In another universe, Emily White (C ‘23) and I are mortal enemies. Once upon a time, we ran against each other to be editor–in–chief of the magazine you’re reading right now. Back then, they were put off by my skinny white twink demeanor, and I almost threw away any remaining good will over a petty grudge (I lost that first election, if you couldn’t tell). But we’ve both had our time at the helm of Street now, and somewhere along the way they became one of my best friends.
To be close with Emily is to always feel protected. Their Pine Street apartment has been my refuge many times over the past year and a half, whether riding out an extra late production night or nursing a broken heart over homemade Polish stew. The same care that Emily brings to their friendships—sometimes to the point of brutal honesty, when it’s needed—they extend to their sources, making them one of the most empathetic reporters I’ve had the pleasure of working with and learning from.
For this interview, Emily, myself and their cats set up camp in their bedroom, which is cluttered with racks upon racks of thrifted clothes. After a whole year of building a magazine together, it was time for one more 34th Street team–up.
Name: Emily White
Hometown: York, Pennsylvania
Major: Communication and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies
Activities: Editor-in-chief of 34th Street Magazine, Penn Association for Gender Equity (PAGE), Coalition Against Fraternity Sexual Assault (CAFSA), Penn Anti–Violence Educators (PAVE), The WALK Magazine.
You’ve previously mentioned that interviewing other people is one of your favorite parts of being a journalist and reporter—what do you love the most about conducting interviews, and how does it feel to be on the other side of the microphone?
My favorite part, I think, is seeing the emotion on someone's face when they're telling a story about something that's really meaningful to them. It's so rare in the day–to–day, unless you're really close with someone, that you get to ask them questions about their life that are actually meaningful. And when you're interviewing someone—especially when you're profiling someone—that's kind of the whole point: you get this little peek into their inner world. It's a different kind of understanding about the way that a person thinks and feels and acts than you would get, say, just getting coffee with someone. And how does it feel now to be on the other side? Weird, especially because I feel like this is the kind of interview where I'm supposed to be really reflective, and also being a second semester senior, I'm in a very reflective headspace generally.
What are your rules for putting together an outfit, or when you’re cultivating your personal style, what are you trying to accomplish?
We all do things that are for pure joy. I think there's two kinds of happiness, or two kinds of joy. There's the thoughtful reflective kind, where you read a really good book, and you think about it, and it makes you understand something about the world and you feel joy from that experience, or you feel fulfillment. And then there are the things that you do that are just feeding the little happiness monster inside of your brain. What first got me into clothes very generally was that happiness monster of finding something that was really unique and finding a way to style it that felt different than the way that other people would style it.
Over time, it morphed into the other kind where, working at Philly AIDS Thrift Store, I started learning about vintage clothing and the ways that different items would be constructed or what they would mean, or even the designer fashion world—not in the sense of luxury goods, but in the sense of creative expression through fashion. In terms of what I am trying to accomplish putting together an outfit, it's usually the feeling that I want to have, whatever day it is. If I wake up and I'm really sad, I'm going to wear bright colors to cheer myself up. And if I wake up and I'm in pain, I'm gonna wear something super comfortable. But by the same token, if you wake up really happy, you want to show that happiness, and you want to continue it, by feeling like you like the outfit that you're wearing.
There are two silent guests here with us: your cats Sailor and Luna. Who are these cats to you, and why should more people have animals in their house?
It makes it feel more like home and less like a place that you live. I also tend to overthink things and get really in my head, but when a cat is staring you in the face at 7 a.m. and they're like, “I want food. Feed me,” and they're crying and running around in circles, you can't overthink that. It's just a cat that wants food. Being able to take a step back and look at the world through—to be kind of cheesy—the eyes of your pet is very grounding. And also I just love them.
If you could ask Sailor and Luna one question each, what would you want to know?
I want to ask Luna why she compulsively cleans herself. She’s one of the cleanest cats I've ever met. Sailor—I want to ask him why he befriended a possum, and a skunk. Sailor just befriends everything, and I want to understand how he does it.
When did you decide that you wanted 34th Street to become a part of your life?
In 2020 back home living with my mom, everything was virtual, and honestly I just wanted something to do with my time. I was also taking a class on writing about the arts and pop culture, so I was writing three, maybe four articles a week throughout that entire period of time, mostly because I just needed an outlet for my thoughts. Also, when you're living your entire life online, you start thinking a lot about the culture of those online spaces, so writing about it in a non–academic way felt a lot more meaningful than “Let me take this class and understand how TikTok works.”
When did you decide Street was going to become your whole life, so to speak?
As I became a section editor and began writing more about things that mattered and getting to do more of those reported stories, I started to see the value of a place like Street, not as just a repository for my thoughts about digital culture, but as a way to uplift the stories of other people who maybe don't always get that spotlight put on their lives or their opinions. So some of the earlier stories that really made me fall in love with writing (and also think that it was just an important thing to exist in the world) were interviewing @fiercefatfemme, talking to the owner of Nonnormative Body Club, and even recently, talking to John Shahidi of Avril 50. All of those made me realize that this was bigger than myself, and that just because we're student magazine doesn't mean that we don't make an impact on people's lives.
Once you've got the bug, it just kind of grows and spreads, and before a long, I was asking Bea [Forman] “Hey, do you think I'd make a good editor-in-chief?” because I was deeply insecure, and convinced that I’d be bad at it. But because she's Bea, she was super sweet and encouraging, and also made really clear that if it was something I wanted to do, and wanted to do well, I needed to decide that I was going to commit to it pretty fully. At that point, I knew if that was what it was going to take to be able to make the changes that I wanted to make at Street, I would do it. And so I did.
In the months leading up to you becoming editor-in-chief as well as the year that followed, there were two words that sort of became a bit of a clarion call for your tenure. You want to say what they were together?
[In Unison] Glossy mag!!!
What was the genesis of that vision? And how about the process for bringing it to life?
In really broad strokes, it was an idea that had been presented before I was ever super involved with Street. Bea had also kind of broadly outlined a vision for Street that included it being a monthly magazine, and for a lot of reasons—many of them COVID related—that didn't end up happening under her tenure. I saw the potential of that idea and wanted to take it a step further and say, “Yeah, we can change how we print, and that in and of itself is important. But I also think that Street as a magazine has so much room to grow in so many other ways and, for example, our digital presence deserves as much attention as like the print magazine does, or we can launch a podcast as like another way of engaging with the audience. Everything started swirling into more of a holistic rebrand, as opposed to just different paper and a different schedule.
Now that you're living a post DP–life, what do you miss the most about 34th Street?
Being in an environment that takes pop culture seriously is so hard to find, especially one that takes it seriously in a specific way, where we all recognize that there are things more important than the latest blind item on a gossip blog, and also that those silly little things are important as escapes from the reality of the world in 2023, or a fun part of our lives or something we really love. Hearing a music writer get super excited about an album that they want to review, or an editor really going to bat for one of their writers, defending a pitch that they came up with or a particular choice they made—that's just a really special feeling, especially at such a young age.
What's a memory that sticks out to you from your time on board?
One of my favorites, which I think I've told you before, is the night that we were all elected, doing our fun little super–secret DP initiation things. You, me, Eva, Arielle, were just all walking down Locust. I think like our arms were linked or something—just a super cinematic sense of accomplishment and excitement. And we just started shouting “glossy mag” to random cars going by. I love that memory mostly for its symbolic value, I think. I hope that everybody gets to feel that excited about something that they're doing at Street or in general.
Who are the people that made this experience for you?
Starting at the at the very beginning, Tamsyn was editor–in–chief when I was recruited, and I didn't really interact with her much then, but the way that she shaped Street during her time was really important to the experience that I had. My first editor, Hannah Lonser, kind of let me write, occasionally, some really stupid shit in hindsight, but also let me fall in love with Street on my own terms. Last year’s board, when I was a section editor: Chelsea, Mehek, Karin, and of course Bea, who taught me how to be an editor, who taught me 1) how to write a good lead, but also how to really care about what a writer was trying to say and make sure that my writers felt like they also had a place at Street. Jonah Charlton, for being the best co–EIC I could ask for. My board, the 138, Walden, Arielle and Eva, who were all the most supportive and encouraging co–leaders of Street that I could have imagined—co–Strexec, I suppose I should say—or I could have asked for, to be grammatically correct. The editor in me never goes to sleep. I think the EIC lin holds an especially close place in my heart because Bea really shaped what I imagined this role to be and you were there as I was doing it, being the second–in–command, checking on my impulsive decisions sometimes …
… sometimes enabler of said impulsive decisions
Sometimes enabler, but most importantly, you were a really good friend throughout the whole thing. I think my time at Street would have been very, very different, had you not been there.
It’s okay! I also started to cry during my interview with Bea. It happens. Do you want a hug?
No, it’s okay. I have to maintain journalistic objectivity.
Journalistic objectivity is some fucking bullshit!
Can I quote you on that?
Yes, you can quote me, but you have to include the “fucking.”
What is one piece of advice that you think all of your successors can benefit and learn from?
My biggest piece of advice is to remember that, especially being editor–in–chief, you only have one year, which sounds like a long time, and in some ways it is. But if you have a really big vision, you've got one year to make it happen. That doesn't mean that you should work yourself to the bone to accomplish something that is Sisyphean–level impossible. But it does mean that you shouldn't be scared of doing something just because it seems hard. Because this is your one chance to really, truly be at the helm of a magazine and have that level of creative freedom and, frankly, a lot of responsibility to your staff, to the Penn community, to the people that you interview, and that your staff interviews for stories. Taking a step back and putting all of that in perspective, and knowing what you want to do, what you can reasonably expect to do in a year, and then just go for it and make it happen, because it's not a chance that you're gonna get again for a very long time.
How has Street changed you?
Street has forced me to be a lot more patient; its also forced me to be a lot more thoughtful. I'm naturally a pretty reflective person, but usually that comes after the fact and less thinking about things as they're happening. I think that's a skill that you get from being in the middle of a lot of really big decisions when you're 21 and, realistically, your concern should be managing your savings account or registering for classes, and not being in charge of a of a media company. It's hard to put in words, but Street made me feel a little bit less afraid to take so–called frivolous things more seriously. Obviously, it gave me the practice that I needed to become a better writer and editor, but in a lot of ways, it's a big part of where I grew up, not in the childhood sense but in the figuring out how to make decisions on your own sense. Because when you have that much responsibility, you have people around you who give you advice or who try to help you make those decisions, but you're responsible for what comes out of your time in charge, and you don't really have anyone else to fall back on.
How are you spending your time now?
I'm taking a CIS class which was a decision. In more fun news, I'm spending a lot more time going to art exhibits and just impulsively deciding to go to a restaurant in Center City, because I actually have three consecutive hours of my life to decide to do something like that. I'm writing a lot that isn't journalistic, which is a fun experience. I've been watercoloring, spending more time with friends that I kind of lost touch with while my schedule was overtaken by The Daily Pennsylvanian Inc., giving my cats lots of treats. I'm just living a little bit more—I don't want to say serendipitously, but so much of my life used to be planned. On a day–to–day basis, I would have a list of meetings that I'd have to go to, and now I just get to wake up and say “What do I want to do today?” And it's different every day.
Favorite outdated online social platform: I have a serious answer and a silly answer. Serious answer: MySpace. Silly answer: Wizard101 chatrooms.
Who is your male hall pass, and why is it Dylan O’Brien: I mean, have you seen Season 3 of Teen Wolf? That’s all.
Easiest “amateur mixologist” drink: A butterfly pea blossom gin anything, with a squeeze of lemon.
First book you read on your own: The Encyclopedia Britannica, wish I did in fact read every volume of when I was a child.
Last song you listened to: “Say It Right” by Nelly Furtado
What is your thrifting grail: I really, really want an ‘80s white leather jacket.
There’s two kinds of people at Penn … Besties (superlative) and besties (derogatory)
And you are? Depends on the day.