Name: Noa Jett
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Major: Major: Urban Studies; Minors: Art History and Modern Middle Eastern Studies
Activities: Director for Jazz and Grooves, Civic Scholar, member of Penn Against the Occupation, member of Friars Senior Society
Street: What is Jazz and Grooves?
Noa Jett: Jazz and Grooves is a branch of the Social Planning and Events Committee (SPEC), one of the committees that brings emerging artists and musicians to campus. We pull from a variety of genres—it’s not just jazz. We do everything from rap to electronic to rock and pop. We put on two to three concerts a semester for the student body as well as the broader Penn community and the Philadelphia community.
Street: What sorts of artists have you had on campus in the past?
NJ: Most recently, last week we brought 100 Gecs. Also, this year, we brought SiR and Mereba, Elujay, Dreamer Boy, Magdalena Bay, and Kate Bollinger. Last year we brought Tierra Whack, Omar Apollo, Injury Reserve, Choker, Orion Sun. Further back we brought Daniel Caesar, Kevin Abstract. We have a pretty impressive history.
Street: Do you ever get to talk with the performers?
NJ: We always try to do a meet and greet with the artist after the show. Everyone in the committee will get to meet the artist and talk to them for a little. But my job is a lot of the people–facing role. I am the one who’s communicating with the managers, usually before the shows. We’ll get to talk to them while they’re doing their sound check stuff. It’s really cool.
Street: Who have you met?
NJ: I’ve been the director for the past two years. So, I’ve met everyone that we’ve brought during that time.
Street: Are you really into music?
NJ: I kind of got involved with it freshman year during the activities fair. I heard someone say, “Do you want to meet famous people?” And I said, “Yes.” I went to the general SPEC info session and I didn’t know what Jazz and Grooves was. I had known about the Spring Fling concerts committee and Connaissance, which brings the speakers. When they did the introduction to Jazz and Grooves, they put up their list of past artists and it was so many of my favorites that I was like, “Wait, I have to do this.” It became, from the beginning of my freshman year, such a cool community of people. I think I definitely struggled with the pre–professional pressures at the beginning of freshman year, and at Jazz and Grooves, it was really cool to see so many people doing so many creative things and caring about things that are not generally talked about in the mainstream Penn world. There are people who were juniors and seniors when I was a freshman, some who are now pursuing music careers, fashion careers, design stuff. It really showed me that you do not have to be a certain type of person to be here. It has just been such an important community throughout my time. So, to answer your question, music has been a way to form relationships, connections, and communities and relate to people that I wouldn’t have necessarily met otherwise.
Street: What made you choose Urban Studies?
NJ: In high school, we had an Urban Studies–type class, and I took it my senior year. Then, when I got into Penn and visited, I was thinking of PPE. But, I visited the Urban Studies department and immediately felt at home amongst the professors. The classes were also very interesting, so that’s what I gravitated towards.
Street: What exactly is Urban Studies?
NJ: People take it in a lot of different directions, which makes it so cool. There are people who are in it for real estate or for straight–up city planning type stuff, but I think that it’s just a way for me—like, I am really interested in policy, because policy affects people’s lives more directly on a daily basis. If you look at education, healthcare, and immigration stuff. Those are all stuff that, on a city level, are what people are experiencing everyday; rather than bigger, macro, national, or international policies. And I love that it’s very hands–on. I’ve gotten to know Philadelphia as a city a lot better, because a lot of the classes will take you out into the city. Not just West Philly, but all over. I’m really grateful because it’s given me a better understanding of what it is like to be in the city long–term and the issues that people face.
Street: I heard you did social work. What was that like?
NJ: I did an internship for—the other great part of Urban Studies is that you’re required to do a semester–long internship—and so I worked at a place called Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project, which deals with youth who have been charged in the adult criminal justice system. It was founded directly after a Supreme Court decision, which outlawed the punishment of sending away someone under the age of 18 to life without the possibility of parole. And Pennsylvania and Philadelphia in particular had, I think at one point, one fourth of the world’s juveniles facing life sentences. I forget what the exact statistic is. But, after that decision was struck down, it meant that, retroactively, all of these people in Pennsylvania were eligible for new trials. And so, this organization was founded after that to give legal support for those trials. It also provides reentry support. Some of these men and women have been away for literally decades of their life and have no real support system on the outside. How do you adjust when you have lived the majority of your life in prison? That has been a really important part of my time here. Even before that, I worked with some other criminal justice organizations.
Street: Was this during the summer or the school year?
NJ: For Civic Scholars, you have to volunteer five of the eight semesters you’re on campus. Freshman and sophomore year I worked at two different organizations, and then junior year the [Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project] internship counted as the fifth semester.
Street: I also heard that you are into photography. Where did that hobby come from, and what other hobbies do you have?
NJ: I took a photography class in high school and really fell in love. It was a dark room class. I didn’t really do anything with it until I got to college. I started doing concert photography because there was a concert that was sold out that I wanted to go to. I figured that I would just shoot my shot and see if I could shoot it. I had a friend at WQHS who was like, “Yeah, why not?” They submitted the press pass request, and I got it. I was kind of like, “Okay, I know how to use a camera in theory, but I haven’t really done this in a while.” And I’d actually never really shot digital, but I went and had so much fun doing it. That kind of inspired me to get back into it. I have a couple film cameras at school, so when I have time on vacations—or when things are less crazy and hectic—I will shoot. I think that that’s a really big hobby for me. I think that music stuff is in general. I love to go to concerts or listen to music with friends. I love cooking, also. I don’t get to do it a ton here, but one of the things I love the most about my friends here is that we started, my sophomore year, to do weekly Shabbat dinners. Half of us are Jewish and half of us aren’t. But it’s not to do it in a religious sense, just to come together once a week. That’s a hobby, also.
Street: Where do you want to be in 20 years?
NJ: I think I want to be in a public interest law position. I am studying for the LSAT right now, and that’s why my brain isn’t working, but I think that the most effective way to make change in people’s lives is to be in the law. I’m really inspired by Bryan Stevenson, who was the commencement speaker last year, and the way that he talks about the power of a second chance. I think that that’s the most amazing gift that you could give another human being. So, I think that’s the type of work that I would want to do. Or, I might just do something in music. I don’t know. We’ll see. I want to work for a few years before I go to law school, so I’m trying to figure out right now what that’s going to be. It could either be something paralegal like public interest, or I’m kind of trying to scheme something in the music industry. I don’t know. As someone who’s always had to plan out everything in my life, I’m kind of looking forward to the next few years to figure out what I really want to do. I think that the answer to that question super depends on what I end up doing next year and if I like it. But I think that if I had to predict it, probably public interest law.
Street: Last song you listened to?
NJ: Dancing Queen by ABBA.
Street: Favorite movie?
NJ: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Street: Favorite Penn class?
NJ: ARTH 580 “The Sexuality of Postmodern Art” with Jonathan D. Katz.
Street: What is something people wouldn’t guess about you?
NJ: I really like watching sports, and the thing that I’m most excited about graduating is being able to spend the afternoon watching a sports game without feeling guilty about it.
Street: There are two types of people at Penn…
NJ: People who have an answer to this question off the top of their heads, and people who have thought about it for years and can’t figure it out.