Racism at UPenn

My friend, SS, sent me a link to an article in The Daily Pennsylvanian, which is UPenn’s student-run independent newspaper. It is titled, Racism taints the University written by a STUDENT at UPenn.  Here’s a lengthy snippet:

I’m no stranger to racism. Being a minority, it comes with the territory. However, because of a recent experience, I cannot in good faith recommend that minorities come to Penn.

I was heading home at 2 a.m., which meant that students were stumbling out of bars and making their way back home as well.

Outside Harrison College House, I noticed a group of four white students — two females and two males — who were all drunk. I ignored their yelling, until I realized that the two guys were walking closer and closer to me.

Then suddenly, one of the girls spoke. “Yo son, what up dawg? Wut’s good, a’ight?”

Of course, I was taken aback. She was addressing me. “Nothing,” I responded.

“Word, really? Yo, what are you doin’ here? You belong here or what?”

“I’m a student here.”

“Nah, word. Yo, what you doin’ here?” the guy said, joining in her game.

I again replied that I am a student here. They ask me my age, again speaking mock slang to me. They continued to press whether or not I “belong” here. When they saw I was going the other way, they broke off, wishing me good luck and whatever garbled slang they had picked up watching television.

Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.

There were more drunk students around, but I did my best to ignore them. After my previous encounter, I was angry and didn’t want to be bothered.

A young white student blocked my way. “Yo.”

Here we go again.

“Yeah? What can I do for you?” I responded.

“I’m hungry, you see. Where can I get some fried chicken?”

Fried chicken? Did I really just get asked for a location to get fried chicken?

“Excuse me?” I didn’t know how to react. When racism is in your face like this, you don’t know how to respond. Many of us declare, “Oh, if this ever happened to me I’d smack them upside their head!”

But in reality, so many questions come to mind. “Is this person serious? Am I overreacting? Maybe this isn’t racist? Should I hit this person?”

“I’m looking for fried chicken,” he continued. “You look like someone who knows where you can get fried chicken.”

I needed to remove myself from this situation. I said, “Look, try Wawa if you’re hungry. I’m going now.”

He walked back to his friend and yelled, “I’m gonna go get some fried chicken! This nigger just told me where it’s at!”


Racism at Penn is usually subtle. It is a way of life, something that minorities come to accept. In class, it’s usually sly comments about us. In the dining halls, it’s people talking really loud, complaining about us to their friends. I overhear it.

But this was the first time it was so blatant.

While I have to say that there are a fair number (maybe a lot, even) of great supportive responses to the author’s story and his reaction to this racism, there were, of course, comments on the article that deserve trigger warning for racism, privilege, etc:

If you want to belong here, prove that you do. Find the resources you need to feel safe. Find people who make you feel accepted. If you’re graduating cum laude and you’re from such a disadvantaged background, then I’m surprised you haven’t taken a more positive initiative. An article like this will only weaken and shrink our minority communities by discouraging students form applying. This is college, not high school, we are adults, and it’s up to us as students to proactively define our school.

Let’s not consider Fling and extreme intoxication. Let’s not blame poor upbringing or wider society. Let’s certainly not permit that some people remain – despite the efforts of so many to the contrary – stupid, ignorant assholes.  Instead, let’s blame one of the most diverse and welcoming schools in the nation. And, as a solution, let’s encourage minorities not to come here anymore.  That makes a lot of sense.

We have to understand that “Penn is a lot different from most schools?” Yeah. It’s better and a hell of a lot more tolerant.  Your charge that few black men attend college? Is that really Penn’s fault, or the fault of a much larger set of problems in sore need of fixing?

Let me guess:  You’re a white racist?

Then you get to make blanket statements basically implying that every white person at Penn is racist. Am I allowed to be offended by that, or would that be racist? What about the countless times that my girlfriend has been harassed and called things by black men in west Philly while she is there volunteering her valuable time at a welfare center? Those men were wrong to do so, but I’m not about to go write to the DP and call all black men racist against white people because of a few incidents because I’m smart enough to realize that most black people are not saying things like that, just like most white people aren’t being racist towards black people.

This is a minor aside, but I felt compelled to comment on Abreu’s assertion that racism is pervasive in places like class and dinning halls:  “In class, it’s usually sly comments about us. In the dining halls, it’s people talking really loud, complaining about us to their friends. I overhear it.”
Are you kidding me? Is your view of race relations at Penn that myopic that you can’t see how diverse friend groups are here? Look, I’m a white male at Penn with close friends who are black, white, hispanic, Asian, whatever, and the idea that every person of color here is subject to complaints in class and at dinning halls is absolutely ludicrous. I’m really sorry for what happened to you, but you should realize that most of us enjoy each other’s company–regardless of ethnicity.

the best way to stop racism is to ignore it, not cry about it. chris, your guest column, whether you like it or not, has only increased racial tensions at penn (read the comments).

SS, who is at UPenn in some capacity, wrote this to me when they sent the link (which I am publishing here with SS’ permission), clearly upset about how the people in the above comments were responding to the author (and, I would say, rightfully so):

Oh my god, this poor guy. The comments are also so goddamn awful – I knew Penn students were privileged, but these comments are as if Privilege took a shit on the internet. Not to mention the number of victims who are telling this guy to keep quiet or have a different reaction? Heartbreaking …

So many people are trying to police his reaction to the racism he suffered (not to mention the assholes who are saying that he brought it on by being black on Penn’s campus) that I imagine he’s feeling even more oppressed (and in many more ways) than before writing what should have been a cathartic article.

Also: I’m fed up with people who don’t ever want to look beyond individual actions to the societies and institutions that implicitly condone, foster, disregard or overlook their fucked up behavior. First, universities aren’t responsible for rapist students, now they should also ignore racist students? Shouldn’t people in college be LEARNING about the intricate relationship between society and its members?

And I don’t really have anything else to say about this.  SS covered it.  My heart goes out to the author of this piece.  I hope against hope that it doesn’t make his experience at UPenn any worse and that, if anything, this does start a conversation that he feels needs to be had.


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