Name: Louis Lin
Hometown: Long Island, New York
Major: Health & Societies and Political Science; Minors: Asian American Studies, Education Policy, and Environmental Studies
Activities: Chair of Theatre Arts Council, Mentor for Penn First, Committee Person for the 27th Ward, Membership Chair for Philadelphia Young Democrats, Student Liaison for the American Public Health Association’s School Health Committee, Truman Scholar, member of Sphinx Senior Society
Street: What do you do on the Theatre Arts Council?
Louis Lin: I serve as the chair of the Theatre Arts Council. Through that, we have six different groups, each one focusing on a different niche. Since freshman year, I’ve served on the board for Front Row Theatre Company, which is our socially relevant theater group, so we push issues of race and socioeconomics—the show we’re doing right now is about indigenous lands. Theater has been home for me because it’s where I found many of my closest friends. Because of that, it’s allowed me to find ways to expand some of the inclusivity and representation within our community. A lot of the things I’ve worked in involve increasing financial accessibility. I am a FGLI student and I’ve done a lot of work in FGLI and Asian American spaces. I bring those identities to other spaces that I’m in. Something that I’m really proud of that I just started and will be launching this semester is the PAC Pass, where you pay $25 and get to see 5 shows during that semester, which significantly lowers the price of tickets.
Street: When you say the shows in Front Row Theatre push social issues, what do you mean?
LL: Our mission is to put on socially relevant theater at Penn. That takes on various forms. All of our shows involve pushing the envelope and trying to start conversations on campus and give representations to things that have not, historically, been talked about on campus. I served as Community Liaison for Front Row this year, and that means that I’ve worked to build some of the connections within Philadelphia communities, which involves doing volunteering events, as well as donation events during our shows. The first show I ever acted in was a year–and–a–half ago called Yellowface. That was one of the first shows Front Row started doing about race in my time at Penn. It was also written by the first Asian–American writer to have a play produced on Broadway. I was able to play David Henry Hwang and start these conversations about immigration and representation in theater. That’s something I’ve been really proud of—how Front Row has been able to push these things and change over time. The reason that it’s great now is that we now have a board with a lot of people of color.
Street: What do you do with PennFirst?
LL: This actually started with my pre–freshman program the Penn College Achievement Program. This program was when I got introduced to everything. Before I got to campus, I didn’t have the language or knowledge to talk about first–generation, low–income Asian American identities. This program really gave me a family of people who were also underrepresented. From there, I started getting really involved with FGLI issues. I was part of the group that first started the First–Generation Low–Income New Student Orientation (FGLI NSO), where FGLI students come to campus early. We give them care packages, organize a panel where students talk about the FGLI experience and plan more community–building things like a barbecue. This way, we get all the students in one room to see that when they’re here, this is a place that they belong and there are people here who have gone through similar things.
My freshman through my sophomore year, I was director of administrative programming for 1vyG—the largest first–gen student conference in the country—and Penn got to host it in 2018. That allowed me to make connections and work with administrators not only on Penn’s campus but also with administrators across the country from twenty–six schools to talk about what issues FGLI students were facing and how to fix those. Using that as a platform, I went to my sophomore and junior year as the Professional Development Chair for PennFirst, and that was me working to ensure Career Services would provide services to FGLI students who did not have the same level of exposure. I planned the New York City trip to introduce students to all these companies. I am all about symbolism, so this year I transitioned into a peer mentor for the pre–freshman summer program to give back to the program that gave me my start here at Penn. That’s been the more rewarding part of things. For the first three years, it’s been a lot of planning and administrative work, but being able to sit there with students and helping them with questions like, “I hate my class, how do I switch a class?” or “How do I fit into Penn’s campus when clubs reject me?” That tangible knowledge that somebody on this campus is seeing you as their first person of communication is great--things have really come full circle.
Street: What sorts of activism do you do within the Philly community?
LL: I serve as the Committee Person for the 27th Ward, where I attend meetings and represent my constituency. This year, I was elected as the Membership Chair for Philadelphia Young Democrats. We work to make sure young people are registered to vote, which is especially important in this election year. I wanted to make sure Penn students were represented in Philadelphia politics because historically they have not or they see this as a transient period. I want to stay in Philadelphia after I graduate, so this is more of a window into getting involved in local politics until then.
Street: How do you represent your constituency?
LL: Whenever there are elections, we vote as a ward for which candidates we want to endorse. This past year, when it was the City Council election and there were over 19 people running for 7 positions, we would listen to their speeches and decide who to give the endorsement to. As somebody who wants to stay in Philadelphia—Philadelphia was one of the reasons I came to Penn—I wanted to be able to inform Penn students on things that are happening in Philadelphia. Since my interests are in health and education, I work with school districts a lot. One of the things that Penn students don’t know, within the past four months, more than ten schools have closed for a while because of asbestos issues in their schools. As Student Liaison for the American Public Health Association’s School Health Committee, I work with school health and school lunches. This way, I can be a representative of Penn to Philadelphia and a representative of Philadelphia to Penn to help us be more aware students in a community. I want us to take a more compassionate and cognizant approach to the way we interact with people living right around us.
Street: Could you talk about your experience as a Truman Scholar?
LL: The Truman is for people who want to go into public service, and you apply your junior year of college. When I talk about my Truman friends, that’s a soft spot in my heart because these are all people who want to do good in the world and correct injustices that exist in different political or societal systems. As part of the application, you develop short term and long term plans, like where you want to go to grad school and what your five–year plan is. You also work on a policy proposal based upon an issue you’re passionate about.
Street: What was the issue you focused on?
LL: Mine was at the intersection of education and health working on school health, and I talked about how schools across the country do not have full–time nurses in all of them. Many school districts were built before lead and asbestos laws were put in place, so schools have lead paint in them and have not mitigated that yet. The biggest thing I work on is school lunches and access programs to get nutrition for students. Right now, the summer school lunch program, roughly five–sixths of people who participate in school lunch programs over the school year do not get their free meal over the summer. My solution is that instead of using a meal site, we turn school buses into mobile meal sites so that they can deliver meals to a bus stop so that students can just walk up to a bus stop and get their meal. The Truman program really tries to get you thinking about the things you are passionate about and how you want to solve them.
Street: What do you want to do long term?
LL: I would like to stay in Philadelphia for a few years after working in school health and immigrant populations. Ultimately, I would love to go to D.C. and bring some of the experiences from local and state politics to inform national policy discussion.
Street: Last song you listened to?
LL: "You, Me, and the City" by Josh Tobias
Street: Favorite movie?
LL: The Farewell
Street: Favorite Penn class?
LL: ASAM 110: Asian American Activism and Organizing
Street: What is something people wouldn’t guess about you?
LL: My friend and I recently recreated the When Mama Isn't Home trombone video ... I don't actually know how to play the trombone
Street: There are two types of people at Penn…
LL: Ones who remember Bridge Cafe and ones who don't