Name: Max Kanner
Hometown: New Orleans, La.
Major: Philosophy, politics, and economics with minors in gender studies and consumer psychology
34th Street Magazine: What activity at Penn are you most passionate about?
I’m closest with the people on Debate Society, but I’m probably most passionate about Carriage and what it stands for.
Could you tell me a bit about your involvement with Penn Debate Society, and how that’s impacted your time at Penn?
Sophomore year, I was on the board as one of the vice presidents for Penn Debate Society. Penn Debate Society allowed me to take something that I found interesting in high school and then find community from it in college. Debate was really important for me growing up in New Orleans. It was a way to leave on the weekends and talk about issues that I wasn't able to talk about with my peers at school. Even though I'm not competitive debating as actively, I really appreciate the social aspect of the team because everyone has that intellectual curiosity. We all share that we were debaters in high school or debate now in college.
You mentioned that you have an appreciation for Carriage and what it stands for. Could you tell me about your experience with Carriage?
Carriage creates this safe space for queer people at Penn to meet each other. Even though it's still the beginning of the school year and there haven't been a ton of events, I'm really excited to get more involved with that and see where it takes me. It's a really important thing to have at Penn.
A big strength of the senior societies is that on one hand, people want to spend time with the people that they've known since [first year], which is totally cool. But on the other hand—especially with COVID–19 and having almost two years taken from us—I think it's important to branch out now more than ever. Especially if the senior society is a shared identity or shared interest like Carriage is, I think that's an even better thing.
Describe the LGBTQ education research you do.
Coming into Penn, one of my goals for myself was to explore my own identity and answer some of the questions that I wasn't able to even explore in high school. I made it a point to try and analyze gender and sexuality through a lot of different lenses. I've been able to do research across five or six different departments at Penn centering around mental health for queer youth. I've incorporated that into classes—whether it be a religious studies class, a sociology class, political science, philosophy, or in the nursing school, which is where I’ve taken some of the most impactful ones. I've been able to do research in all of those courses around this one beat. It's allowed me to get a good grasp on the subject, and also to take advantage of the different departments at Penn while exploring my own passion.
That led me to my biggest activity, which is actually not Penn–related. When everything went online during COVID–19, I was looking for something to do to fill my time. I wanted to try to take what I had been researching and make an impact with it. I found this organization called Hope In a Box that provides LGBTQ–inclusive literature and curriculum guides to English teachers and librarians across the country. Sophomore and junior year, I was really involved in that. We were able to create this artificial intelligence professional development program that allows teachers to practice dealing with hard questions that they may get in the classroom. Things like, "What do you say when a student calls another student gay to mean weird?" Or, "How do you talk about these issues with parents at parent–teacher conferences?"
It's a really great organization. The program that we helped make has been deployed at over 300 schools across the country. It's free professional development that's been extended to 450 teachers. What they do is so great, and it’s been a really rewarding part of my experience at Penn. Penn is what gave me the opportunity to research that and find that passion in the first place. So even though the organization is not Penn–based, it still had a big impact on my Penn experience.
Tell me about yourself, outside of Penn and school.
I have a cat that I adore. I love playing video games like Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. I love going on walks and cooking, even though cooking isn't my biggest strength. I worked on that a lot throughout quarantine.
Honestly, the biggest activity that I do outside of Penn is Hope In a Box. Volunteering as a program coordinator takes up a lot of my time. All of these experiences have really allowed me to reform my sense of self. When you grow up closeted, you're growing up with a mask on your whole life. At Penn, in these different activities—whether it's from debate, Hope In a Box, or even just research in class—it's really allowed me to deconstruct those 18 years wearing a mask and find who I am.
What's your most memorable experience at Penn?
Spring Fling [my first year] is definitely one of my favorite memories at Penn. Spring Fling in and of itself was this magical time where it felt like the beginning of [first year] again and everyone was just having fun. My favorite memory then was when I met my current boyfriend outside of a party during Spring Fling. That's how we met each other, so I think that's my favorite moment at Penn.
What's next for you after Penn?
This past summer, I was taking the LSAT. I don't know if I'm going to apply this cycle or wait, but I definitely know that next year, I'll be in New York working as a compliance analyst, and then hopefully going to law school sometime after that.
Last song you listened to?
What’s something people wouldn’t guess about you?
I think a lot of people wouldn't guess that I'm from the Deep South. I don't have a southern accent and don't have a lot of southern tendencies.
If you were a building on campus, which one would you be and why?
I think I would be The Quad. The Quad is a fun place, and I have a lot of my favorite memories there. It's not always the prettiest, but it's a place where people have fun. That's what I think is something that's really important about Penn—people forget to have fun.
Who do you look up to?
I really look up to my parents and what they do. I think that everyone learns a lot from their parents, and I wouldn't be here without them, literally and figuratively.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I would want to be able to move things with my mind. I think that's an underrated one. If you think about it, that could allow you to do a lot, and it would let me be even more lazy than I already am.
There are two types of people at Penn …
Those that run to class when they know they're late, and those that just accept it and keep walking.
And you are?
I would say that I've evolved. I think that as an underclassman, I was definitely a runner. Now, after COVID–19 and everything, I'm trying to take in Penn as much as I can. So, if I'm late for class, I just enjoy the walk.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.