The new vice-rector for university life takes office and gives priority to virtual meetings with students

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As Mamta Motwani Accapadi begins her new role as Vice Provost for University Life this semester, student leaders praise her dedication to improving the Penn experience for all community members despite her virtual environment.

Accapadi officially assumed its role as VPUL on August 17 in conjunction with the start of the online semester. Since then, she has prioritized meeting virtually with as many members of the Penn community as possible, including leaders of student organizations and faculty members. This semester, she hopes to provide students with the resources they need to vote in the upcoming presidential election and help the Penn community recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Accapadi said she wanted the opportunity to meet students on Locust Walk, this semester’s online format allowed her to attend more student organization events than she expected. could have attended in person.

“It was humbling to start in this role not being able to be in a room to bring people together and build community,” Accapadi said. “It also gave me the opportunity to elevate myself, work harder and be creative in how I show up and present myself.”

Accapadi replaced Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, who left the post after 25 years to serve as Penn’s inaugural vice provost for student engagement. Before coming to Penn, Accapadi worked as vice president of student affairs at Rollins College in Florida since 2013, preceded by four years as dean of student life at Oregon State University.

Accapadi said the opportunity to work closely with student leaders and co-create a Penn experience that everyone in the community can enjoy drew her to Penn. She added that while she still has a lot to learn, she recognizes the importance of VPUL in bridging the gap between administration and students.

“I come from a place of love,” Accapadi said. “Relationships are the most sacred thing to me. I want to be a gatherer of meaningful experiences that could transform the student experience.”

Accapadi started meeting with student organizations even before classes started this semester. College senior Connor Beard is the undergraduate chair of Natives to Penn, a student organization dedicated to increasing awareness of Indigenous culture and history on campus. Accapadi virtually met with the organization on August 20 to show their support for the group.

Beard said he was grateful that Accapadi took the initiative to reach out to NAP, especially because he once felt a “sense of invisibility” as an Indigenous student at Penn.

“Just the fact that she wants to start a dialogue with us and hear about our experiences is such a powerful thing,” Beard said. “It may seem very simple, but it is much more than what we have achieved in the past.”

Brooke Parmalee, a sophomore law student and NAP graduate co-chair, agreed with Beard, adding that Accapadi’s genuine desire to learn more about the experiences of native students at Penn brought her to tears.

“Having an ally like Mamta gives us so much hope and so much relief,” Parmalee said. “Having someone in a position that has the power to make a difference recognize us was huge.”

NAP has created a petition on September 1 — which has since garnered more than 1,000 signatures from students, faculty, and staff — calling on Penn to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day as a holiday. The group hopes that the addition of holidays to Penn’s List of Secular and Religious Holidays observed during the school calendar will promote visibility for Indigenous students at Penn. The list presents the holidays associated with the cancellation of courses and those which are not and simply recognized by the University.

Sahitya Mandalapu, a senior at Wharton and chair of the Panhellenic Council, said she has already met virtually with Accapadi twice, once individually and once with other Greek leaders at Penn, this semester. After Mandalapu told Accapadi at a meeting that the Greek community wanted to be more socially and politically active, the two decided to replace Greek Week – a series of activities and speaking out events for members. of the Greek community – by Social Justice Week.

Social Justice Week will be held October 12-15 and will feature events on a variety of topics, including mental health, violence prevention, and cultural appropriation.

“She’s such an amazing woman,” she said. “She is so inspiring and I think she sees the best in students and she makes me want to live up to the potential she sees in me.”

Grayson Peters, president of the Junior College and Student Activities Council, said he and other members of the Penn Student Government have met virtually with Accapadi a few times since becoming VPUL. Peters praised Accapadi for advocating open communication between administration and student leaders.

“She seems really enthusiastic about working with student leaders and hearing student perspectives and taking them to heart,” Peters said. “There’s a big difference between listening to us and actually understanding what we’re saying and representing our interests in her office and the people above her.”

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