Locust Walk bustling with students rushing to get to class. Late nights studying in Van Pelt. Sink or Swim at Smokes'. There are countless quintessential parts of the Penn experience that students are missing due to the pandemic. For Lucy Corlett (C’20), it’s getting a coffee at Wilcaf.
“I have a serious coffee habit. I remember literally going to an event one time and one of the Wilcaf baristas is like, ‘Oh yeah, you’re the girl who gets like two or three cups a day,’” Lucy says. “I’m like, ‘Wait, there aren’t multiple people who do that?’”
Coffee, like seemingly everything in Lucy’s life, isn’t just about coffee.
“[My boyfriend and I] bring our own mugs everywhere. I did a project on recycling and waste incineration in Philadelphia,” the urban studies major explains. “Since then, I try to produce as little trash as possible.”
Like any good environmentalist, Lucy doesn’t just try to limit her individual consumption. Primarily through her work with Fossil Free Penn, Lucy has made an effort to address the structural underpinnings of climate change. FFP has made a name in the more than five years since it was founded for using a variety of creative tactics to push the Penn administration to divest the nearly $14 billion endowment from fossil fuel companies.
While during the day, you’d most likely find Lucy in class, studying in Fisher Bennet, or at Wilcaf, at night is when the excitement begins. As Lucy says, “nighttime is where it gets intense.”
This is when Lucy and the rest of the FFP coordinators plan ways to raise awareness and put pressure on the Penn administration, like last November, when 100 FFP members shut down a Board of Trustees meeting. It’s actions like these that make FFP a “radical” group.
“That’s not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of protests, you think like marching through the streets and whatever,” Lucy explains. “Nonviolent direct action—that's what we do. And that's a radical form of protest.”
Engaging in these forms of protest can be frightening, particularly when the University photographs and records the names of protestors and stations police officers outside trustee meetings. However, things get a lot more serious when you leave Penn’s campus. FFP has worked with Philly Thrive, a group organizing against the public health and environmental damage done by the PES refinery. Many of the members are not Penn students, but members of the Philadelphia community who work and live near the refinery site.
“[Philly Thrive’s] participants and members are much more vulnerable than we are,” she says. “It’s a big risk in some ways for a lot of people to go into a trustee meeting and yell for an hour, that shit is crazy. But when you go to a protest that's happening in the city with city police officers there, with people who are literally dying from cancer, like, you start to understand that there are different contexts in which you protest and different things are at risk each time.”
Out of the many activist groups at Penn, Fossil Free is one of the relatively few that has been able to maintain a constant level of intensity and commitment among its members, even while leadership graduates year after year. In fact, its ranks have only grown stronger since it was founded, as climate change becomes an increasing concern among young people.
“If you want to do this, you have to be really fucking dedicated—no question in your mind that you're doing the right thing. Divestment doesn't sound sexy,” Lucy explains. “So people have to be really certain that they're passionate about this.”
And while Lucy is certainly passionate—and has no qualms about shouting into a megaphone on Locust Walk, there’s another part of her life where she far prefers to work behind the scenes.
As the head writer for Bloomers, an all–women comedy troupe, Lucy is responsible for the group of about 10 writers who help put together the jokes behind the Bloomers show each semester.
“There are tons of groups that exist that are just for women, like support groups and whatever, but to basically have that under the guise of a comedy troupe is really great because you never have to admit ‘Oh, we're totally doing the woman coven thing.’ We're actually just writing comedy,” she says.
Anyone who’s been to a Bloomers comedy show in the last three years—Lucy didn’t join her first year at Penn because she was “too scared to audition”—has likely seen a joke written by Lucy. Bloomers has been a source of support for Lucy over the years, not just for comedy but also as a space to bond over the “hilarity of how terrible womanhood is … the traumatic aspects of it.” It’s less a statement of the strength of that support and more on her own relationship with confidence that keeps her off the stage during a Bloomers show and vaults her into the spotlight at a rally.
“I think I have a very specific kind of confidence that's derived from my sense of purpose. And it does not translate to performing comedy for some reason,” Lucy says.
Growing up just a short drive away in Chestnut Hill, Lucy has taken a winding path driven by this sense of purpose. It derives from a sincere desire to improve the world in which she lives and to make use of all the tools she’s gained along the way. Some come from her urban studies classes—not to mention her ‘fieldwork’ job at the ACLU—and others stem from her “really unbelievable privilege.” But what it all boils down to is that at a school that prioritizes elite credentials and high–paying employment, Lucy wants “to help others and not be so focused on [her] own attainment.”
This underappreciated road can be a hard one to travel, especially given the global pandemic, collapsing economy, and ever–worsening climate. Thankfully, Lucy doesn’t ruminate on dour topics for too long, at least not while being interviewed over Zoom. Her comedic side flashes through, giving a welcome reprieve.
When asked to "self–characterize" (something she tries not to do), Lucy follows a familiar pattern, which she traverses throughout the course of the interview. Either start serious and get silly, or vice versa. Like the reusable coffee mug that causes her boyfriend to repeatedly spill scalding coffee on himself (Lucy never spills) is a reminder of Philadelphia’s waste crisis, nothing is just one–sided.
“I think generally my demeanor is somewhat closed off and maybe to be kind to myself I'm cool and collected, or I try to be, but I'm actually like, totally batshit crazy underneath,” she says. “I think that I'm really funny and really outgoing. And this is all like, ‘Oh, you thought I was shitty, but I'm actually amazing!”
“I think that I present very differently from the way that I actually am. And that has kind of haunted me my whole life like the resting bitch face thing,” Lucy says. “I had someone say to me, ‘I never ever would have guessed you were the head writer of Bloomers.’”
“I’m like ‘What's that supposed to mean?’”