Upon chatting with Justin Acheampong (C ‘23) for the first time, one thing is abundantly clear: They are dedicated to leaving Penn a better place than they found it. They foster a strong sense of community in each of their advocacy spaces, whether on or off campus. Justin's welcoming yet spunky personality makes them the kind of friend to show you a good time while also making sure you feel safe. And to top it all off, they have the coolest philosophy on fashion—it's an empowering form of self–care, love, and expression.
Name: Justin Acheampong
Hometown: Spotswood, N.J.
Major: Psychology with a minor in sociology
Activities: Project Chair on the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education (SCUE), Counseling and Psychological Services Advisory Board (CAPSAB), Reach–A–Peer Helpline (RAP–Line), co–State Director of the Every Voice Coalition Pennsylvania branch, MOVE Activist Archive, President of Carriage Senior Society, Onyx Senior Honor Society
Can you describe what you do with SCUE and CAPSAB?
With SCUE, I’m heading a project called Marginalized Community Studies, which is meant to enhance Penn’s way of teaching about marginalized and diverse communities in the United States. I felt like the General Education program didn’t touch on it enough. Especially with so many students here that are going to be major figures in their fields, I want to make sure that people are more understanding so they don’t perpetuate oppression. Through that project, we’re trying to expand upon the Gen Ed requirements to include marginalized communities, and also host informative events. We had a preceptorial this past spring on understanding gender, which was cool.
On the Advisory Board to CAPS, we work with the folks at CAPS to get student perspectives on their operations, organize mental health–related events and care packages for students, and things like that. I’m also a part of Reach–A–Peer Helpline, which is an anonymous calling service for students who are in need.
What about your work with the Every Voice Coalition and MOVE?
I’m the co–State Director of the Every Voice Coalition Pennsylvania branch, which is trying to pass survivor–centered and prevention–based legislation in the state to better protect and offer support services for survivors of sexual violence on college campuses. We do a lot of grassroots organizing, passing legislation, drafting, talking with legislators, etc.
I work with Dr. Krystal Strong on the MOVE Activist Archive project, where we transcribe, digitize, and preserve materials from the MOVE organization, a Black radical group in Philly. We’re trying to preserve that history and narrative the way they told it—grounded in its radical revolutionary and life–based perspective and practice—in order to combat state narratives and anti–Black perceptions of MOVE.
What drew you to your current activities here at Penn?
There’s always been a pull for me to get into more advocacy spaces. I think it started in high school. I did advocacy for students with the Board of Education. We had a moment where we were campaigning for solidarity posters and sending money to Parkland, Fla. after the shooting that happened there. And I think as I grew up from high school and learned more, especially with my sociology minor and experiencing things that are outside of my predominantly white, 2–square mile town, I broadened my horizons and learned a lot more about both myself and the world.
Combining that with what already existed in me during high school really drew me to a lot of things that were grounded in causes I cared about: Advocating for Black liberation and Black radicalism, grounded in that perspective as a Black person. And also queer things and sexual violence, and how those are intertwined, just the intersectionality of everything. I think those kinds of perspectives really drew me to these spaces. And so my own experience is kind of grounded within it all, especially regarding mental health, Black issues, queer issues, and LGBTQ issues.
How has being involved in these circles influenced your time at Penn?
It’s been a source of community. So many of the friends I’ve been able to make have been in these spaces that I’ve found. Some of my closest friends have been in my advocacy spaces—I met one of my closest friends in SCUE. These spaces offer a community that I wasn’t afforded when I was growing up in a predominantly white town, which I’ve been really thankful for. But coming to Penn, there were just so many people who I really looked up to for the work that they did. Being able to find community with them and expand my own horizons, and learn from them and their experiences and their philosophies and ideologies, that’s been something that’s really been grounding for me.
And there’s the friendship and community that comes with doing work like this: the understanding, the self–care moments, the tough moments of recognizing that this stuff is hard, and we should be here together to talk about why it’s hard and how we’re feeling. I think that’s really been very formative for me.
From the MOVE remains to what’s happening with the UC Townhomes, Penn is complicit in so much gentrification and Black unhousement, and I think that’s where the sense of community is even more helpful, because if I had to deal with some of the stuff alone, it’d take a huge toll on my mental health. Having people that are so like–minded toward change is inspirational.
What does fashion mean to you?
I actually wrote my Common Application essay about it because it’s always meant something to me, especially as a Black, queer, nonbinary person in a town that wasn’t very accepting of that. Fashion was a way for me to express myself that I had full control over. And I could use it as not only a form of self–expression, but as a form of self–care and self–love. A lot of my confidence came from the feeling that I could put together these random pieces of clothes and really pop out.
It’s so empowering for me to be able to dress the way I do. I’m not standing out and breaking boundaries necessarily, but it’s kind of a powerful moment of reclaiming power and just being me. I don’t want to be weighed down by anything. I want to be able to wear nice flowy clothes if I want to, or wear tight clothes if I want to, or wear clothes that are “more feminine” because I want to. Because it’s me, it’s my body. I don’t need anybody else’s approval but my own.
Do you have a particular style icon?
That’s a good question. I was actually just talking to my friend about this because they asked me, “What are your inspirations for fashion?” I was like, “I don't think I have any.” Definitely lots of Black queer people that I see on my timeline, and I’m like, “They look good. They have a good sense of style.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
I want people to search @saveuctownhomes on Instagram and Twitter. Pop out to show support for any actions that are coming up. And be mindful of the way that Penn’s gentrification is, in fact, affecting the Black communities in the area.
Last song you listened to? “Swamp Bitches” by Doechii.
No–skip album? Ego Death by The Internet.
The actor who would play you in a movie? Daniel Kaluuya. The way he portrays emotions … wow.
If you were to describe yourself as a building on campus, which would it be and why? Fisher Fine Arts. She knows how to dress herself.
There are two types of people at Penn… The ones who love Locust Walk and the ones who avoid it.
And you are? One who avoids Locust Walk. I have anxiety, I can't do it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.