Street: How did you get involved in Penn Fashion Week?
Rolanda Evelyn: Before I came to Penn, I stalked The Walk super hard and read all of the issues. Then, I stumbled upon Penn Fashion Week and watched this promo video with students modeling. I just love fashion and clothing, how everything you wear says a part of you and how on a different day you can be a different person.
Street: Do you want to be involved in fashion as a career?
RE: Post–grad, I’m going to be working at Google. When I came in as a freshman, I wanted to be a buyer at Bloomingdale's living in New York. I wanted to be Rachel Green. And then around sophomore year, I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted it to be more creative. The tech thing just happened. And I think to counter that since I’ve been doing so much tech stuff, I’m going to be starting a fashion blog in the spring.
Street: Will you cover the fashion of people that work at Google?
RE: I wouldn’t necessarily say the people that work in the tech industry are the most fashionable. It’s a lot of T–shirts with your tech company on it, your badge from work and a pair of jeans. It’s going to be all original content. So it’s going to be my writing and it’s going to be photos of me.
Street: Do you meet other people with that same intersection of interest in fashion and tech?
RE: Not really. When I was at work over the summer they would ask me what I did at Penn and I would tell them about Fashion Week and that the keynote speaker was Rebecca Minkoff (Ed. Note: She’s a handbag designer.) they were like ‘I don’t know who that is, but that’s cool I guess. She makes things, maybe?’
Street: What would be your dream job?
RE: That’s so hard! I’d love to be Chief Marketing Officer at a retail company. I used to want to be an Editor–in–Chief so badly. I also love ads and movies and film. I think all of that influences how we perceive ourselves and how other people perceive us. And I want to be in the conversation about dictating what those roles are, specifically in terms of people of color. I think it’s important to have someone in the room that is thinking about those diverse perspectives.
Street: Do you find a lack of representation of women of color in the fashion industry as well?
RE: Oh yeah. I mean I’m going into tech. Diversity isn’t necessarily their strongest suit. And they publish that. They’re very open about their diversity numbers. In the fashion industry there’s a lack of representation, too. And you can see it externally for models. There was the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show back in January and one of the models has walked in the show multiple times, but this is the first time that she walked in the show with natural hair. I think that’s so meaningful.
Street: Do you feel like one industry is harder to break into as a woman and as a person of color?
RE: In my mind, I do think of the tech industry as very progressive. Obviously my experience is very colored because I’ve only been at Google. It’s been characteristic of that industry to be very vocal about issues that most companies would stay away from. I haven’t seen those things in the fashion industry.
Street: Why do you think that is?
RE: I don’t know. It could be that tech is very new. It’s all about the next thing. The whole point is to be the most accessible. Whereas the reputation for the fashion industry, which is very hard for me to grapple with, is very exclusive, very whitewashed, very heteronormative—the list goes on.
Street: How has being a woman of color affected your personal experience in the fashion and the tech industry?
RE: I’ll start at Penn because that’s where the interest started. I think it’s very hard to be a woman of color at Penn. It’s a predominantly white institution, so if you’re the minority it’s always harder. It kind of took me four years to grapple with the idea of being unapologetically black. Going into the professional experiences that I’ve had at Google in both of my positions, I was the only black woman on my teams both years. But there’s something special at Google. They’re really good about being inclusive and making everyone feel accepted.
Street: How did you get involved with Google in the first place?
RE: They have this program called Google Symposium. It’s for high school seniors. I’m in a program called Prep for Prep, and Google sent the invite to all of us. At that point, classes were over but you still had to go to assembly. On that day I said to my friend 'Oh my god we should go, because we don’t have to go to assembly and it’s an excused absence because we’ll have a letter from Google saying that we were there.' I literally was just going so I didn’t have to go all the way to my high school. I lived super far. Because of that program they invited that group to apply to another program. My first week at Google I was doing PR. I worked on a photoshoot with Business Week with Sundar, who’s now the CEO. At the time he was VP of Product, but I just knew he was some person who was doing a photoshoot, maybe kind of important. But this is how not into tech I was. I had no idea who he was.
Street: What about Penn’s environment makes it difficult to be comfortable being black?
RE: I went to a prep school and it was a majority white school but there were people of lots of different races. For the most part people at my high school were very open–minded, very progressive, very socially aware, very woke. But at Penn it wasn’t like that. And then when you want to go to a party, being told that the party’s full and then having other people walk in when you’re being stopped. Or being asked for your PennCard because they don’t think you’re a Penn student. But then there’s other things like when you’re in class and a professor uses a certain word that they probably shouldn’t use and you’re one of two black students in the class and no one says anything.
Street: What was the word?
RE: Lynch. She said, “I’m so mad, I could just lynch you.” I heard it the first time, but the person she was talking to didn’t hear what she said, and she repeated it. She said it twice! A professor saying that in a class is so poignant. If someone like her can say it that means that students think that we can go around saying it. It’s also hard to walk down Locust. There have been way too many times to count where I’m walking down Locust and someone who I know is walking towards me and they don’t even look at me. There’s no eye contact. It’s such a sinking feeling to feel invisible.
Street: What do you think can be done improve the divide and feelings of exclusion at Penn?
RE: The one thing that’s so important is listening. That sounds so simple. When I say listening I mean not discrediting someone’s experience. When I tell you that I feel this way, I feel invisible, the conversation shouldn’t be, 'That’s not people’s intentions, you’re totally taking this out of context.' It should be, 'Why do you feel that way? What are the things that we can do for you to not feel that way?' When people literally just put it all aside and just listen to what people are saying, you can’t fight what people’s experiences are.
Street: Describe yourself in three words.
RE: Passionate, open–minded, personable.
Street: There are two types of people at Penn…
RE: Those who listen and those who don’t.
Street: If you were going to be famous for something what would it be?
RE: My really popular, bomb, dope fashion blog.
Street: What’s one question we forgot to ask you?
RE: If there’s one person who my Penn experience wouldn’t be the same without, it’s Cat Peirce. And if there’s one person I could be, or be as fleeky or as fly as, I’d want to be Michelle Obama.