c/o Sophie Penn

c/o Sophie Penn

When asked why she thought she was nominated to be a WesCeleb, Sophie Penn ’23 could not keep a straight face. Instead, she made a sarcastic remark about being a well-known face on campus that she clearly did not believe herself. Nevertheless, over the past four years, Penn has become a name and face immediately associated with the Alpha Delta Phi Society (ADP) and the Star & Crescent (S&C). Penn is also the only senior religion major and one of only five senior Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (FGSS) majors. More notably, however, Penn is a mentor and friend to all she meets, and she genuinely values bringing people together. 

The Argus: What’s your major?

Sophie Penn: I am a double major in religion and FGSS with a theory certificate. 

A: You’re the only senior religion major, right?

SP: That’s another reason that maybe people know me. There are junior majors, but I’m the only senior one, which was just a weird fluke. Normally, there are around 10 religion majors per year. I was worried because I wanted to have major friends, but I’ve gotten to meet some of the junior majors, and it’s fun to get to know the professors because they obviously all know who I am because there are no other majors. So I do feel a little bit of a celebrity status within the Religion Department. 

A: What else are you involved in?

SP: Besides my academics, which have been taking up most of this year because I’m working on a thesis, I’m involved very heavily in ADP. I lived in ADP my sophomore year and initiated, and then became very involved in a variety of ways. I was steward of the S&C for a year and I still work there, and I was president of ADP last semester. This semester I am the standards chair of ADP, so, overseeing people and making sure people are abiding by our society rules and standards.

I’m also a TA for the Religion Department. So [I’m a TA for a class] called “What Is Religion?” Very aptly named. 

For a while I was on [Adolescent Sexual Health Awareness] and edited a newsletter called The Sexy Times. I also play piano, so I take piano lessons and spend free time at the music studios, but that’s more of a personal hobby.

A: Do you want to tell me about your thesis? 

SP: My thesis is cross-departmental, so it’s in both FGSS and religion. I’m looking at memoirs and testimonies of survivors of the ex-gay movement, which happened primarily among evangelical Christians. It was started by these two groups, Exodus International and Love in Action. It was this movement to use conversion therapy to convert gay Christians into straight people. 

It was very harmful. They used a lot of very highly contested therapy techniques, including electroshock therapy. I’m looking at survivors of that movement, queer people who were either forced into that movement or joined those organizations and then left them. I’m looking at how they often find religious communities after that. So I talk about this concept called reconversion that I’ve sort of coined myself—of people who return to Christianity after a period of feeling ostracized or exiled. I’m talking about it in relation to canonical conversion narratives—for example, the story of Paul in the New Testament. 

A: You’re a religion major. Are you religious as a person? 

SP: No, I’m not. I think that I’m very tolerant of different religious ideas in that I wouldn’t call myself an atheist, but I myself am not very entrenched in religious beliefs. 

I grew up Jewish, and I spent a lot of time at synagogue when I was younger. I was in a Jewish youth group through most of high school, I think primarily because of my interest in the culture of religion and Jewish culture. But at Wesleyan, I have looked at communities that are faith-based, groups of people who are religious in a very different way than I am. I’d call myself religious in a very secular, cultural way rather than a theological or faith-based way.

A: Wesleyan’s known for having a pretty small Greek life culture. How did you get involved with ADP?

SP: I got involved with ADP spring of my freshman year. I wasn’t having a great time [during my freshman fall], and I wanted something to be involved in. Even though Wesleyan is a small school and I knew a lot of people, I was still searching for a smaller community. I saw that ADP was having rush events and I went and met some very wonderful people. Immediately when I walked in, I became friends with this girl who then became my sponsor into ADP. So I joined mainly as a way to find community and make some more friends, and then ended up finding job opportunities and leadership opportunities through the society. I ended up living there my sophomore year. So it became a safe haven during COVID. 

A: What do you like about it? 

SP: I love a lot about ADP. I love the old college lore. I’ve grown up listening to my parents’ college stories and I’m a sucker for tradition and for rituals. ADP is this big old house in the middle of campus that seems so enigmatic and grand. I think that now it’s become more about the people in ADP than the house or the lore. 

A: Have you had a favorite class or professor? 

SP: I took a class called “Christianity and Sexuality,” which really inspired the rest of my academic trajectory. It was my first introduction to Christian theology because I grew up Jewish, so I knew next to nothing about it. Also, I realized from that class how deeply my views of sexuality had been influenced by Christianity, even though I’m Jewish. The Christian way of viewing sexuality has such a pervasive reach, and the way that sexuality is portrayed in the Bible has become such a part of American and world culture.

My favorite professor is [Professor of Religion and FGSS] Mary-Jane Rubenstein. I have her this semester for a class called “Worlding the World,” and she’s also my thesis advisor. She writes about really incredible topics and is just so knowledgeable.

A: Do you have any favorite memories or Wesleyan stories?

SP: I have a lot of funny memories that I can’t share because they’re ADP memories and they’re sacred to [that] space. My goofiest memories were probably from sophomore year because everything was shut down and everyone was terrified of COVID, so my funniest memories were living in ADP. I lived in a hallway with some other people who I became friends with, and we had all these One Direction cardboard cutouts that we would put in different positions to scare each other as we walked out of our rooms. 

I have a lot of hilarious memories just with a small group of friends, gallivanting around in a 25-mile radius of Wesleyan and going to the beach, going to Miller’s [Pond], exploring abandoned old buildings around Connecticut, going to Wadsworth, taking my car anywhere we could to get a little bit of a break from Zoom. 

This semester I’ve been living with my friends in a senior house, and we’ve been throwing these potlucks, where we invite everyone we know and get to be with all sorts of different people that we don’t see at the same time, and everyone brings food. It’s really nice. 

A: Is there anything on your senior year bucket list that you haven’t done yet?

SP: I’ve never been to undies in Olin. It didn’t happen my sophomore year or my freshman year. And last year I had a shift at the S&C, so that is definitely on my bucket list. I also am very interested in the tunnels. I don’t wanna get points, but I would love to see the tunnels at some point. Also, as kind of a Christianity nerd, I have never been to Holy Land, which is the abandoned Christian amusement park near here. I feel like I have to go there before I graduate. Who knows when I’ll be back in central Connecticut.

I feel like I need to spend some more time on Foss. I feel like I spent a lot of time on Foss earlier in my Wesleyan career, and there are some Foss times that have yet to be had. 

I also really love organs, and I really want to play the organ in Memorial Chapel. I’m not a music major, nor am I in the organ class, but if anyone is able to get me in there to play the organ, I play the piano and I would love to play it or ring the bells.

Also, get initiated into a secret society. I would love that. Or maybe I’m already in a secret society and I’ve already rung the bells and this is just to throw you off my scent.

A: What are you most proud of in your time at Wes? 

SP: I think, honestly, this is kind of a corny answer, but when I go to ADP events now and see all the friendships that other people have made and all the people living in the house, it makes me feel very proud because I put a lot of time and effort into keeping the traditions of ADP alive through COVID when there were very few people in the society.

There’s a lot of parts of ADP that people don’t necessarily know about that are really lovely and beautiful. It just makes me very happy to see that even with a lot of stuff that got lost through COVID, that ADP has stayed around.

I’m also very proud that I found an academic area that I’m really interested in that doesn’t feel like a burden. I’m proud of dedicating myself to finding stuff that I wanna do rather than stuff that I feel like I should do.

A: If you could give freshman-year you any advice, what would it be? 

SP: Ooh, so much advice I would give to a young Sophie. The biggest piece of advice that I would give is that nobody is paying attention to you. Nobody cares what you’re doing. I had this feeling all of freshman year that I wasn’t having as much fun as I should, or I didn’t have as many friends as I should, or I wasn’t in enough clubs or I wasn’t taking enough classes. I always had this feeling of “I’m not getting the most out of this.”

Now I look back on that and I just think that’s completely ridiculous. I would go back and tell a younger version of myself that she should take care of herself and do what she wants to do, spend time with the people she wants to spend time with, not be too worried about everyone thinking that she’s not having a good time at college because everyone struggles through freshman year to some extent. I would tell her to live like nobody’s watching.

A: How would your friends describe you? 

SP: You know what, my friends have called me a collector of people, which can sound really cheesy, but I think it’s really cute. I love introducing people to each other and I feel like a lot of my friends have kind of met through me. So I’m a religion major who just collects people around me.

Also, I love talking. That’s the thing that they would say about me—I love to talk, especially about myself. 

A: How do you feel about graduating?

SP: Right now, I have the overwhelming feeling that the world is my oyster. I know what I like and what I’m interested in, so I feel pretty set in that way. I feel blessed to know what I want to study after college, even if I don’t have a plan or if I don’t have a job or a grad school set up in place. 

I feel solid knowing that things will work out. I’m very sad to leave my friends and to leave Wesleyan because I feel like I got the first part of college taken away from me by COVID, and yet I still feel really grateful [that] these past couple years [have been] relatively normal. 

My current plan is to move somewhere for a year with some of my friends and housemates and then to apply to grad school, and then go to grad school, hopefully. That is the extent of my plan, but I’d like to take at least a year off before doing more school.

A: Is there anything else you wanna add about your time at Wesleyan, or anything you want people to know about you?

SP: I’m a big advocate of doing what you want versus what you should. I know that comes from a privileged place, but I think that college is a time to enjoy yourself and get educated. You’re at a liberal arts college, so take advantage of that.

A: Why did you pick Wesleyan? 

SP: I picked Wesleyan because my parents met at Wesleyan. I had the legacy advantage and I had heard about Wesleyan my whole life growing up. And my parents loved their time in college and it played such a big part in my life. When I was applying to college, I kept looking at all these different schools, and the one that matched up most closely to the idea of college that I had in my head was Wesleyan. That was what I always imagined college as because of my parents.

To me, Wesleyan is the epitome of what college is and should be. Freedom to study what you want, to meet different people, to be exposed to different disciplines. It had the interdisciplinarity aspect. Both of my majors are interdisciplinary, and that was a big part of it—getting to study multiple things at once. And to not be in a city.

A: What legacy would you like to leave behind? 

SP: I’m really proud of S&C and having picked S&C up again after our last chef left. I hired Hannah [Goodwin-Pierce] for this year and I think S&C is one of the best things on this campus. It’s such a lovely place to eat, hang out, and talk to people. It’s so communal. The food is good. So I think that that the legacy that I want to—and hopefully will—leave behind is making the S&C a place that is not only running, but is run by students in a way that it hasn’t been for a really long time. 


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Hallie Sternberg can be reached at hsternberg@wesleyan.edu

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