HC Customs reevaluates and diversifies program
By biconews On 8 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Matt Sharp

Postings around campus are calling on this year’s Customs applicants to apply for “a different kind of Customs.”

Haverford’s Customs Committee currently has a new vision in an effort to improve the Customs program. Not only does it seek to better freshmen’s understandings of student differences and teach more productive management, but is also aspires to gather a group of Customs People, for

the Class of 2004, that is more diverse in many ways.

“We’re interested in recasting Customs Week to address the issues that Haverford students really value, and it’s been made abundantly clear over the past few years that we care about issues of difference and want to know more about how to get along with our differences,” said Customs Chair Aaron Clauset ’01.

According to Loftin Flowers ’02, it means, above all, “respecting that other people are different from you and learning from them.” One way the Customs program can bring this about, he said, is to train Customs People to foster discussion that encourages freshmen to express their unique

viewpoints.

The Committee wants to address its idea of “differences” comprehensively. Though the idea includes differences in cultural and ideological assumptions, it also extends to the wide range of experiences that unique individuals may bring. Customs Committee member David Schalk ’01 said that it is easy to assume that people within an ethnic group share “at least a vaguely similar background,” but that “you really find out that this is not true only if you talk about it.”

In fact, people have been exposed to widely varying circumstances.

Schalk believes that the Customs program can be effective in helping people understand this “diversity of experience.” He continued, “I think that Customs Week is the best place to make it an issue and make sure it is something people recognize.” Furthermore, he said such diversity is “a fact of life,” and so the possession of an understanding of this diversity is applicable anywhere.

Clauset agrees that the college experience can he central in people’s understanding of the issue. “In fact,” he said, “I’d say that the college campus is a breeding ground for difference, which goes to show just how important being able to get along with those differences is and will continue to be.”

Though the committee wishes to have students discuss their differences, it is, at the same time, trying to avoid singling anybody out. Flowers mentioned the “diversity activities” included in Customs Week, and said that sometimes members of ethnic minorities feel they are being

expected to give answers for the whole ethnic group. Said Schalk, “In conversations that I have had with people, especially people of color, they have said that often they are looked at as the ambassador of their entire ethnic group whenever any issue of diversity has come up.”

In order to be sure questions of difference are on applicants’ minds, the application for the 2000-2001 Customs program includes a question reading, “Think carefully and critically about issues of difference, i.e., differences of perspective, differences of culture, differences between people. etc., and share with us your thought process.” Flowers said that the question was an attempt to “get people thinking about these things,” and to “let people realize that this is something we care a whole lot about.”

At the same time, the committee has launched new efforts to diversify its pool of applicants. In the past, said Flowers, students of color have been “dreadfully underrepresented” among Customs People. Flowers suggested that this is part of a greater problem that incorporates the larger group of those who run many campus organizations. “Historically,” he said, “that group has been predominantly white.”

Flowers suggested a few possible reasons. For one thing, he said that minority students already have “a lot of baggage” as they struggle to fit into an institution that he believes has, overall, represented specifically white values. In addition, he said that Customs People, Upper Class Advisors (UCAs), Honor Code Orienteers (HCOs) and Peer Awareness

Facilitators have all been predominantly white, creating an overpowering statistic. “That sends a pretty loud message,” he said, that can discourage students of color from applying for Customs in a “self-perpetuating” cycle. Schalk agreed that “when I look Customs, I say to myself, ‘This really isn’t the college.’” That is why the committee is calling for a more diverse applicant pool, and soliciting applications from many people who might not have applied in the past. Said Clauset, “in being a program by the community and for the community, we need to have a representative effort. So the precedents we’re working against are those that limit the variety of people who are Customs People.”

Flowers said that the Committee has been seeking help on this problem from the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and has been working with Director of Multicultural Affairs Sunni Green Tolbert and OMA Intern Emily Shaw. He said that, to aid the Committee’s attempts at diversification, Shaw sent emails to heads of multicultural groups on campus specifically indicating that the Committee was seeking a more diverse group of applicants. This was done in hopes that multicultural heads would “spread the word” about the Committee’s efforts.

The committee’s attempts to diversify the program are not limited to ethnic diversity. Clauset explained that “there’s been a precedent set that only first-year students can apply to be Customs People,” which is another of “the many limiting precedents we’re attempting to work against this year.” As a result, the committee is specifically attempting to recruit upperciass applicants for Customs. All these efforts contribute in the move toward making Customs fully

representative of the college as a whole, and, in Schalk’s words, “to address all the needs of the freshmen entering the program.”

Schalk also expressed a desire to rid Customs of its aura of exclusivity. “I think right now people feel like it is something that only certain people do, and I want to change that,” he said, “and make it more accessible to everyone.” He continued, “if [that] happened, people would share their opinions with us instead of silencing themselves and secretly not liking the program.”

Committee members showed the conviction that the Customs program is something that can and should be reevaluated. Clauset described the current process as “stepping back and taking a hard look at what we’ve been doing and comparing it to what we want to have been doing.” In addition, he said, “the Customs program serves a unique role because it’s an institutionalized forum for college change.”

Schalk added. “Customs is supposed to be a living and breathing entity, something that grows as the college grows and something that changes as the college changes.”

Committee member Laura Taylor summed up the committee’s goals: “Hopefully, by better representing the school as a whole, having Customs People that are more engaged in what they are learning and experiencing, and who are concerned not only about Haverford community issues but the community outside of the ‘bubble,’ a new breadth and depth can be reached in the program that will extend to the entire school.”

Applications for Customs People are due Feb. 11, 2000.

The Customs Committee welcomes input about the program from the community. Visit www.students.haverford.edu/customs or email customs@haverford.edu.

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