Krisna Maddy (C ‘18) has a mixtape.
You might not expect this from her, since she’s a pre–med student who splits her time between multicultural campus involvement, the lab, and volunteering in West Philadelphia, but her nickname also is “K–Sizzle,” so it’s not surprising that it doubles as her SoundCloud tag. She won’t let us link to her Soundcloud, but we hear at one point there were promotional cover shoots and a music video—all this started from just a sophomore year nickname. “I started calling myself K–Sizzle because I’m extra,” she says, and then she chuckles. “Now it’s gotten to the point where whenever I hear my actual name I’m like, ‘Are you mad at me?’”
She walks into Starbucks wearing a mustard yellow sweater, her earbuds looped around her neck. When she laughs, she throws back her head and really laughs. “My thing is, if I say a joke out loud it’s to make myself laugh,” and then she starts to laugh again. “It’s great if you also laugh too, but it’s mostly about me laughing about whatever I think is funny. A little bit of puns, a little bit of dad jokes.”
We bond over our mutually messy handwriting, my strokes getting progressively more chaotic as I struggle to keep up with her answers. “I’m involved in a lot of different things...I’m one of those people that can’t sit still,” she says. Most of her work is involved in multicultural activism, a passion she credits to her hometown. “I’m from Miami, which is a very diverse city, culturally and racially. When I came to Penn, I wanted to find a space that was similar to that, where we could find commonalities in each other's narratives.” She found that in the United Minorities Council (UMC), an umbrella organization that is dedicated to fostering interculturalism and promoting social justice on Penn’s campus, supporting both underrepresented and misrepresented groups.
She’s been involved in UMC since her freshman year, eventually becoming chair of the board, a position that allowed her to think about what new directions UMC could take. “It was really important for me to think about how we redefine this idea of a minority and what [it means],” she says. “Traditionally we think about it as a racial and cultural minority, but we’ve been able to challenge ourselves and think about, for example, students with disabilities, who are also a minority on campus.”
UMC encompasses a sprawling legion of multicultural and political groups. Its expansive nature is one of the main issues that come up when chairing it. “A question that we ask ourselves is, ‘How do we avoid stepping on the toes of all our constituents?’” Krisna explains. “But we focus on getting people to step outside of themselves a little bit to consider how other world views are more similar to them than they may think.”
As chair, she often met with Amy Gutmann and the provost, tasks that were initially intimidating before they became empowering. ”If there’s any advice I can give any student activist, it is that you can’t get fired by the University,” she says. “In that sense, acknowledge that they want to help you, but that you should be able to push back as well.”
Much of her involvement on campus is centered on community outreach and activism. In addition to her work on UMC, she also is an inaugural member of HERstory Empowers Resilience (H.E.R.), a type of mentorship program that connects women of color at Penn with third and fourth grade girls of color at Powell Elementary School. Once a week, Krisna goes and visits her mentee, but she emphasizes that the program’s mission is to mentor the girls, not “save” them. “I absolutely hate that rhetoric,” she says, rolling her eyes. “A lot of my issues about some of the community service initiatives on Penn’s campus, where Penn students think they’re saving the West Philadelphia community—that’s not what you hope to gain out of it at all,” she leans forward. “What you want to do is give them the tools to succeed on their own.”
On the other side of her life is her involvement in the healthcare field, a precursor to her future career as a doctor. She volunteers at the United Community Clinic (UCC), which provides free health services to the community, and also works in a neurology lab at Perelman, where she’s researching genetic variants of Alzheimer's in order to see if there is any correlation with Parkinson’s disease. “There’s so little that we know about neurology and the brain,” she says, “which is why I wanted to go into it. It’s really beautiful to work towards answering these questions.”
Krisna’s diverse interests follow her own varied upbringing; she was born in Mexico, but her family is Haitian, so she spent her childhood between Haiti and Mexico before moving to Miami. “I’m a very multicultural person. English is my fourth language, actually.” As a Miami transplant, she’s not used to the “gloomy” weather here, which means she surrounds herself with a sunny color scheme most of the time. “If I could have an Instagram dedicated to photos of me wearing yellow and flowers, I’d be the happiest person in the world,” she says, laughing.
In those few moments when she’s not rushing around doing something, she likes to explore her foodie side. “I’ve been on this mission since freshman year to find the best pancakes in Philadelphia,” she says, leaning forward and placing her hands on the table. “I have this running list of restaurant and cafes that I collect from people...Right now, according to me, the best place is the Dutch Diner in Reading Terminal Market.”
Although she’s usually a planner—if you’re juggling so many responsibilities, how could you not be?—she leaves room for everyday adventures. If she’s feeling stir–crazy, she’s liable to hop on the bus to D.C. and spend the day wandering through museums. Or, once, her friends and her decided to make a spontaneous trip to Howard University for homecoming. It was something they had thought about since freshman year, but it never happened. Senior year, Krisna threw out the idea: why didn’t they just buy tickets and figure it out on the way? Without concrete plans on where to stay, they bought Megabus tickets and arrived in D.C., where they had a weekend of “ridiculousness.”
At the end of our conversation, we start to talk about post–grad plans. She’ll be taking a gap year before med school in order to do research and apply to some non–profit work. But, she shrugs and says, “If this whole Penn degree doctor thing doesn’t work out, I can become a rapper...Catch me on tour with Drake this summer. I think I can at least be his hype man. My tagline is #onthebeat.”
Read about the rest of the students profiled for 34th Street Magazine's Penn 10 project here.