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Counterpoints: "Penn Must Contend with its Complicated Legacy of Displacement" vs. "Sucks to Suck, That's the Free Market"


Oscar Vasquez / The Daily Pennsylvanian

Editor’s note: At Under the Button, we pride ourselves on providing our readers with balanced coverage of hot-button issues. This week, we’re proud to share the op-eds of Omar Brown (C ‘24), a sociology major from Michigan who lived in public housing until his freshman year of high school, and Jack Rutherford III (W ‘26) of New York, who experienced displacement when his family moved from their penthouse in Brooklyn to a bigger penthouse in Manhattan.

Penn Must Contend with Its Complicated Legacy of Displacement

by Omar Brown (C ‘24) 

Let me be clear: The University of Pennsylvania has failed its stakeholders. It has failed its student body by refusing to engage with its activist population, instead opting to intimidate and silence them. It has failed its city by placing profit over people, working with municipal authorities to drive out locals in the face of rising housing costs. But most importantly, it has failed itself by making a mockery of its own principles. Leges sine moribus vanae; laws without morals are useless. Well, where are the morals here?

The University has a well-documented connection with predatory development practices. Before University City was University City, it was the Black Bottom, a vibrant Black working-class community. In 1959, a Penn-led effort to redevelop the area led to over 105 acres of the Bottom being designated as blighted by the City Council. Eminent domain was declared. The neighborhood was razed. 2,653 were displaced. And the University got what it wanted: a comfy little neighborhood filled by boba shops and cramped student apartments, with prices out of reach for the most vulnerable citizens of Philadelphia.

As someone who relied on public housing during the most unstable years of his life, I know what the residents of the UC Townhomes are experiencing. Fear of homelessness and uncertainty over economic instability; these are fates I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies.

I love Penn. I really do. The education I attain here will be the key to lifting my family out of poverty and making life better for my friends back home.

So why am I being so critical of the University which I love? Because part of loving your community is recognizing when you can and must do better.

Sucks to Suck, That's the Free Market

by Jack Rutherford III (W ‘26)

Look, I get it: moving blows. When I moved from Brooklyn in Manhattan back in high school, I was filled with anxiety. What if I couldn’t make any new friends? What if my teachers hated me? What if my new penthouse smelled like socks? But you know what I did? I didn’t dwell on my fears. Instead, I held my head high, put myself out there, and took risks. I made amazing friends, got to know my teachers, and now look where I am! I’m at the best business school in the world.

That’s the difference between winners and losers in today’s world. Winners embrace change and see it as an opportunity to grow. Losers just complain and expect other people to solve their problems.

So when I see all these protestors rushing onto football fields and into convocations, holding signs with divisive slogans like “Penn is Displacing Black Families” and “We Ain’t Going Nowhere,” I just have to shake my head in shame. You can’t disrupt other people’s lives to advance your own interests – that’s not cool. 

And when you listen to their demands, it’s even more baffling. “Penn should help buy the land and stop the demolition!” What else do you want them to pay for? Your iPhone? Free tuition? Property taxes? The Townhomes are owned by developers who’ve been working their entire lives to make ends meet: they should have first dibs on the land. If they want to build luxury apartments, then so be it. That’s how capitalism works, and if you don’t like it, you’re free to move.

By focusing on the faults of Penn and not those of the residents, we encourage a victim mentality. What if the UC Townhomes residents took some responsibility for their own lives? What if they put their savings into a Roth IRA? What if they learned how to code? These are the kinds of questions we need to ask. Penn is doing its best – now it’s time for everyone else to step up.