriad reasons. Approved events are not guaranteed and may be cancelled if public health guidance necessitates.

NOTE:
In-person events with students proposed by faculty or staff will be reviewed by the appropriate school or center. 

Tier 1 Events

  • Tier 1 requests support a virtual activity. 
  • Example: A grab-and-go, where students meet at a designated space, indoors or outdoors, to pick up individually packaged materials (craft projects, goodie bags, apparel) for use in a Zoom event. 
  • Tier 1 requests will be quickly evaluated.  

Tier 2 Events

  • Tier 2 requests must demonstrate a compelling reason to be held in person, indoors or outdoors. 
  • Examples: Religious ceremonies, in-person medical training, or campus filming. 
  • Tier 2 requests require additional review and groups should expect a slight delay in response.

Tier 3 Events

  • Tier 3 requests are for complex or major events potentially including a large number of students indoors or outdoors. 
  • Examples: Modified class or University tradition, community engagement activity. 
  • Tier 3 requests will be thoroughly reviewed, necessitating the longest evaluation time.

OLD – Spring 2021 In-Person Event Request Form


Friday, January 29, 2021

OLD – Spring 2021 In-Person Event Request Form

Beginning February 1, 2021 Penn undergraduate, graduate, and professional student organizations may submit requests for in-person meetings, rehearsals, and/or events (“events”) which the group hopes to hold this semester, indoors or outdoors. Student groups should not request consideration more than two weeks before the desired date, as all requests must be evaluated based on the prevailing public health guidance at the time of submission. 

  • Student organizations must make a compelling case why the activity cannot take place virtually.
  • Groups proceeding with unapproved in-person events risk referral to the Campus Compact Review Panel.
  • Each request will be sorted into one of three tiers based on the nature and complexity of proposed event.   
  • Requests may be denied for myriad reasons. Approved events are not guaranteed and may be cancelled if public health guidance necessitates.

NOTE:
In-person events with students proposed by faculty or staff will be reviewed by the appropriate school or center. 

Tier 1 Events

  • Tier 1 requests support a virtual activity. 
  • Example: A grab-and-go, where students  meet at a designated space, indoors or outdoors, to pick up individually packaged materials (craft projects, goodie bags, apparel) for use in a Zoom event. 
  • Tier 1 requests will be quickly evaluated.  

Tier 2 Events

  • Tier 2 requests must demonstrate a compelling reason to be held in person, indoors or outdoors. 
  • Examples: Religious ceremonies, in-person medical training, or campus filming. 
  • Tier 2 requests require additional review and groups should expect a slight delay in response.

Tier 3 Events

  • Tier 3 requests are for complex or major events potentially including a large number of students indoors or outdoors. 
  • Examples: Modified class or University tradition, community engagement activity. 
  • Tier 3 requests will be thoroughly reviewed, necessitating the longest evaluation time.

The Quiet Period: What Is it? What Can I Do?


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The “Quiet Period” will last from January move-in until February 1, 2021. This is a time for students to focus on COVID-19 testing and keeping the community safe and healthy. Students may engage in only limited, essential movement. After the Quiet Period, if the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and Penn Community positivity rates allow, campus facilities will begin to reopen for student access. 

College Houses: During the Quiet Period, essential spaces such as bathrooms and laundry rooms will remain open. Large, open spaces – such as rooftop lounges, living rooms, courtyards, mezzanines, and some large study spaces will remain open for individual studying during the Quiet Period. Computer labs, lockable lounges, and tech spaces will be closed during the Quiet Period. 

Allowable Quiet Period activities for undergraduate students living on campus, in College Houses, includes: 

  • Continuing research, lab, or clinical activities as approved by schools.
  • Engaging in outdoor exercise or recreation – wearing masks, the physical distance of at least 6 feet. 
  • Spending time outdoors on campus – wearing maskskeeping a physical distance of at least 6 feet – with no more than 10 students who live in College Houses 
  • Accessing grab-and-go dining from designated Penn Dining facilities while wearing masks and keeping a physical distance of at least 6 feet. 
  • Ordering contactless food delivery directly to residential buildings while wearing masks and keeping a physical distance of at least 6 feet. 
  • Going to University COVID-19 testing sites. 
  • Receiving care and support from Wellness Services. 
  • Working on roommate/suitemate agreement, pod agreements, and quarantine plans in case of exposure. 

Undergraduate students living off-campus, in private residences, may participate in the same above allowable activities – as long as off-campus students restrict activities to those they live with off-campus.

Regardless of whether students live on campus in College Houses or off-campus in a private residence, gathering indoors with people outside of those you live with is strictly prohibited by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. This includes seeing intimate partners if they do not live together. Check here for updates. 

What is a Pod?


Friday, January 8, 2021

“Pod” is a small and consistent group of students who associate with each other based on agreed upon, shared practices. Pods must be used in conjunction with other primary prevention strategies (masking, hand-washing, physical distancing) to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community while maintaining social connection.  

The safest Pod is within a household—those who share a kitchen and/or bathroom. Because household sizes vary so much across the student population, a maximum pod number cannot adequately be defined; however, the smaller the pod, the better. 
 
A pod should agree to the following: 

  • Maintain a 6-foot physical distance from any individuals not in the pod, and to wear face coverings when interacting with others and when physical distance cannot be maintained. 
  • Wear face coverings in all indoor spaces other than those where permission to go without a face covering has been explicitly given (for example, student rooms and pod lounges). 
  • Continue to practice recommended hand hygiene and avoid sharing utensils and drinks with anyone, including members of the pod. 
  • Have open and honest conversations about activities, behaviors, and expectations of one another. 

A pod demonstrates the shared responsibility for one another’s safety and the safety of the greater Penn community, and also holds all members accountable for their behaviors and activities. 

Class of 2021


Thursday, November 19, 2020

Penn Traditions

Resources and guidance for seniors can be found on the Class of 2021 Facebook page, Instagram

 First-Year  Students


Thursday, November 19, 2020

Experience the new Hub@Penn, for first-year students. 

Class of 2024 Instagram Account