Name: Justin Iannacone
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Activities: President of MARS (Men against Rape and Sexual Assault), Vice President of Penn for Youth Debate, Perry World House Fellow, Civic Engagement Chair for SCUE (Student Committee on Undergraduate Education), former member of GPA (Government and Politics Association), Penn Democrats, and Penn Appétit
Studying: Political Science, Concentration in International Relations. Minor in Survey Research and Data Analytics
34th Street Magazine: How did you get involved in all of those activities?
Justin Iannacone: It really depends. Some of them I joined, like GPA, coming in my freshman year. I always knew I wanted to do political science because I’ve always been interested in politics and government. So joining the political groups on campus was sort of a natural step for me. More so like advocacy groups, MARS and SCUE I joined as a sophomore. I was looking for ways to get involved in campus that weren't, I guess, I was frustrated with some aspects of Penn’s campus that I saw as a freshman. So, I wanted to join groups that made an actual difference. Especially in MARS, just recognizing that I would have a very different experience than the typical, typical at colleges I was used to, coming from Florida, the big party school state school, I wanted Penn to be definitely more egalitarian and more inclusive than I thought it would be. And I saw that the same problems of harassment and assault and inequality were rampant on Penn’s campus, so I decided to do something to make a difference.
Street: What is the greatest accomplishment that you’ve seen or hope to see in these activities?
JI: We’ve seen the conversation in my four years shift a lot regarding sexual assault. I think coming as a freshman and recognizing the first experiences that I’ve had. I don’t know if people even remember this but the "Oz Letter" and the response that got. Basically, an off–campus frat wrote this very derogatory, vulgar email targeting incoming freshman women, basically, inviting them to be prey at their parties. It got tremendous push–back. There were articles in the DP about it, there were protests on campus, they were printing out the email and flyering it everywhere. I think we have come a long way, where these conversations about sexual assault and harassment have been changing. At the student level and the staff level, too. I hope we can push our administration to make the substantive changes they feel are necessary.
Street: What about in SCUE?
JI: I’ve focused on civic engagement among other issues on campus, mostly for education policy, so in terms of sexual assault and campus health, there is a new initiative that a SCUE member just started, trying to reform the required training coming in. Like, you remember Thrive at Penn? No one pays attention. You can just scroll through it and be done if you have to. We are trying to make it more engaging and fun and have it be a longer education process. On my end in SCUE, we are pushing for better resources and use of ABCS courses. We think that studying in public service is a bigger issue here. Any field could benefit from community learning and the resources that Penn has to make Philadelphia more trustful of the Penn community and recognize us as an outside power, rather than a place where they are helping their communities. Everyone from Business to English majors can benefit from this learning. We have the opportunity to do something and more people should take advantage of it.
Street: How has your experience been in Perry World House?
JI: One of the best aspects of my time at Penn. The main part of it is year-long policy projects. We form policy teams among the fellows, spending a year researching a current event or issue. We meet faculty and experts and present our material at the end of the year. So, being able to talk to the former Secretary of Energy, and Senior Officials in the State Department, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees—people taking those ideas seriously. Right now I am working on International Migrants, supporting the families they left behind through a process called remittances. Beyond the research, it’s about opening doors to some of the smartest people on campus who are doing all International Affairs so we get to meet with all the fellows. We also have trips, like I’m going to New York next week, and we go to DC in the Spring. We both represent Penn but also get to meet with NGOs, non–profits, government officials.
Street: What is your best story from the Perry World House?
JI: The Former UN High Commissioner for Refugees is now a permanent fellow. He is also the Prince of Jordan, which is wild to say. But, his experiences, talking about his time at the UN, and his work with refugees in particular, and learning from him–he is an incredible speaker and really supportive to the fellows. I never thought I would come from a normal background in suburban Florida to meet the Prince of Jordan.
Street: What is your favorite part of Penn for Youth Debate?
JI: An awesome organization—some of my closest friends are in PFYD. What I’m volunteering for is what I’m looking forward to most in the week. I really valued the education of it. It’s this perfect middle ground to recognizing abilities from communication to argumentation skills. I ran the fall tournament before, which is a free tournament for Philadelphia public schools. High school debate is super expensive and travel exclusive, so setting up the tournament to do that and giving them access to qualified coaches who can give good feedback, and then just interacting with students.
Street: What is your favorite story or experience from PFYD?
JI: Running the tournaments is always an adventure. We will be up from like 5:45 a.m., just running a tournament until 11:00 o’clock at night, that just brings board together really closely. It can be really frustrating because we are running around and really tired. Because we are a non–profit we don't stack up the judges like Harvard and Princeton, where Harvard is really well funded and can finance this and use it for revenue. Whereas we are trying to fund the money to give back to the community—everyone is juggling a lot of balls at once. You are in the middle of doing all these things, then someone who you talked to semesters ago comes up to you and wants to talk and you’re like 'this is crazy. This is great, but I gotta go put out this fire over there.'
Street: What inspires you?
JI: Probably my parents. My parents always have this faith in me, not a pressure., I was really fortunate that they always believed in me. My dad in particular, he’s always supported me without undue pressure. My dad is the most selfless, hard working person I know. He is the kind of person who will always put other people and helping them over himself. From a really young age that rubbed off on my brother and I. No matter what we did or career path we chose, that level of diligence and trustworthiness, where people know you are going to do the right thing because that is what they expect from you.
Street: What is the biggest challenge to overcome since coming to Penn?
JI: Academics at Penn are tough obviously, but I like the academic challenge. Penn was definitely a culture shock, in terms of I knew going to an Ivy League school that there were would be large concentrations of wealth and large connections. You don’t realize how prevalent it is until you get here. And realize that the average person who comes to Penn has a lot more resources, multiple steps ahead of you when you get here. Even the small things like navigating the professional world or having connections and resources in social scenes. That’s something that I think over my four years, some things still infuriate me, but being a senior, having the experience and level of introspection to take what I value about Penn culture and make it a part of my life and then filter out the things that I don’t. And then just surrounding myself with people I respect, a lot of the superficial aspects of Penn culture I just try to ignore.
Street: What are you the most proud of at Penn?
JI: My dad made me into a really humble person. So, I don’t know. I guess being President of MARS. People I haven’t really met before or strangers reach out to me for support or to work with them on these issues and step in to the role of being a student leader on this issue has been really meaningful for me. It’s nice to be able to weave my final chapter as a senior to be in this leadership role and push some positive change.
Street: Top Song?
JI: Steve Lacy on rotate. "Some" or "N Side" are good songs. Anything Steve Lacy.
Street: Favorite TV Show?
Street: You are at your five-year graduation. Someone you met freshman year sees you for the first time since then. What is the biggest surprise?
JI: If anyone who met me saw me in Corporate Banking or working at J.P. Morgan they’d be like, "what happened to you, are you okay?"
Street: Favorite Class at Penn:
JI: War Strategy and Politics with Professor Horowitz. I don’t think I will go into conflict studies or defense, but it pushed harder than most classes here and changed the way I thought.
Street: Two types of people at Penn?
JI: People who really like getting off campus and people who don’t.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.