What You Don’t See Beyond The Penn Bubble


What You Don’t See Beyond The Penn Bubble


Love Letter Mural

Whatever you do, don’t go past 42nd street.” While the street number may vary depending on who you talk to, this is an infamous warning to any student who attends Penn. ‘Beware of the unknown’ is a mentality that is often pervasive throughout campus. Although, more times than not “the unknown” is just another word for “the hood” or the “ghetto” (AKA the rest of West Philadelphia).

Thus, many students never find themselves exploring immediately past the boundaries of Penn’s campus.  We stay in what we refer to as the “Penn Bubble.” And no, going to downtowns or off campus frats does not count as getting out of that bubble.

Whenever Penn students do venture off into those forbidden territories, it is almost entirely for community service, mandatory class expeditions, or off-campus living. These are great reasons to step outside the university and see buildings that don’t bear the Penn name. However, it seems all too true that students tend to steer clear of the heart of West Philadelphia because of the stigma that brands it. While it is understandable to be wary of new, less secure areas, you may miss out on aspects that an urban environment has to offer.

On 4243 Lancaster Avenue, you’ll find the New Africa Center. Primarily through books, pictures, and magazines, this museum aims to shine light on the rich, cultural history of the African-American Muslims. Highlighting historical figures such as Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, and other impactful African-American Muslims, the museum teaches the public about history that isn’t always found in textbooks.

Lawson Pull Quote 1

Another place you’ll find deep in West Philadelphia is Cedar Park between 46th and 52nd streets between Larchwood Street and Kingsessing Avenue. Notorious for its Bohemian style and cultural diversity, the residents of Cedar Park have been striving to bring the neighborhood together. They foster independent businesses, community activities, and locale initiatives. This place serves as the perfect Sunday afternoon adventure after a draining week.

While art museums are abundant in West Philly, there is an unconventional and satisfying journey in finding the plethora of murals that can be spotted all across the area. Philly is celebrated for its murals, and in West Philly, the “Love Letters” are hidden treasures. A series of 50 murals are painted on rooftops spanning across West Philadelphia. Collectively they convey a love letter from a guy to a girl that have the effect of making art an adventure worth seeking.

These are just a few highlights of what can be found in our broader neighborhood. With just a bit of research and thrill to wander, it won’t be long before you find yourself immersed in the West Philadelphia culture.

This isn’t me imploring you to go wandering down random, sketchy streets for the sake of saying you defy the Penn stereotype.  This also isn’t me accusing anyone of being ignorant or a tad elitist about an area with a bad reputation. Yes, safety should always be a top priority, and not everywhere in West Philadelphia is the safest.  However, we should never let fear or preconceived notions stop us from stepping outside of our comfort zone. We should not be scared to explore new territory, especially ones that are within such a close proximity and have so much to offer.

Images courtesy of the Mural Arts Program


  1. Renard Jackson


    Excellently researched and written. We are excited to know you are doing so well at Penn. Please continue to make your parents proud.

    The Jackson’s

  2. Deborah Marcee

    Well done, Tyler! There is goodness to be found outside of every “bubble”. Continue to take risks, and you will not only find new and exciting adventures, but will grow from your experiences. Ms. Marcee

  3. Teresa W

    What a well-informed piece! Thank you for shining a light on the rich experiences to be gained by proactively seeking diverse cultural experiences. God bless you!

  4. Dr. Kellyn Hodges

    Wonderful, informative and provocative! I enjoyed reading about your gained insight and perspective!
    Very proud of your person and your voice!

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