By JOANNE MIKULA, staff writer
Haverford’s social honor code is often portrayed as a document that codifies a culture of trust, concern, and mutual respect for all members of the school community. A group of students challenged this notion at Haverford’s 2017 Fall Plenary when they protested the event, blocking quorum in order to bring attention to their situation. Although Plenary eventually proceeded, the protesters brought to light flaws in the Honor Code and fissures in the Haverford community.
In their three page manifesto entitled #AllStrugglesOneCode, the protesting students wrote that the social honor code “consistently fails marginalized groups of students” and that marginalized students are “continuously ignored and invisible to the rest of the campus.” The students chose to protest Plenary in part as a wakeup call to the Haverford community. They implored students to recognize their own complacency and “really ask yourself: how have you actively attempted to dismantle systems of power on campus.”
Over a hundred students protested outside the gym and even more protested remotely. After about an hour, quorum had still not been reached and the students in charge of conducting Plenary walked out of the gym and began talks with the protestors.
The discussion outside between the students running Plenary and the protestors was impassioned but respectful. Student government officials argued that the students who had spent a considerable amount of time putting together resolutions for Plenary deserved to have their voices heard. The protesters reiterated many of the points in their manifesto and noted that disruptive tactics like blocking quorum demonstrate the urgency of the issues at hand and enhance the power of more institutional tactics like presenting a resolution or working with the administration.
Most of the protesters agreed to enter Plenary after about a half hour of discussions. Sebastian Dilones ’18, one of the organizers of the protest, posted a message on Haverford class Facebook pages saying that the protestors had decided to engage with Plenary “as a sign of respect for all forms of activism and given the ongoing conversations.” He added that “this is in no way the end of dialogue or change” and expressed respect for any of the protesters who still declined to join Plenary.
Dilones also addressed everyone at Plenary on behalf of the protestors. He reiterated many of the points in the manifesto, adding that the protestors were tired of having to engage with the Haverford community and not being met with a response. He cited the poor Plenary turnout as evidence of this problem, asking what such a turnout said about Haverford students and their commitment to everyone in the community.
Even after over a hundred protesters had joined Plenary, Haverford was still over 60 people under quorum. The students leading Plenary implored everyone to text their friends and tell them to come. Two hours after Plenary started and a half hour after the protesters joined, Haverford finally reached quorum. As Plenary unfolded over the next hour and a half, the number of students hovered dangerously close to quorum with proceedings almost stopping at one point when quorum was nearly broken.
Students presented two resolutions for consideration at this Plenary. In many ways, both resolutions sought to address some of the concerns that the Plenary protesters alluded to in their manifesto. The first resolution, presented by Chris Pence ‘18, Joseph Stein ‘21, Franny Condon ‘21, Yifan Feng ‘21, Jason Ngo ‘21, Jake Ogata Bernstein ‘19, and Josh Hilscher ‘18, focused on Haverford’s financial aid policy. Haverford had long accepted domestic students on a need-blind basis and undocumented and international students on a need-aware basis. Beginning with the class of 2021, however, Haverford began accepting all students on a need-aware basis because of budget issues.
These seven students proposed a resolution that urged the administration to both allocate more of its budget to financial aid and redouble its efforts to raise money for financial aid. They also noted that the new method of accepting students finally treated domestic, international, and undocumented students equally, even if need aware admissions is not ideal. They expressed a hope that Haverford would be able to offer universal need-blind admissions in the future.
During the questions period, some students raised concerns that this resolution did not include a concrete plan for action. The students who had devised the resolution conceded this, saying that the resolution was more of a “statement of values” than anything else.
One of the protestors, Alicia Lopez-Torez ’20, briefly shared the protesters’ stance on this resolution. She spoke about how the protesters wanted work-study to be guaranteed, how work-study is not a sustainable source of money for students, how student pay does not come in time to buy plane tickets or books for the school year, and how donors should not be able to unilaterally dictate where their money goes. After a vote, the resolution passed.
The second resolution was proposed by Leah Budson ’19, Anna Saum ’18, and Lillian Alonzo ’20. The resolution proposed a “Day of Community Engagement” not dissimilar to Bryn Mawr’s Community Day of Learning. The Day of Community Engagement would include a number of sessions in which Haverford community members would discuss “how the Honor Code interacts with the identities present at Haverford at the current time.” Haverford students, faculty, staff, student groups, and alumni would lead the sessions. After these sessions, Haverford would hold Plenary from 1 to 4 p.m. Quorum at this Plenary would be raised to 75% of the student body in an attempt to increase engagement.
Most of the students at Plenary appeared to support the concept of the day, but many expressed a concern that attendance at the day would be low because it is not mandatory. Some students also resisted the idea that they would lose a day of classes to the Day of Community Engagement. Budson responded that a Haverford education should “extend beyond the classroom” and stated that the day would ideally complement academic learning.
The Day of Community Engagement passed after a vote. Budson, Saum, and Alonzo all hope their resolution will address the Plenary protesters’ dissatisfaction with the Haverford student body. They envision a day that will bring to light the struggles that marginalized members of the Haverford community face on campus and encourage the entire community to take action.
Photo from Haverford’s Students’ Council website