Syra Ortiz Blanes, Amanda Siberling, Rhea Singh & Ashna Vijay Bhatia

Four women came together for a special profile piece to discuss rape culture awareness, in light of recent events occurring on the Penn campus.

Syra Ortiz Blanes:

Major: History; Creative Writing minor

Hometown: Puerto Rico

Involvement on Campus: UPenn V-Day Movement, Doublespeak Magazine


Amanda Silberling:

Major: English; Fine Arts minor

Hometown: Florida

Involvement on Campus: Kelly Writer’s House, Institute of Contemporary Art


Rhea Singh:

Major: Health & Society; Gender, Sexuality, and Women Studies minor

Hometown: New York

Involvement on Campus: Penn Dance, Class Board


Ashna Vijay Bhatia:

Major: Finance; OIDD; Legal Studies; Gender, Sexuality, and Women Studies minor

Hometown: New Jersey

Involvement on Campus: Finance Chair for PAGE, PASCH, PWC

How are you involved with rape culture awareness on campus?

SOB: I am currently the events coordinator for the UPenn V-Day Movement, which puts on the Vagina Monologues every year and raises money for WOAR (Women Organized Against Rape), which is Philadelphia’s only full-time rape crisis hotline.

AS: I started a yearly panel at the Kelly Writer’s House called “Shifting the Gaze, discussing women in music and how women in the arts at large can work together to talk about the issues that we face, and how to best work together to make change.

RS: I am also part of the V-Day Movement. I study GSW, so I study the themes that impact our lives on a daily basis. In December, I did research in India on perception of “sex work” in regards to Indian women. I was working with sex workers and their cause, and having their work recognized as work in a patriarchal government.

AVB: I am on Penn Association for Gender Equity, and the organizer for the South Asian Women’s Space on campus.

What is your honest take on the OZ email?

AS: I’m just so beyond sick of people getting away with those sorts of things. What makes me really angry is that there is so much dialogue on campus saying things like, “Oh, I know a really nice guy in ‘x.’” I want to encourage those “really nice guys” to speak up if they see their friends supporting things like this. This isn’t just a problem with fraternities. This is a problem with campus culture at large.

AVB: To be honest, I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t expect anything better from these guys. But, I am very proud of women and the people on Penn’s campus that came together to display this to campus and fight it.

RS: I agree, and it’s impressive how Penn usually functions bureaucratically, but this movement has brought women together everywhere. However, my truest reaction was, “how does this keep happening at a campus like Penn’s?” when there has been such a push for programming against sexual violence and interpersonal violence over the past year.

What prompted you to do something about it?

SOB: We’ve seen similar behavior throughout all of our time at Penn and we haven’t said anything about it. In part, what prompted me is fellow students whose work we have to recognize in raising awareness about sexual assault and violence, and sexism and misogyny on campus. They inspired me and gave me the bravery to act.

What actual university measures can the school take against an off-campus fraternity like OZ that distributed the "misogynistic" and "sexist" email?

AS: Regardless of whether or not the fraternity is regulated by the school, at the end of the day, they’re still Penn students and I want to see the university make more things like sexual assault prevention workshops more common and more mandatory. I think that a lot of people just don’t have an understanding of how their behaviors can be harmful, because not everyone is brought up in an environment where they’re taught how to treat people respectfully.

What is your opinion on Penn Masala having boys list the "5 hottest girls at Penn" on the first day of their auditions?

RS & AVB: Within the South Asian community at Penn, there exists a lot of misogyny, and a lot of patriarchal beliefs that have translated into the lives of 1st and 2nd generation Americans that is reminiscent of South Asian culture as a whole. So while Masala has had this question on their form historically (as a way to get to know their boys), they didn’t see right away why the question was wrong, which was even more disappointing than the “OZ thing” to us. They have always been supportive of women, and presented themselves as allies – and then this happened. Their initial response to the question was not at all sufficient. Initially, they did not apologize to the South Asian women who had their bodies objectified. What ended happening was that they called their auditionees, and apologized for having the question, and felt bad for objectifying women in this way. They reached out to administrators (PASCH, PWC, MARS, and others) first. Since last weekend, they started to reach out to women in the SA community and in the APA community at Penn, and have one-on-one conversations which have been extremely productive. Independent members of Masala are being more vocal in the group. Past alumni leaders of Masala have had conversations with present members and explained to them that this question is wrong, and that although it has historically been on the form, there should be other questions put in place to “get to know the boys.”

Is there anything else that you would like to say to Her Campus readers?

AS: It’s important to have communities on campus that you feel supported in, and that you can support others in. Mutual respect is really important.

AVB: Stay strong, don’t let this get you down, support other women, and speak up.

SOB: Keep fighting the good fight.

RS: Harness the power of your friends, because your friends are the greatest women in your lives and together you can be unstoppable.