By Allison Rodgers
The week of freshman orientation ends with meetings between Bi-Co “Customs Cousins.” The groups get together for dinner and activities like kickball games on Merion Green and the “Supa Fun” dance party in Founders Hall. These summits are designed as a way to open the door for Bi-Co relationships for freshman who might be timid about visiting the other campus. It has become apparent to
Evan Rivers BMC '14, a chemistry major and customs person at Bryn Mawr said that while, “it’s nice to know someone, to have a familiar face [on the other campus]” there is a, “problem with freshman meeting their customs cousins when they're still meeting people at Bryn Mawr . . . they're too overwhelmed.”
Benjamin Wohl HC '14, a Cities major and customs person at Haverford echoed this sentiment, saying that the introductions are “a little too sudden as you're still trying to form your own group at your home school.”
There are some students who have some suggestions to improve the Customs Cousins program. Molly Kaufman BMC '14 a self described “fan of the bi-co” suggests that Bryn Mawr and Haverford customs people be allowed to choose their cousins instead of having them assigned. That way, she explains, the customs people themselves would be more enthusiastic and already have a vested interest.
Even if changes like these were made, the concerns about Customs Cousins seem to be symptoms of a larger significant issue: possible growing rifts in the relationship between the two schools in general.
Kaufman acknowledged that there exists an, “unspoken stigma” attached to each institution. “There is apathy towards the other school [on both sides]…and it is self-perpetuating.” Though there are many possible reasons for this stigma, some students believe that their experience with Customs Cousins colored their view.
Christine Lettz HC '12, considers herself “more of a Haverford student than a student of the Bi-Co,” and attributes this feeling in part to her Customs experience. “We had dinner with our group once . . . They didn't give us anything to do, we just sat with our food outside.” She notes that the attitude of her customs people set the tone for the freshman. “My customs team clearly did not buy into the whole Customs Cousins thing. We looked to our customs teams about how to interact with Bryn Mawr kids and they just didn't . . . so the Haverford students and Bryn Mawr students sat on opposite sides.”
Some students believe that the skewed gender ratio leads to the divide, specifically in terms of the social scene. “Haverford's social scene is functionally 75% women” Lettz says. “There is the hook up culture, which is fine sometimes but not ideal all the time, for four years.”
Nikki Ditto '14, a Bryn Mawr Customs person believes that there is a way to change negative Bi-co relations, and it begins with the female students on both campuses “We talk too much about girl-guy relationships when we talk about problems in the Bi-Co” she explains. “We should work on strengthening Bi-Co girl friendships and extending the sisterhood.”
Kaufman and Wohl both recognize and condemn the existence of ugly stereotypes at each school and the tendency for students of one to look down on their counterpart's academics. Wohl said that “Generalities that you can make about each campus are not conducive to any kind of dialogue.” Kaufman suggested that such competitiveness “may be a way of distinguishing because the two schools are very similar and it becomes part of having individual school pride.”
Lettz sees that there “are a lot of times when the Bi-Co relationship could be improved and it could be beneficial, like women groups on campus.” Lettz helps run a campaign called “Consent is Sexy” at Haverford to increase awareness about sexual assault. She says it “would have made sense to do [the club] as a Bi-Co but we personally didn't have strong enough relationship with Bryn Mawr students to do it.”
The more recent stigmas between the schools has not always existed. Historically, Bryn Mawr and Haverford were close both academically and socially, with many students at both schools living on the other’s campus. Wohl feels that the current evidence to the contrary is not necessarily representative of something that needs to be fixed. He explains that, “Both schools have strong identities that have moved apart as they've developed. . . The schools have changed a lot in legitimate ways and I'm not sure it’s wise to push them back together.”
At least for Wohl, he doesn't view a program like Customs Cousins as the most viable solution. For him bringing the schools together “has to be an individual, personal effort.”