Name: Nikhil Gupta
Hometown: Naperville, Ill. and Shanghai
Major: International studies, business analytics, and marketing in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business
Can you tell us about your involvement in social justice on campus?
I’ve been involved in advocacy work in two major ways: through the UA and my summers while at Penn. In the UA, my most meaningful role was as treasurer, where my main responsibility was to allocate $2.7 million to all the student groups on campus and serve as an elected board member. I also had a mentorship role developing the project work of younger members and helping them connect with the right administrators. But my most major [role] within the advocacy angle was establishing the $150,000 Social Life and Inclusion Fund. With COVID–19, a lot of student groups ceased operations, and the already distributed UA budgets weren’t able to be fully spent. The excess funds usually go to the Student Activities Council (SAC) reserve fund. But the executive board really tried to prioritize finding a way to use that money to advance equity and inclusion on campus, so I worked to secure more funding towards that advancement, create guidelines for what the fund would look like, and decide who makes those funding decisions.
We wanted there to be a fund dedicated towards social life and to make sure different student groups have community on campus. Traditionally, funding goes towards predominantly white organizations or Greek life, so this was a way to address that gap. This will actually be rolled out this year under the current UA executive board.
Another way I was involved in advocacy was during my [first year] summer when I worked with the National Urban League, a historic civil rights organization headquartered in New York through Penn’s Fox Fellowship Program. I worked at their Office of the General Counsel and did research on a telecom merger for their negotiations to improve equity and inclusion at their company. I also led a pro bono legal clinic in Indiana at the National League’s annual legal conference consisting of free legal advice for whatever situation the attendees were facing. During sophomore year, I was supposed to go to Argentina through Penn to work with a social impact consulting organization. Because of COVID–19, I couldn't go, and I ended up doing it from my bedroom. I created models to gauge the economic value that was generated by some poverty alleviation mechanisms in Chile. I also made some criteria for the CEO to evaluate different investment projects in South America, so that was a really good time, too. I just found a way to do inclusion work in different spaces I've been a part of.
Can you talk about your experience with SAC?
Once [I was] appointed UA treasurer, I began working with SAC. I worked as an executive board member, worked to secure funding for student groups, and was a liaison for 20 to 30 groups on campus.
What can you tell us about being part of the board to expand menstrual products on campus?
[First year] and sophomore year, I was involved in an initiative with the Penn Association for Gender Equity (PAGE), Period at Penn, and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA). Together we had a lot of meetings with different administrators to lobby for free products on campus. We faced pushback based on funding and different concerns over who would actually distribute these products, so the other student leaders and I took it into our own hands to conduct some surveys and get an understanding of whether or not there was a need for this on campus. We received almost 1000 signatures [on our petition].
Because it was an important issue to the Penn community, the administration was finally willing to listen, and the vice provost for University life gave us 50% of the funding for a pilot program and GAPSA funded the other half. We kicked off that program in the fall of 2019, but, unfortunately due to COVID–19, it was shut down. PAGE and Period at Penn are now actively working on restarting that pilot program, and the UA will also take that on. I will be working as a mentor on that as well. The new goal for the project is to change it from a pilot program to advocating for the university to fully take it on. I don’t want to take full credit for this at all, because PAGE and Period at Penn were super monumental in that success.
What community at Penn has shaped your experience the most?
Definitely the Huntsman community. When I came in as a [first year], I had 50 friends right off the bat. I’ve learned so much from them about so many distinct cultures from around the world while outside of the classroom. I formed meaningful friendships with upperclassmen who led me to join a lot of the groups I did, like the Wharton Asia Exchange, Penn Microfinance, and the UA. All of those involvements were inspired by the work of upperclassmen.
Tell us about yourself outside of Penn and school. What makes you unique?
I have a really strong curiosity for learning about different cultures. I have advanced proficiency in the four most widely spoken languages in the world: English, Chinese, Spanish, and Hindi. Growing up in China really shaped my perspective to prioritize learning about other people and finding connections with people who are different from me. I wouldn’t have that feeling had I not lived internationally during my younger years.
What’s next for you after Penn?
Next year, I’ll be working in management consulting in Miami. I interned there this past summer and I really liked my time there, so I'm going back. After that, we’ll see what the future holds!
Last song you listened to?
“Heat Waves” by Glass Animals.
What’s something people wouldn’t know about you?
I’m really interested in learning about world religions. I grew up in a family that is Hindu and Jain, but I went to a Christian school in China. I think that experience at the crossroads of my identity at home and what I was learning at school really made me interested in learning about other world religions. I carried that with me to college.
Who do you look up to?
My parents. They carved out a life here after emigrating from India and have shown unconditional love for our family and our communities we've lived in. They taught me to be open–minded and supportive of everyone around me.
What’s your most uncharacteristic characteristic?
People tend to view me as extroverted and high spirited, but I often prioritize nights in to just recharge from how chaotic life is.
There’s two types of people at Penn ...
Those who study at Huntsman Hall and those who study at Fisher Fine Arts.
And you are?
Both! When I want to feel productive, I go to Fisher, but when I want to have fun under the guise of studying, I’ll book a GSR at Huntsman with my friends.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.