Name: Sabrina Ochoa
Hometown: Boynton Beach, Florida
Major: Philosophy, politics, and economics (PPE), minor in East Asian languages and civilizations
34th Street Magazine: Why did you decide to study PPE, and what drew you to your minor concentration in Korean studies?
Sabrina Ochoa: I knew that I wanted to go to law school after Penn. I talked to the pre–law advisor, and they were like, “You can actually do anything [for a major].” I knew I was interested in philosophy because I'd taken some courses in high school, but I didn't want to commit to one thing. So PPE was a little bit of everything. I was definitely being kind of a nerd about it. I was like, “Yeah, econ, I should challenge myself.” And that's probably my least favorite part of PPE. I ended up sticking with it because I got a lot of flexibility [in] the kind of classes I got to take for my major. Then my minor was what I was actually interested in—my little, itty bitty passion project. I had initially wanted to major in East Asian studies when I was applying to colleges. My parents were like, “We're not going to pay for your tuition if you major in East Asian studies,” and I was like, "Wow, you really got me there." I had done a research paper on Japanese colonization in Korea in high school and wanted to learn more. So when I got to Penn [and saw] they had a Korean studies program, I was like, "This is my shot." It also gave me the opportunity to study abroad and take some classes [in Korea] to complete my minor.
Street: You've been involved in The F–Word Magazine since your first year at Penn. What does this publication mean to you, and how has your involvement changed throughout the years?
SO: Oh, F–Word is my baby. I feel so protective of it. I’m so proud of our little community. I started out as a poetry editor, if I remember correctly. I had been involved in lit mags in high school, and I knew I was interested in social justice and feminism. This seemed like a great intersection of the two. I got even more involved and became managing editor. Then I helped the editor–in–chief at the time launch a blog for F–Word, which is a really big deal because in the past we’d only ever done print magazines. You really have a limited audience when you do that. It's just limited to the people that you can get your publication in the hands of, so having an online presence is really, really cool. Being involved in the setup for that was something totally new that I'd never done before—like website design and working with WordPress. Then I became editor–in–chief my junior year, and now I'm co–editor–in–chief with Jessica Bao (C '22) this year.
What it has meant to me is just having a space on campus where, not only do we have this creative end goal of producing a product like a print magazine or a blog article to put on our blog, but we have a space where we can talk through different issues that come up with the pieces that we workshop, or the pieces that we get submitted to us. I think it's a great opportunity for people to learn, not just from the authors and artists who submit work to our group, but from the discussion around the content of the pieces that we work on. I like providing that for people because I know coming in as a [first year], there was a lot I didn't know about social justice issues and a lot of the nuance around issues of gender, sexuality, [and] sexual violence. So to be able to provide that learning space for underclassmen is kind of what makes the efforts precious to me.
Street: You played a role in transforming Penn V–Day into a more inclusive space through the Penn Monologues. What inspired you to do this?
SO: It was definitely a collective effort. I was the finance chair for V–Day, for the year that we switched from producing The Vagina Monologues to the [Penn] Community Monologues. I had previously been the stage manager for The Vagina Monologues the year before. So with that kind of continuity, I got to help contribute to the new board pushing in this Community Monologue’s direction. That was really, really fulfilling. It was a little bit like my experience with F–Word but on stage—basically soliciting submissions from not just the Penn community, but the broader Philadelphia community. And working more with WOAR Philadelphia Center Against Sexual Violence, which is Philly's only full service rape crisis center.
So even though I was the financial manager, and I was a little bit more on the fundraising side—one of our goals [was] to raise money for WOAR—I helped solidify the process for soliciting submissions, workshopping them with with the authors, and workshopping them with the performers, who weren't necessarily the authors. That was great. I also got to perform a piece that was written by somebody else and work with our brilliant director, Mckayla Warwick (C '20), to do that. What basically inspired that was moving away from a lot of the dated '90s feminist themes in The Vagina Monologues and trying to just have a show that represented more of Penn’s community and the Philadelphia community, and that we could really make it our own.
SO: I joined both of those senior societies my junior spring. That was the COVID–19 semester. So my experience with senior societies hasn't been the norm. In fact, for Cipactli, I joined right before spring break, so I got to kind of know people, and then everyone had to leave. That was a little bit sad. It's really pleasant to be in a community of seniors who all have that interest in the issues that the society is focused on. For example, I wasn't very involved in La Casa Latina most of my years at Penn, but I missed being with other Latin American students. So joining Cipactli was a way for me to find that community again, even after being an upperclassman. Getting to meet new people at a later point in Penn was really important to me.
Street: What has been your most memorable experience at Penn?
SO: Putting on the Penn Community Monologues is my most memorable experience at Penn. That was a big undertaking because it had been talked about for so long. To see something through from its inception as an idea to an actual performance. We were selling out the auditorium that we held the show in. It was so thrilling to see that, to see the overwhelming response from the community, that this was something they really wanted. It was a moment of, “Hey, the community has stories, we want to workshop them and put them on stage. Come see your words performed.” That to me was like being directly involved in an action of empowerment in a way that I don't think I've ever experienced before. That's one of my most memorable experiences at Penn, and I'm really grateful that I got to be a part of the team that put that together.
Street: If you could impart one lesson on the Penn community, what would it be?
SO: While it's really good to have professional goals—and it's totally valid to pursue extracurricular activities that further your professional goals—definitely do things that just fulfill you. They don't have to have any instrumental value. Just do them. I think that's what has really made me appreciate my time at Penn. There's definitely a lot of reasons to criticize Penn as an institution, but I'm really grateful for my time at Penn. I think it's because I chose to not really use the bulk of my extracurricular time just on things that had instrumental value. Rather, I did things because they were interesting, or because they were fun, or because they'd expose me to something new. I have a friend from the Mariana Islands, and she's a part of the Hawaii Club. I think I just saw on Facebook one day that they were looking for people to dance in their luau. I was like, “I've never danced hula before, but this sounds like an awesome opportunity.” It was such a great experience. I had to do it for two years, and I wouldn't trade that for anything. You know, any time I spent on that, I don't think I could have spent it any better way.
Street: What's next for you after Penn?
SO: I’m headed to Harvard Law School. I always knew I was going to go to law school after Penn. I'm going to Boston. It's going to be very cold. I'm originally from Florida, so I'm not prepared for that. All my friends are telling me I shouldn't become a Red Sox fan, so I guess I'm gonna have to figure that out once I'm there.
I'm interested in human rights law and possibly working for the United Nations after law school. That's what's in my future. I definitely view it as a step toward being an advocate for women, for queer people, and for people of color around the world too, because human rights is an international issue. I think it's kind of taking my interest in feminism and social justice within the Penn community, broadening it to a more international scope, and seeing if I can take my human capital and apply it to something that actually changes someone's life.
Last song you listened to?
“Hablamos Mañana” by Bad Bunny.
What's something people wouldn't guess about you?
That I was once certified to teach Pilates. I definitely don't do Pilates anymore. That was four years ago. But yeah, I got that certification once.
If you were a building on campus, which one would you be and why?
I would be PCPSE [Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics]. That's the new political science building. I love that it has so many windows and looks so open. But when you get inside, everything is locked. I think that is definitely analogous to the kind of person I am.
What’s your favorite Korean dish?
Tteokbokki. It's like spicy rice cakes. I definitely can't eat spicy food, so I tried to eat a bunch of it to build up my tolerance. And I still can't eat spicy food, but it's delicious. So I'll eat it anyway.
There are two types of people at Penn...
Those who have a SEPTA pass and those who always buy a single use quick trip.
And you are?
I definitely have a SEPTA pass. I love that. I will carry that as a memento of my time in Philadelphia.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.