Major: Health & Societies, Concentration: Gender & Health
Hometown: Pasadena, CA
Activities: Chair of Penn Association for Gender Equity, Co–founder and Co–Chair of Radical South Asian Collective, Undergraduate Researcher at Rusio Lab on Boundaries of Anxiety & Depression, Refugee Clinic Volunteer at Service Link, Minister of Impact for Oracle Senior Society, and member of Sphinx Senior Society.
Street: What extracurriculars are you involved in?
Tanya Jain: [The] majority of my involvement is in Penn Association for Gender Equity (PAGE). I’m currently the chair, and I’ve been in it for three years now. For the past few years, we’ve been moving more towards social justice–oriented groups that talk about gender as one of the intersections related to social justice. We’ve been trying to get gender neutral bathrooms and menstrual products in all campus buildings, things like putting the cultural centers on Locust (because right now they are in the basement of ARCH, which is a very tiny space and not very convenient). We address sexual assault and reporting, and sexual violence in general—so helping them work on their reporting system in order to make it easier for people to report and to increase reporting, because the reporting of sexual violence is very low on college campuses. Most of what we’re trying to do is sexual harassment ability training for professors, because we see that a lot of professors aren’t aware of the mental health of their students. Next Saturday is the march against rape culture. Show up, it’ll be a fun time! In the spring, we do Women’s Week, which is a week–long event with a keynote and panel. In the fall, we try to do an event or a series of events on body image.
In my earlier years, I was involved with Penn Students for Justice in Palestine, which I think is a super important group because on Penn’s campus, it can be very overwhelmed by Zionist perspectives, or people who feel like Israel shouldn’t be critiqued. I just think people need to be more comfortable critiquing countries, even if they feel strongly affiliated.
Street: Would you like to elaborate more on things that have improved and things you hope to improve in the future?
TJ: Definitely moving away from white feminism and towards intersectionality and different forms of gender equity. For instance, with the body image event, in previous years, there used to be “take your pictures with a sign, here’s my body, I’m so proud of it," which now, we’ve learned to critique because you can’t just tell people to love their bodies. There’s so many issues with that. Women of color are told constantly told not to love their bodies by media, by any sort of representation in any form, from music to entertainment. We have to keep in mind the ways in which women of color are told not to love their bodies, because simply telling them to love their bodies isn’t going to change any of those things. We’re shifting away from that white feminism to more systemic issues. So last year, we did it on colorism and fat phobia, and specifically talking about beauty products and stuff that promote really coloristic views.
Street: What are some other things you’d hope to see changed in the future in regards to sexual assault on campus?
TJ: It’s a huge thing. There are a lot of changes going on. A lot of people on campus are talking about the space that fraternities have on Locust Walk. Addressing the space fraternities take on campus, along with putting cultural centers on campus, is a huge part of what we’re looking at. Also, reporting—there’s a lot of underreporting. We’re trying to figure out ways to increase reporting. The administration has actually been really helpful with this. They created a more condensed reporting system, so now there’s just one office that you go to, whether it be sexual harassment, sexual violence, or stalking. This is much better than what it used to be. But definitely a lot of work has to go towards fraternity violence on campus and space given to fraternities.
Street: Why did you get involved with activism on Penn's campus?
TJ: There’s a lot of different reasons. I always really cared about gender equity as my starting point for activism. My family is from India—not to say that gender equity stuff is much worse in India than it is in the US, because a lot of white feminists like to frame that picture, which I don’t agree with—but I will say that seeing a lot of my family in India and a lot of domestic violence, unequal households, and unequal distribution of power between men and women definitely shaped the way I think about where I want my activism to go and what focus I want to have. Addressing violence is a huge part of where my activism lies. I was talking to someone, and they said that Penn becomes most meaningful if you go in really wanting to do a thing, or being really passionate about making a change or altering something. This is really true for me. A huge part of why I enjoy my experience at Penn is because I really know what my focus is and where my passion lies.
Street: Why Penn?
TJ: I was trying to find a disciplinary focus in public health, and I wanted to take courses in the criminal justice system. Penn has really strong humanities in those realms, and I really like the health and societies major. Also, when I was visiting Penn, there was a protest going on. And it was about Penn! And I was like 'Wow, that’s so cool! A club at Penn is protesting Penn on the main walking area at Penn! If they can do that, protest culture must be really strong, and they must be able to raise their voice in really important ways.' So that excited me a lot. Coming here now, I definitely think that there is a protest culture, but not as big that I thought it was coming in. But that was definitely a large part. And then I wanted to get away from the West Coast, because I come from California.
Street: What are the accomplishments you’re most proud of in regards to activism?
TJ: PAGE’s work and shifting away from white feminism to more women of color is super important to me. The event we did on body image in the fall last year was basically a gallery and exhibition plus discussion during the opening that centered colorism and fatphobia. We collected a bunch of submissions from a ton of different people and we displayed it in Philo Hall. People came and were like, "Wow, these stories are super important and we don’t get to hear about them a lot." I liked that it was centered around women of color and the space was dominated by women of color. Also, putting on an event about Palestinian women at Penn was difficult. I was really glad it did happen. It is kind of sad that now Penn students in support of Palestine isn’t super big on campus and doesn’t have that many people. So I hope that’s a change that happens even after I leave.
Street: What is your favorite study snack?
TJ: I eat a lot of chocolate. I like those Dove chocolates—the milk chocolate ones.
Street: Favorite Netflix TV show?
TJ: This is a hard one. I really liked Orange is the New Black. I had some problems with it in terms of the way they represent women, but I do like the show.
Street: Favorite artist?
TJ: I like Mitski. I’ll go with that. Probably not my favorite favorite, but one of my favorites.
Street: Favorite feminist figure?
TJ: Ooh! So many. Let’s go with bell hooks.
Street: If you could be one statue/art piece on campus, which one would you be?
TJ: I like The Tampons and I like that it’s called the Tampons.
Street: Favorite class taken at Penn?
TJ: I really liked my Race, Crime, and Punishment course I took in Freshman fall. It was such a good class because we went to different prisons and we got to talk to lifers.
Street: There are two types of people at Penn...
TJ: Those who boast about getting a lot of sleep and those who boast about getting no sleep.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.