Autumn has begun to fall onto Haverford’s campus, and October has brought with it chilly breezes, crisp apples, and the beginning of the arboretum’s colorful transformation from green to orange, yellow, and red.
Seniors are digging into their thesis topics and juniors are largely abroad or getting adjusted to upper-classmen levels of work. Sophomores are starting to feel comfortable in their shoes as experienced members of the community, and first-years are starting to settle in and truly call this place home.
And, for many, Haverford does quickly begin to feel like home. Whenever I speak with my family about traveling to and from the campus, I often say that traveling to Haverford is going home, and I mean it. Haverford does an exceptional job of making the circumstances right for new students to feel comfortable in their own skin and get excited about engaging with the community they’ve become a part of.
The program that does the most to engage students right from the get-go is undoubtedly Customs. Customs is Haverford’s version of new student orientation, but it’s so much more than orientation week. Each freshmen hall gets eight returning students to help guide them through both their first week of college and the entirety of their first year. On this team of eight, there are Customs People, who live with the freshmen and act as always-accessible support people; Upper-Classmen Advisors, who also live with the freshmen and help them navigate their academic decisions; Peer Awareness Facilitators, who host open-ended discussions about social issues and campus life with the freshmen; Honor Code Orienteers, who help freshmen get adjusted to life under Haverford’s unique Honor Code; and an Ambassador of Multicultural Awareness, whose job it is to connect freshmen with the resources they need to hold on to and celebrate their unique cultural identities as they transition into adult life.
This entails a whole lot more than just a smattering of enthusiastic orientation leaders who lead orientation week and then disappear after the semester begins. The Customs Team sticks with freshmen throughout their first year at Haverford to help them get the most out of their first year of college life. It’s also more robust than having resident assistants who are paid to act as disciplinarians: instead, all Customs Team members are volunteers, and their job is never to punish first-years, but help them to thrive, succeed, and get back on their feet if they falter.
Last year, I was a Customs Person (CP) for a group of first-years in Gummere Hall. This year, I am a Peer Awareness Facilitator (PAF) for a group in Barclay Hall. Customs Week this year was an exciting and fast-paced orientation week, filled with all sorts of fun activities such as the campus-wide scavenger hunt and the Fords Against Boredom Block Party. There were also opportunities for freshmen to learn about the school’s traditions, such as a trust walk to illustrate living under the Honor Code, and a cultural timeline event to learn more about each other’s cultural backgrounds. The majority of the events that happen during Customs Week are intended to help first-years get to know one another and build meaningful friendships right away.
Now that the year is under way, it’s time to get down to business with my Peer Awareness Facilitator partner, Ellie Greenler ’17. She and I are planning discussions on a wide variety of topics, including race & ethnicity, religion, gender & sexuality, disability, and more. More frequently, Ellie and I (along with the rest of our Customs Team) spend a large portion of our free time just hanging out with the freshmen that we have been assigned to. We may have explicitly defined roles, but one of the best parts of Customs is simply that it sets the stage for first years to make new friends with each other and their Customs Team. In many cases, these bonds last for many years beyond freshman year and beyond our time at Haverford. One of my Customs Persons from my freshman year, Dan Fries ’15, is now one of my best friends and roommates.
Customs was named as such because it offers freshmen the opportunity to learn the customs of Haverford College. One of the most important customs that Haverford holds in high esteem is our tight-knit, caring community. Thus, friendship and fellowship are some of the most important customs that we have to show each incoming class of students. So, as the Class of 2018 settles in to life at Haverford, they can be rest assured that a friend is never too far away.