Lolita Jackson had her pick of three Ivy Leagues when it came time to make her final college selection. But for her, Penn was the easy choice. “I wanted to be in a place where people were really smart, but I also wanted to be in a city that was predominantly black.” She never regretted that decision and immediately fell in love with the social aspect of Penn. In the 1980s, most events and students’ social lives were relegated to campus, and Lolita still fondly remembers the “lively scene on Locust Walk” on the weekends.
Although Engineering at Penn was “not the easiest course of study,” Lolita was involved in more than just a few extracurriculars during her time at Penn, a testament, she says, to Penn’s commitment to its students’ whole college experience. Her DP column “Stop the Madness” was extended from a one-semester run to two full semesters due to its wild popularity. She also sang in the choir and a six-piece jazz band, who was asked to play at Spring Fling. A member of the Friars Senior Society, she represented the University on Wheel of Fortune during the gameshow’s annual “College Week.”
Now serving as president for the class of 1989, Lolita is energized by her work to help plan and run her class reunions. “I love leading them,” she says. She is also passionate about creating “black-focused events,” to help more of her black classmates feel drawn to participate in their reunions. “I had no resources when I got to Penn,” she explains, “and when I graduated I had $40,000 to pay back in loans.” She wants her classmates to continue to support the undergraduate experience to make sure that people with little financial resources can have the best experience at Penn and opportunities that extend far beyond academic opportunity, like participating in clubs, paying membership dues to fraternities and sororities, and even dreaming of a fun Spring Break trip with friends.
“I want us to keep giving, for others like me who didn’t have the resources. We can only change how students interact with Penn by providing them with the resources to truly participate.”
Together with classmate David F. France, she helped create a campaign in the early 2000s called 250-In-5. The initial goal was to raise 250,000 in 5 years, from mainly Black Penn Alums. The fund exceeded all expectations, and they were able to raise almost a million dollars for the DuBois College House Scholars Fund. The funds were raised from a diverse group of Penn alums and included a gift from Trustee Emeritus George Weiss, as well as Trustee Emeritus Leonard Lauder. That fund is now worth approximately $1.4 million and helps to provide four students annually the chance to study, live, and grow at Penn.