Though only the roughly 220 club treasurers on Penn’s campus get to interact with Ed Jing at monthly Student Activities Council (SAC) meetings, you probably recognize this senior’s name from your email inbox. As the chair of one of Penn’s most important branches of student government, Ed is in charge of creating and managing the budgets for nearly every functioning club at Penn – a feat he tackles while juggling majors in two different schools. Street sat down with the easy–going future BCG consultant to chat about what it’s like to control so much of Penn’s money and how he thinks SAC still has room to improve.
34th Street: Most of us know you through the emails you send, but I’m guessing you do a lot more as SAC chair. What does the job entail, and how much time does it take?
Ed Jing: People don’t really know what SAC does unless they’re the treasurer of a group and they’ve had to deal actively with us. Our job can be very tedious at times. We do a lot of administrative work with the budgets every year. We review a lot of numbers, and a lot of requests. The biggest time chunk out of our year is designing the annual budgets, which takes about 30 hours in the spring. The next thing would be new group recognition, for clubs that aren’t currently SAC recognized, but want to be so that they can get funding. We do that at the start of each year.
Basically, the Undergraduate Assembly allocates a budget to us each year, which we then use to fund all of the SAC-affiliated student groups. The cool thing about SAC exec is we’ve kind of fostered this great community among us where we get along really well, we’re very friendly with each other, so it never feels like all business. And I think that’s something to be said for every club, because when it comes down to it, we’re still all just 20-ish year olds, involved in stuff on a college campus, and clubs should be a positive part of our lives, instead of just draining.
Street: How did you get involved with SAC in the first place?
EJ: I think that a lot of the people who are really involved in student government here at Penn get into it because they did it in high school. I actually wasn’t involved in student government in high school, which I think makes me kind of different. I got involved with Penn for Youth Debate my freshman year, and there just to happened to be a lot of overlap between that and the SAC board. I talked to those kids a lot about what they enjoyed about it, why they got involved in student government, and eventually decided to join as a general exec member.
I did that for a year and talked to Jeremy Cohen, the previous chair a lot, and thought that it would be a cool leadership opportunity for me. So I decided to go for it and I’ve really enjoyed it since then.
Street: I’m sure there are some downsides. What are SAC’s relationships with other branches of student government and the administration like?
EJ: The Office of Student Affairs is our immediate body of oversight, but I would say we operate pretty independently beyond them. As far as other groups go, one of the things I don’t like about student government in general is that it tends to be very political. There are a lot of disagreements and occasionally some hostility among groups, but I think that’s all unnecessary, because we’re all moving towards the same goal of improving the student experience at Penn. That’s something I’ve definitely tried to work on as chair.
Street: What specific changes are you working on?
EJ: I’ve been working on having more transparency within the club. We published our guidelines very clearly, and we’ve worked in the two years that I’ve been on board to make them clearer for people. We have a limited budget. We get a similar budget to SPEC, which is fine, and I definitely agree with. But, at the same time, I think that student groups definitely foster much more of a community – this isn’t a bureaucracy thing with SPEC, we just wish we could give out every request that people want funding for. We have to work to be as impartial as possible for similar types of groups. If I had it my way, SAC would have all the money available on campus to fund every event that every student group requested. We don’t like saying no to people, I think people look at the exec board and, like, think that we’re playing God with all this money. But we just have to work with what we have.
Right now, club recruitment is a big one we’re also working on with the UA. We’ve found out that some clubs have pretty atrocious club recruitment policies, or ask really sexist questions and stuff like that.
Street: What’s your opinion on that? Do you think it’s OK for clubs to have extensive recruitment processes?
EJ: I think a lot of groups think that SAC guidelines are going to be something like, “You have to accept everybody”. And that’s not the case. We know there are usually only so many spots or so many people that you can take. We want people to come to the same results, but make it less stressful for freshmen. One of the things that we’re implementing is having clubs send out a personalized rejection email – so, rather than someone having to find out through their friend that they didn’t get accepted by a club, they’ll find out through the club itself.
Another thing – and this doesn’t apply to as many groups, but it’s still an issue – is that we’ve found that some clubs will ask very uncomfortable questions during interviews. Like, “Of the two interviewers here, who would you sleep with?” We’ve actually had groups ask that question, and that’s just the kind of thing that I think has no place at Penn, and certainly has no place in the recruitment process. And that’s something that, as SAC, we have the ability to change.
Street: Is there anywhere people can go to report uncomfortable club recruitment processes?
EJ: What we’re planning on doing is sending a survey out to all of the freshmen in the next 1-2 weeks. Now that the recruitment process is done for most groups, we want to ask them what their experience was with it and how we can improve, and then kind of use that to help formulate our guidelines. Because we have tentative ones in place, but we want to refine them.
Street: On the brighter side, is there anything you feel like you’ve had the unique chance to learn about the student body at Penn from from having such a broad overview of student life?
EJ: I can definitely say that Penn is a lot bigger than what you interact with day to day. I feel like SAC has really opened my mind to all of the incredible different things that are going on at Penn. There are so many groups out there, and so many that are applying this year, that applied last year, that I know will become an official part of the student groups on campus, and my goal is just to support that as much as possible. I’m not that active in things like sports, or music, but just to see how passionate people are about their groups is awesome. From my experience with student government specifically, I think that the more you know about the university, the more you see things that can be improved upon, and the more you want to go out there and do those things.
Street: What’s something I forgot to ask you?
EJ: You forgot to ask me what I do outside of clubs! I love exercise classes. I do a ton of spinning, and I do BodyPump at Pottruck. I have no shame about it at this point. I’ve been doing it for a year now. I think everyone should do it – it’s great community building too, I see the same people there every week. I did a lot of Flywheel and Soulcycle this summer, and I’m trying to train for my first half marathon this year. My goal is just to finish it.
The weirdest thing I’ve ever seen at a SAC Meeting is... Last year, during the GBM, someone dressed up as Ken Bone and asked, verbatim, his question about energy consumption. It had nothing to do with SAC, and it was hilarious.
When I go to Wawa, I’m getting... Chicken noodle soup and saltines.
The last tab I closed on my computer was... I don't remember the order, but the last two were Reddit and a SAC page.
There are two types of people at Penn... Those who are subscribed to the SAC listserv and those who aren’t.
The three SAC clubs I would join if I had more time are... Outdoors Club, The Collectve, and Men's Basketball.