A Comm Major’s Journey from Pop Culture to Free Speech to Networked Technology and Beyond 

Anika Gururaj (C’24) followed her intellectual curiosity throughout her time at Penn, and will soon be off to Harvard Law School.

By Hailey Reissman

As a freshman coming to Penn from Bangalore, India, Anika Gururaj (C’24) didn’t picture herself going to law school. As she prepares to graduate with her B.A. in Communication, she is reflecting back on her path of intellectual engagement that ultimately led her to her future profession.

“I didn’t have a major in mind when I got to Penn,” she says. “I just wanted to spend the first semester exploring different courses and I happened to take a class with Professor Jessa Lingel.”

The course was “Critical Approaches to Popular Culture.” Gururaj loved it. 

“It married theoretical learning with an understanding of the practical implications of what we were reading in class,” she says. “It felt so contemporary and relevant to the real world and current events.” 

Taking Lingel’s class led Gururaj to take more Communication courses and then soon she became a Communication major. Each class she took exposed her to new facets of the field and sent her on new paths of exploration.

Gururaj’s interest in law blossomed during a course on the history and theory of freedom of expression taught by Professor Carolyn Marvin. She realized that legal cases, rhetoric, and literature fascinated her and found herself drawn to the intersection of law and communication.

A Passion for Privacy

Another eye-opening academic experience came when Gururaj took “Communication in the Networked Age” with Professor Sandra González-Bailón. It got her thinking about the impact that technologies like Facebook and Instagram have on privacy and free speech. 

She was captivated by the intricacies of digital privacy legislation and wondered how it would evolve in the future. 

“Because Professor González-Bailón specializes in research about technology, disinformation, and online privacy, I reached out to her to do an independent study project to study how the law intersects with these things,” Gururaj says. “She was so welcoming and open to being my advisor.”

González-Bailón had been impressed by Gururaj’s final project in her class, which analyzed the use of biometric information for identification purposes and questioned what kinds of regulatory frameworks could ensure that risks do not override the benefits when using data-intense technologies. 

“When Anika wanted to do an independent study with me, I immediately said yes because I was eager to see how her thinking about this important topic evolved,” says González-Bailón. 

Gururaj’s independent study focused on the Digital Services Act (DSA) within the European Union. The DSA, a groundbreaking piece of legislation, regulates privacy laws for social media platforms operating in the EU. Gururaj immersed herself in analyzing its provisions, understanding its implications, and exploring the delicate balance between free expression and privacy rights.

“Going to law school is the perfect next step to allow her ideas to consolidate and find a way, as I am sure she will, to expand on current regulatory frameworks,” González-Bailón says.

Gururaj began enrolling in legal-related courses, deepening her knowledge of legal communication. The more she learned, the more intrigued she became. 

She reveled in dissecting legal arguments and grappling with dilemmas in data privacy. Her communication skills, honed through her major, now found new purpose in legal discourse. She even did research for Legal Studies & Business Ethics Professor Amy Sepinwall.

When Gururaj wasn’t in the classroom, she found community in Keynotes A Cappella, Penn’s newest co-ed a cappella group.

A Lesson in Exploration

The decision to apply to law school was not one made lightly. It required courage, introspection, and a willingness to embrace uncertainty. Yet, Gururaj approached this new chapter of her academic journey with enthusiasm and determination. 

Soon, she was opening an acceptance letter from Harvard Law.

For Gururaj, the transition from a Communication major to a prospective law student represents more than just a shift in academic focus — it embodies a spirit of intellectual curiosity, adaptability, and growth.

“I'm super thrilled to be beginning this new chapter,” she says. “Penn, and Annenberg in particular, has been so inherent in my growth.”

As she heads into this next chapter, Gururaj is keeping lessons from Annenberg close. Having finished her degree in three years, she isn't walking the stage this May, but will return to campus next spring to walk with her peers.

“The support I’ve received from my professors and classmates has gotten me to the point where I feel confident enough to begin my law school journey,” she says.