Five events to watch for in February

Happening around campus and beyond this February: the annual Lunar New Year celebration at International House, a thought-provoking new speaker series on the future of religion, and an innovative story slam by nurses.

Yellow and red ornate dragon mask used in lion dance
A demonstration of the lion dance, frequently part of Lunar New Year celebrations and a Chinese tradition that ushers in good luck. (Photo courtesy: International House Philadelphia)

January marks the official kickoff of the spring semester. It’s when the engines fire up and the plane begins to taxi: syllabi are read, professors are met, papers are assigned.

But February? That’s when the semester really takes off from the runway—and it shows in this month’s array of events.

In Religious Studies, Katz Center Director Steve Weitzman, along with a team of students, launch a new series of discussions on religion and the global future that welcomes an Obama Administration alum and a litany of leading scholars on religion. Penn Nursing, meanwhile, hosts a months-in-the-making showcase of stories from nurses in the University of Pennsylvania Health System that endear, encourage, and inspire. And, buttressing the University’s own offerings, nearby International House’s latest iteration of its Lunar New Year Celebration offers up a festive slice of East Asian culture. 

Here, learn more about these—and other—February events at Penn and in the surrounding community.

Lunar New Year Celebration (Thursday, Feb. 7, 7 p.m.)

International House first held its annual Lunar New Year Celebration festival in 2003, starting as a small gathering on the first floor Galleria of the building and since expanded to the organization’s 360-seat theater—enjoyed by International House members, student populations around the city, and the general public.

Restaurants in Chinatown donate food, local school children perform, and community organizations entertain with martial arts, music, puppetry, and storytelling. Local comic Esther Chiang explores the intersection of identity, immigration, ableism, and race through humor; Penn’s Pan-Asian Dance Troupe express themselves through traditional, modern, and fusion dances; Hua Hua Zhang, of Visual Expressions, mixes Asian and Western puppet art to interpret cross-cultural expressions; and the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival will curate select films for the occasion. Sang Kee Noodle House, located in University City, promises authentic Chinese bites during a reception held after the performances that features interactive art from Asian Arts Initiative’s Feili Zou.

The pageantry, of course, commemorates the Chinese New Year, which, in 2019, ushers in the Year of the Pig.

Deaf Family Home Movies (Sunday, Feb. 10, 2 to 4 p.m.)

Family gathered on couch, smiling
A family movie, from 1951, featuring gesture-based language. (Photo courtesy: Ted Supalla)

Old-school home videos are thought to be language-less films. Full of those nostalgia-evoking flash frames and splices, but empty of language.

But this is not true of home movies with gesture-based language, like American Sign Language. 

This month, Penn Museum will welcome Ted Supalla, who studies sign language and its global development at Georgetown University, and Matthew Malzkhun, an instructor of ASL and deaf studies at Gallaudet University, as researchers involved with archiving deaf home movies—preserving them for linguistic, cultural, and historical insights. They’ll bring with them, and screen, home videos from their collection, including several from the Philadelphia region. The presentation will be delivered in American Sign Language, but interpreters will communicate the discussion verbally. 

Religion and the Global Future (Feb. 12-26)

Steven Weitzman, a professor of religious studies, organized this ambitious semester-long series of conversations—part of an undergraduate course, similarly titled “Religion and the Global Future”—about the role of religion in the future of the world, marrying Penn’s global focus with the study of religion. 

Talks this month (there are nine in total) include three conversations related to conflict resolution, the economic future, and the future of human rights, through the lens of religion. While organizing, Weitzman and his class decided it was important to open the guests’ appearances to the public.

“We feel the topics we are covering need to be part of a larger conversation in the university, and we opened up the series in the hope of welcoming people into conversation,” Weitzman says. “We are hoping to engage the broader university community in subjects that can be hard to talk about, but are important for understanding where humanity is headed.”

He adds that, after 9/11, international relations scholars recognized they had been neglecting the role of religion, prompting exciting new work in the field since. This is a chance to showcase that work.

The series is co-organized by Marie Harf, former senior advisor to former Secretary of State John Kerry. She will speak about the intersection of religion and conflict resolution on Feb. 12.

Nursing Story Slam (Wednesday, Feb. 13, 6 p.m.)

The first story slam of its kind at Penn, this Sachs Program for Arts Innovation-funded gathering of 10 Penn Medicine and Penn Nursing storytellers—students, faculty, and alumni—features tales of being a nurse in the military, an especially compelling story of one nurse’s encounter with an emergency on an airline flight, and many, many more diverse narratives that open a window to the experience of nurses.

“I am a big proponent of using storytelling as an innovative way to increase knowledge,” says Marion Leary, director of innovation at Penn Nursing. “I want this event to amplify nursing so that people understand the breadth, depth, and diversity of the nursing profession.”

The premise alone all but guarantees a compelling evening of stories.

Rare Disease Day (Thursday, Feb. 28, 4 to 6 p.m.)

Every year, the last day of February—the rarest day of the year, on leap year—marks Rare Disease Day, a moment to recognize the 1 in 20 people who will live with a rare disease in their lifetime, and raise awareness around the diseases and the work surrounding them. 

At Penn, the Orphan Disease Center hosts a get-together that recognizes the day by welcoming patients and their families to share their stories, celebrate their journeys, and push forward research that can further therapeutic development. This year, the Center partners with Amicus Therapeutics for an information session about research in the area of rare diseases and why it’s important. 

Notably, this event also kicks off the Center’s annual Million Dollar Bike Ride, a 13-, 34-, or 72-mile fundraiser ride held June 8, which raises money for research. Attendees can receive a discounted registration rate. 

Cycling experts will be available to answer questions about training and bike safety.

Want to know more about what’s happening around campus? Find out what’s happening through Penn Today’s curated events calendar. Have an event you’d like to suggest for the calendar? Email Staff Writer Brandon Baker at