Welcome to Climbing Vines

Janay Sylvester, Executive EditorIn September of 2008, I arrived in Philadelphia for my first year of college with little insight and unrealistic expectations, but also with unadulterated excitement. One of the things I anticipated most about this new experience, was the chance to be actively involved in a black cultural community – something I had longed for after growing up in a small New England town with little diversity. Within my first few weeks on campus, I was quickly embraced by many other black female freshmen that were just as eager to see smiling faces that looked so much like their own.

Though initially I believe many of us were drawn to one-another without reluctance, just months into the new experience it became clear the unity we had aspired to would devolve into a segmented community. We needed a platform to break the divide. This is what spurred a group of sophomores, all of whom serve on the Climbing Vines board and/or as story contributors, to found a discussion group for all who wished to talk about the black female experience at Penn and interact in a safe space with women who have shared many similar experiences — from relationships, to hair care struggles, to their upbringing. During our first event later that year, not only was it very well attended, but it provided the platform so many students were looking for to discuss their personal experiences, while also bonding over shared ones.

At lunch with an alumna, just a few months after graduating in May 2012, I was further inspired to continue this discussion surrounding the black female experience in a print format, while incorporating the alumnae voice. Though 11 years apart, I was astounded by how much our undergraduate experiences had in common; she shared some great insight and advice that I wish had been available to me as an undergrad. It was further confirmation that the various stories that we have in common should be shared. Not only do these stories connect so many of my peers beyond small friend groups, but a written format can serve as an additional “safe-space” to facilitate a wider discussion amongst the Penn community as a whole.

Over the past year, I have looked to develop this idea with a dedicated board to help me do so.  We hope you enjoy the collection of short stories we have produced.

Thank you,


Janay Sylvester

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