Changes to 2017 Customs Program May Signal Larger Shifts on the Horizon

After implementing a number of changes in the schedule and planning process of Haverford’s 2017 Customs program, co-heads Rachel Romens ‘18 and Saumya Varma ’18 intend to build on the year’s successes and setbacks in continuing to move towards broader structural modifications that have been discussed since the pair were appointed last year.

From the moment that Customs officially opened on August 30th, with an opening ceremony now placed earlier in the day to allow an address to families and friends of new students by President Kim Benston, a number of differences were evident.

“This year, I think Customs was a lot more laid back, in that it was designed in a way that gave the Customs people some more free time… for the hall to just sit down and bond with each other, and also for the Customs people to catch their breath,” said Raghav Bali ’18, an Upperclassman Advisor (UCA) for Barclay 2nd North.

Additional changes included a first-year resources scavenger hunt, off-campus excursions to Suburban Square, Wynnewood, and Valley Forge, and reducing the number of informational panels with an activities fair intended to more personally introduce a greater number of first-year survival resources.

While these more visible additions had an immediate impact on Customs week, others carried out behind the scenes are more significant for the future of the program. One example was a change in the selection of Customs teams.

“I think in [previous years], they were looking a lot for fun people, interesting people for first year halls,” Bali said, “but now I think they’re focusing more on people who will be there for first years and responsible with shaping their first year at Haverford.”

This new look at team composition may prelude a decrease in the number of off the hall members, with Honor Code Orienteers (HCOs) and Peer Awareness Facilitators (PAFs) being reduced from pairs to individuals.

“We tried to be really intentional about creating groups that would be the best support resource for their first years,” Romens elaborated, “and if we had been appointed at say this time, we would have looked at a larger overhauling of the system, where we would have cut down the number of people on each team.”

Additionally, co-heads Romens and Varma intend to improve the training of future Customs teams, beginning this year with attempts to modify the daily schedule of pre-customs based on the previous day’s feedback and to allow teams to come up with their own strategies for communication. “They’re going to hit the ground running and they need to have that in place,” Romens said. “And I would like see more of that for following years, that training as a holistic unit so they feel prepared going in.”

Each year sees some tweaks to the program, but the co-heads said that they hoped to leave their successors a strong framework and make larger overhauls more attainable. “You come into these different positions, but we really lose this institutional memory where you don’t have the files from previous years, so you say ‘I didn’t realize I had to do that’ but by then it’s too late,” Romens said. “If you had more of a solid structure to fall on… that would allow you to focus on the finer details that can really make big changes.”

While firm details on these future improvements are still unfixed, the two said that the student body will be informed once they and the administration have settled further details.

“We’re not going to hide anything or do anything that the student body is uncomfortable with,” Varma said. “It’s not like it’s just our program and what we say goes. We’re implementing things to make it better for [first years] and for the team members… if people think something is a horrible idea, we don’t want to do that.”

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