In the News

Penn Political Coalition launches nonpartisan fund

The Daily Pennsylvanian, By Lianna Serko, October 4, 2013

Raising nonpartisan political capital is never a quick process. For the Penn Political Coalition, accomplishing this goal took about two years.

PoCo, the umbrella organization for political student groups founded in January 2012, will be launching a $7,500 fund for policy and politics-related programming on campus that the group says is necessary to ensure that Penn has a vibrant political scene. The fund will be overseen by the 12-member PoCo “Synergy Committee,” some members of which are representatives from member groups and some of which are on the PoCo board.

The fund, which was amassed through donations from Fox Leadership, Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative and the Annenberg School of Communication, will be available for allocation to PoCo-affiliated student groups or to other student groups who are co-sponsoring an event with an affiliate group. It is a nonpartisan effort to increase political discourse and will not be used to host events for campaigns or events to advocate for candidates of any type.

PoCo co-chairs Sam Gersten, a College senior, and Urja Mittal, a College and Wharton senior, said the fund is the cornerstone of PoCo’s efforts to provide funding to political student groups and will only be used for political or policy events on campus.

“The fund is a good way to move forward from the question of how to cultivate political life at Penn,” Mittal said. “It’s about how we can make it so that civic and political dialogue are kind of something we do on a regular basis, not just a reaction to it being election season every four years.”

Gersten added, “It wasn’t just [PoCo], it was most people involved in political life on campus feeling that political life was not as vibrant or strong as it could be, and part of that reason was the limited ability to get funding.”

Mittal agreed. “It’s very difficult to ask groups to hold more events if they don’t have the resources to do it,” she said.

As of the launch event, groups will be able to start submitting applications to receive money from the Synergy Committee and its new fund. The limit for funding is $750 per year per group, and will continue to be allocated as 10 percent of the total fund money as the fund grows. If the fund grows to $10,000, the limit of funding per year per group will grow with it to $1,000.

Mittal explained the logic behind this funding cap. “The goal is that we should be able to fund at least ten events per year,” Mittal said. “Because political events often gear towards speakers, and speakers’ honoraria can be very expensive, we don’t want to drain the fund with any one event.”

Both Gersten and Mittal emphasized that the launch of the fund has been a collaborative effort. “All member groups have had a lot of input in to how the fund will be structured,” Mittal said. “It’s been a PoCo initiative, but it wasn’t achieved just by the PoCo board.”

University programs settle disputes, make resolution on campus

The Daily Pennsylvanian, By Harry Cooperman, February 7, 2013

While controversy can be prevalent on campus — from questions of diversity to off-campus living conditions — Penn offers numerous resources to resolve such disputes.

Recent disputes on campus such as six students’ lawsuit against the University over their off-campus house and six Africana studies professors’ claim that the University does not do enough to promote diversity in the administration prompted the Daily Pennsylvanian to look into routes to resolving issues on campus.

University offices such as the Office of the Ombudsman and the Office of Student Conduct serve as forums to resolve disagreements between parties. However, these aren’t the only organizations that serve to mediate disputes. Groups like Penn Political Coalition and the Department of Human Resources also serve to regulate the discussions on campus.

The mediation process

Students involved in disputes could often find themselves going through the process of mediation with the either the OSC or the Ombudsman.

According to the Charter of the University of Pennsylvania Student Disciplinary System, most matters “can and should” be resolved through the University Mediation Program.

“Often, a student will bring a complaint to the office first, not necessarily as a mediation complaint … [but because] they are upset about their circumstances,” said Marcia Glickman, associate director and mediation coordinator at the OSC.

The complaints are then “evaluated on a case-by-case basis” to determine whether they should be referred to mediation, she added. However, no cases of alleged academic dishonesty will be referred to mediation.

“Our aim is to get people involved in a dispute to sit down together and make it okay and safe for them to do that,” Director of the OSC Michele Goldfarb said.

While OSC emphasizes face-to-face mediation, the Ombudsman’s office — which serves students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni and receives cases ranging from disputes between staff and their supervisors to those between researchers and assistants — utilizes “shuttle diplomacy,” according to Associate Ombudsman Marcia Martinez-Helfman. Shuttle diplomacy allows parties to communicate through the Ombudsman without speaking directly to each other.

The Ombudsman is in a unique position as it is independent from other departments at Penn, which allows it to remain neutral in any disputes.

“As a neutral [party], I try to hear the different perspectives to bring the parties together and get beyond the dispute and find common interests,” Martinez-Helfman said.

Both offices, however, keep their records confidential.Goldfarb said that confidentiality is one of the differences between mediation at Penn and proceedings in the court system, as the courts are public

The Ombudsman and the OSC have similar philosophies for finding resolutions.

Glickman stressed that “[OSC] does not come up with the resolution.”
“The resolution hinges on all parties having an interest in a particular outcome,” Martinez-Helfman said.

Student to student

Student groups in disputes can turn to their peers and other groups to help settle the conflict.

Some student groups, such as PoCo, believe that all disagreements don’t necessarily need to be resolved. Rather, the opposing parties should be allowed to publicly express their opposing views.

“We see political controversy … and member groups expressing their views as a good thing,” College junior and PoCo Co-Chair Sam Gersten said.

“We’re focused on bringing out these different sides to stories,” College and Wharton junior and PoCo Co-chair Urja Mittal added. “We want people to explore the different sides of issues … [and] convert disputes that could arise into more meaningful conversation.”

Mittal said that PoCo would mediate disputes between their member groups if asked, but that normally the groups would resolve these issues on their own.

The Student Activities Council will also resolve disputes between groups on campus, should they arise.

“Resolving disputes between groups is a role of SAC Exec if disputes should occur and the situation necessitates our mediation,” College junior and SAC Chair Jen Chaquette said in an email. “All such proceedings would be done in close consultation with the Office of Student Affairs.”

However, she noted that “student group disputes tend to arise very infrequently and Penn students on the whole are very mature and are good at working things out.”

One Penn freshman who wished to remain anonymous due to the nature of the dispute decided to take matters into her own hands when she had a problem with a member of a Penn department.

After speaking to her advisor, she decided to contact the heads of the department to speak to them. After listening to what she had to say, they fixed the problem.

She found that although the department heads weren’t always made aware of problems, “they were receptive when spoken to.”

Staff resolutions

The Human Resources Department offers additional resources just for Penn staff members.

Employees with any problems can consult with HR staff to discuss their issue. HR will then work with the employees to set their resolution goals and discuss the options employees have available to them.

Some of the informal options include consultations with supervisors or the opposing party, meetings facilitated by University Resource Office professionals or mediation with staff mediators. The last option will only occur if all parties agree.

A more formal option for staff is the Staff Grievance Program, under which a panel of volunteer staff members reviews the grievance and makes recommendations on how to resolve the issue.

Executive Director of Staff and Labor Relations at the Human Resources Department Sharon Moorer Aylor said in an email that staff should be vocal about workplace issues.

“The sooner [staff members] raise their concerns, the easier it is to resolve the issue and create a more positive and productive work environment,” she added.

Political groups come together on non-election year

The Daily Pennsylvanian, By Alex Zimmermann, February 1, 2013

While they won’t be canvassing door-to-door or filling out electoral maps this year, Penn’s political groups are still recruiting and planning events in 2013.

Both Penn Democrats and College Republicans are hoping to use the off year to improve the relationship between the organizations by hosting cooperative events.

“The first thing I did after getting elected was sit down for a meeting with College Republicans,” College sophomore and Penn Dems President Matthew Kalmans said.

The two political groups have already planned several coordinated events. They are planning a bipartisan State of the Union watch party and attended a breakfast together with Gov. Jon Huntsman the day after he spoke on campus.

Both groups stressed that they are working to bring speakers to campus, since in the absence of an election, those are often their most high-profile events. Kalmans, for example, said that the two groups could consider co-hosting nonpartisan speakers or events that feature one speaker from each party.

“Since it’s not a presidential election year … I think we can talk about the issues more face-to-face,” College Republicans Political Director and College sophomore Anthony Cruz said. “We can have more personal interaction with them without partisan tensions flaring up.”

Both groups also hope to focus on issue-based advocacy in the absence of specific candidates to support. Penn Dems recently launched a lobbying branch of their organization, starting with a meeting on Inauguration Day with newly elected Rep. Matt Cartwright, a1986 Law School graduate. Kalmans said they hope to begin by focusing on immigration reform.

“Yes we’re Democrats, but first and foremost we’re college students,” Kalmans said. “And we think a lot of times the issues that are most important to our demographic are often left out of the conversation. And they’re often issues Democrats and Republicans can come together on.”

Cruz echoed a similar sentiment when explaining College Republicans’ plan to partner with the Lambda Alliance later this semester.

“We’re not mainstream Republicans like some people outside see us to be,” he said. “We’re a branch of the Republican Party, but we are also from the University of Pennsylvania and we have a large LGBT constituency. And that’s why we think it’s important to acknowledge that and support LGBT equality.”

Penn Political Coalition, an umbrella organization designed to represent and foster collaboration between Penn’s various political groups, is pleased to see groups working together to create new programming, even in a year when fewer students may be interested in politics.

“There’s less natural enthusiasm on campus,” Political Coalition Co-Chair and College junior Urja Mittal said. “Penn kids are smart enough to care. It’s just not as natural an attraction.”

Both Cruz and Kalmans pointed to gubernatorial elections later this year in nearby New Jersey and Virginia as an opportunity for students to get involved in another election. Kalmans is confident that students who got involved during the election cycle will stick around, since they weren’t “just there to make phone calls a lot of the time.”

PoCo also hopes that the two partisan groups channel their cooperative energy towards a dialogue with Penn’s smaller political groups, like those focused on issues such as the Middle East and abortion.

“We think we can foster something uniquely Penn about that,” PoCo Co-Chair and College junior Sam Gersten said, “a very civil discourse within our member groups.”

Political Action Week brings election events to campus

The Daily Pennsylvanian, By Jennifer Sun, October 31, 2012

Sandy may have felled trees and closed classes, but it couldn’t stop the Penn Political Coalition from forging ahead with its Political Action Week this week.

PoCo, an umbrella group of 15 member organizations, originally scheduled the week to start on Monday, but all of that night’s and Tuesday’s events were canceled or rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy.

The week now includes 10 events that aim to discuss key policy issues in this year’s presidential election.

Tonight, the Penn Democrats are hosting Christopher Lu, President Obama’s cabinet secretary and co-chair of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Students can enjoy a free screening of “2016: Obama’s America” tomorrow night. Hosted by College Republicans, the documentary — directed by the producer of “Schindler’s List,” Gerald Molen, and conservative author Dinesh D’Souza — will explore the implications of Obama’s current policies in 2016.

Events will continue through Friday, when the week will end with a schmoozer in Houston Hall that afternoon.

“The idea for Political Action Week really started with … PoCo’s mission, which is to help facilitate collaboration with our member groups and enhance what they already do,” College senior and PoCo chairman Isabel Friedman said.
Organizers had been deliberating whether to push the week back completely because of Hurricane Sandy, but ultimately decided to go full speed ahead. “We realized [even] with Sandy … we still have a presidential election coming up,” Friedman said.

This is the first major collaborative project the Penn Political Coalition has been behind since it was founded this January.

Politically diverse students unite under Penn Political Coalition

The Daily Pennsylvanian, By Sarah Smith, January 30, 2012

Some student groups who traditionally represent opposing ideals are uniting to create a centralized source of politics on campus.

The Penn Political Coalition, an umbrella group for 10 member groups, is intended to be a resource and a point of contact for politically-active groups and students, regardless of their political affiliations.

Member groups include organizations such as Penn for Palestine, Penn Israel Public Affairs Committee, as well as Penn Democrats and College Republicans.

Talks about creating PoCo began almost a year ago, but Monday was the coalition’s first general body meeting in Huntsman Hall.

“We were sick and tired of people telling us that Penn students aren’t politically aware … because we were all working with politically-minded students on a day-to-day basis,” said Isabel Friedman, College senior and PoCo chair.

“We realized there was nothing at Penn we could point to that represented those students.”

One of PoCo’s main purposes is to help guide its member groups to figure out logistics such as acquiring venues, funding and putting out advertisements.

“There’s a lot of resources you all want centralized,” said Will Smith, College sophomore and PoCo Treasurer, at the GBM. The group also hopes to encourage collaboration among member groups.

Penn Environmental Group, one of the member groups, hopes to take advantage of this collaboration when it makes a candidate guide for the upcoming election, according to Sara Allan, a College freshman and head of PEG’s political committee.

“You want to communicate with each other and the rest of the politically-interested student body at Penn,” said Laura Brown, PoCo vice chair for Internal Affairs, President of College Republicans.

PoCo’s steering listserv will include the committee’s executive board and member group leaders and will increase collaboration among the groups, according to Brown, a Wharton junior and Daily Pennsylvanian staff member.

“It seemed like a good way to get our group better known around campus,” said Teresa Hamill, College senior and co-president of Penn for Life, one of the member groups.

Penn Political Review intends to use the listserv to recruit both staff members and contributing writers, according to Stephen Fritz, PPR editor-in-chief and College junior.

PoCo is also working with administrators to secure funding for political education on campus, Friedman said.

PoCo is working on funding itself through sources such as Fox Leadership and the Office of Student Affairs, according to Smith.

Other umbrella groups, such as PoCo, generally don’t receive funding from the Student Activities Council, according to College junior Melissa Roberts, SAC chair.

Another long-term goal is obtaining a representative to work with the admissions office. This person would sign likely letters and help connect PoCo with prospective students interested in politics.

Other groups, such as the Latino Coalition, currently have such a representative with the admission staff.

Several other groups are expressing interest in becoming one of PoCo’s member group, according to Friedman. Applications for PoCo will be processed on a rolling basis.

“Our group does not represent 100 percent of the politically active groups on campus,” said Friedman, “but we hope that as we continue to build PoCo, it has a greater presence. We want to create a better, richer political community.”