Pushing for Change

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We do our share (maybe more) of anniversary stories in the Gazette, and they often come with a strong dose of “those-were-the-days” nostalgia. Not so much in associate editor Dave Zeitlin C’03’s cover story, “Century Club,” on the progress of women’s sports at Penn since the founding of the Women’s Athletic Association in 1921.

We may smile at a quote like one in the story from the 1930s about “opponent-hostesses” inviting the Penn women’s basketball team out for tea after away games, but the candid comments that the pioneering athletic stars profiled in the piece gave to Dave—and others he unearthed from old Gazette issues and other sources—make the obstacles facing women athletes at the University, and in college sports generally, abundantly clear. This was particularly true before Title IX, but continues on some level even into the present in terms of the attention and prestige generated by women’s sports compared to men’s.

Dave’s piece focuses in on a handful key players to tell the story: Field hockey and lacrosse All-American and Olympic medalist Julie Staver CW’74 V’82 and Alicia McConnell C’85, “considered one of the greatest American squash players of all time,” reflect in their different ways on what it was like to be a generational talent recognized much more widely off campus than on.Track and field standout Ruthlyn Greenfield Webster Nu’92 shares her return to international competition after age 35 (with plans to continue till 90).

Dave closes out the piece with profiles of two players who were central to changing the fortunes of what are now two of Penn’s strongest teams—Diana Caramanico W’01 LPS’11, the only Penn basketball player to score more than 2,000 points; and Ali DeLuca C’10, who sparked the women’s lacrosse team’s run of 11 Ivy League titles since 2007.

(Those five are pictured on our cover, along with two athletes of more recent vintage, star runner Nia Akins Nu’20 GNu’20 and basketball’s Kayla Padilla W’23, Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2020.)

It’s known that lacrosse comes from a Native American game, and I also learned recently that Native enthusiasm for basketball goes back to the early 1900s. That fact came up in senior editor Trey Popp’s story, “The Raven and Rico Worl,” on anthropologist-cultural preservationist-commercial artist Rico Worl C’09, who draws inspiration from his own Tlingit background and other Native cultures, filtered through a modern sensibility.

The occasion for our story was his being asked by the US Postal Service to create a “Forever” postage stamp paying homage to Tlingit culture, for which he selected the figure of Raven, a “canny shapeshifter” who sets the moon, stars, and daylight, imprisoned in boxes, free. But designs from his company, Trickster, have appeared on silkscreen prints, clothing, stickers, skateboards—and basketballs.

Back when she was in high school, Wharton’s Katy Milkman was a highly ranked junior tennis player more interested in that sport than she was in her classes, she told JoAnn Greco, who profiles her in “Choice and Change.” Though she was always a good student, her teachers would have been surprised she turned out to be a professor—the James G. Dinan Professor of Operations, Information and Decisions, to be specific—much less a rising star in the field of behavioral science and author of the bestselling How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.

Along with Grit author and psychology professor Angela Duckworth Gr’06, Milkman codirects the Behavior Change for Good (BCFG) initiative. Coming to the field from a background in computer science, Milkman has helped pioneer an approach using “mega studies” involving tens of thousands of people and dozens of separate experiments to find the interventions that work best at “nudging” people toward desired behaviors. One such study provided valuable information for getting more people to go for a flu vaccine, transferable to the ongoing vaccination effort against COVID-19.

This is also the issue in which we report on Commencement and Alumni Weekend. The latter was again a virtual affair (viewable at www.alumni.upenn.edu) but Commencement returned to Franklin Field. Attendance was restricted to undergraduates who had followed COVID guidelines, while families and friends watched online (which you can still do at commencement.upenn.edu). The most notable touch—for fans of traditions and the reworking of them to meet circumstances—came at the beginning of the ceremony when President Gutmann staged a mini Hey Day, complete with canes and hats, to get around the difficulty of graduating the Class of 2021 without having already officially made them seniors.

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