Like many Penn students, Cassandra Ingersoll’s (C ‘22) schedule is consumed by extracurricular activities. In addition to working towards her major in health and societies and fulfilling her pre–med track requirements, Cassy splits her time among the Johnson Scholars Program, Alpha Phi, and the Strictly Funk dance team.
This school year, however, Cassy's involvement in the University of Pennsylvania Democrats stands out among her other activities. Even though the presidential race certainly took over Penn Dem’s programming, one thing made it even more time consuming for Cassy: her own election as president of the club.
When Cassy grew up in Phoenix, the state of Arizona was still mostly conservative. She began to seek ways to express her own liberal political beliefs when she was in high school. One of her first political involvements was in 2016, when she joined her friends who canvassed for Hillary Clinton.
She soon found ways to become more politically active, and she decided to pursue this interest at Penn.
“My senior year of high school, I helped co–found the Dems organization for my high school, because it just simply didn't exist,” Cassy says. “It's funny, when I got to campus—everyone else around me was so stressed about club applications and stuff. And I didn't have that, because I always knew that I wanted to join Penn Dems, and I always knew I wanted to join a dance team. So when I got to campus, I immediately just [sought] out those two things.”
As soon as she arrived at Penn, she knew she wanted to be exposed to a more “progressive–minded community.” She recognizes that even though Arizona voted blue in this past election, “there’s still so much work that needs to be done.”
When she first joined Penn Dems, Cassy also felt there was a lot of work to be done. As a first–year, Cassy got the opportunity to participate in activities surrounding the 2018 midterm elections.
“There was actually a lot going on. When I joined, I was doing canvassing, I was doing phone banking, I was doing all that stuff already. And that was pretty fantastic. I really enjoyed my [first year]. I made a lot of friends through Penn Dems,” she says.
That same year, she got even more involved by becoming communications senior deputy. This position gives younger students the opportunity to work directly with members of the executive board and gain experience. As a sophomore, she served as membership chair—which she says got “pretty wild from the primaries to the actual election.” Finally, she decided to run for president in Fall 2020 and was recently elected.
Though Cassy was officially elected after President Biden won, she was very involved in Biden's campaign—both through the Penn Dems and independently.
Penn Dem’s previous president, Owen Voutsinas–Klose (C ‘21), recommended Cassy to speak at Biden’s kickoff rally in Philadelphia the summer of 2019. Cassy accepted the offer in disbelief.
“I got to go up in front of thousands of people, it was so scary. My heart was racing. But it was really great. And I got to give a speech about why I supported Joe Biden and my history,” Cassy recalls. “Like I said, I'm from Arizona, and I grew up in conservative land, and I just did not want to deal with that anymore. But also, my mom is an immigrant from Mexico. So that always kind of informs politics, I guess. I actually still have a lot of family living in Mexico. So I care a lot about it.”
Cassy says that the Biden campaign was interested in learning more about her story as the daughter of an immigrant and a first–generation, low–income student. After the rally, she was taken aside to meet Biden. “He told me not to forget him when I'm running for president one day, which is ridiculous. It was crazy, it was really cool,” she says.
She also participated in other events, such as the debate between the Penn Dems and the College Republicans. Cassy mentions that even though it was a hard event to prepare for—as they needed to know the presidential candidates’ stances on policy extremely well—it was a great team experience.
As the excitement of the inauguration winds down, Cassy acknowledges that there's still more to aim for beyond Biden winning the election.
“As much as like, I understand how it outwardly appears like I am this pro–Biden girl who's so all in—in reality, that's not the case. I definitely have many criticisms of him,” Cassy says. “Now that he's president, that doesn't mean that we get to just stop. And that's one of the reasons that I ran for president of the Penn Dems in the first place. I wanted to show people that even though I supported him in the election and I think that it was important that we defeated Donald Trump at all costs, there's so much that we have to keep [Biden] accountable for and still so much that we can do.”
Now that election season is over, Cassy is excited to dive deeper into her own role as Penn Dems' president. She’s looking forward to rolling out non–election–related programming, such as inviting guest speakers and working on policy issues.
“I'm excited this year, hopefully, that things will cool down politically, and I'll be able to just enjoy working on policy issues and working on getting involved in West Philly,” she says. “For example, over this past summer, we took a break from our political–getting–Joe–Biden–elected programming to actually make calls to city council to ask them to not approve the new budget that was going to increase police funding. I thought that that was really impactful and representative of a lot of the work we do outside of political organizing. I was really excited to work on that, and they actually ended up not approving the budget.”
Along with focusing on the future of Penn Dems, Cassy is thinking about her own career choices. Even though she intends to go to medical school and eventually become a pediatric surgeon, she plans on spending some time working on other projects beforehand. Specifically, she wants to explore her passion for health policy and law, her concentration in the health and societies major.
“I think that a lot of pre–med students and a lot of doctors in general don't really know enough about health policy and about how healthcare works beyond their actual practices," she says. "I think that if more doctors did, we'd have the potential to make a much larger impact on many lives instead of the one life that you get to work with at a time.”