The Customs program is one of the most important and influential programs at Haverford. It is a program dedicated to immerse first year students into campus culture by giving support both socially and academically. This year Customs has been on the forefront of everyone’s mind, perhaps a little more than before, because of the structural changes it has undergone, most notably the cutback in the size of customs teams. I met with Tina Le ‘19, one of the Customs Co- Heads, to discuss some of the updates to customs including changes to the mixer, trainings, and the push for more self-care.
If you entered the DC before spring break, you might have heard a loud commotion of what sounded like a hundred voices speaking at once coming from the basement, where the student mixer was taking place. Students involved in the Customs mixer had a chance to engage with other students who they could potentially be working with next year. “In the past,” Le said, “it’s been a running joke that it’s speed dating.”
The reduction of custom members this year may mean a change in who people decide to work with and what strategies they use to pick their team members. There are now three on the hall members which consist of two CPs and one UCA. There are also three off the hall members. These off the hall members consist of one HCO, one PAF and one AMA. In previous years these numbers were larger. Before this year, there were five off the hall members which consisted of two HCOs, two PAFs and one AMA. Thus, for off the hall members these are now singular positions as opposed to partner positions.
“In the past you apply with your friend, you just work with your friend the entire year but now you have to be willing to step out of that comfort zone,” said Le. “And the way we are doing mixers too it’s less like ‘pick someone who you might be good friends with’ its like ‘pick someone who you know you’ll work with which I think is more realistic of a skill.’”
Not everyone agrees with the reduction of customs members. As a previous PAF for two years and a current UCA, Eliana von Krusenstiern ’18 states: “ I disagree with the removal of partners HCOs and PAFs. Having a larger customs team means that there are more people available for first years to connect with, and means there can be more diversity within a customs team. It also lightens the emotional load of being on a customs team. Particularly for larger halls, being on a customs team requires a lot of emotional labor, and having 8 people on a customs team not only better distributes the emotional labor, but also provides a good support system for the team members among themselves.”
For Le in particular, with the changes it is important that trainings become more intentional.
“Just a lot more collaboration between the group of topics, the type of the trainings/sessions will be a lot more integrative too,” said Le. Each member of the team, whether an HCO, AMA, CP, PAF or UCA, will work with one another to make the customs experience memorable but also informative. It will help freshman get more acquainted with dealing with the intricacies of campus life and they will have a strong support system to guide them along the way.
Perhaps one of the other issues that continues to be of great importance, not only on the customs committee but in general, is self care. This is very important, according to Le, not only for the Freshman students but also for customs team members.
Le states, “a lot of first years come to campus and its overwhelming. There is a lot to go through and they are used to having a parental figure who they can talk to and unfortunately CPs end up taking on that role….. a lot of the time not knowing how to say no.” Moving forward, there will be more emphasis on customs team members prioritizing their needs as well. There will be more support for them to focus on themselves as opposed to helping exclusively with their freshman. Those who have worked on Customs, or are currently working for Customs, realize that it is a rewarding yet tiring job and stopping to take a break is imperative.
“We want to be upfront that this is a job… this is a lot ….and it ends up most of the time, unfortunately, being a huge emotional burden,” said Le. “And then on top of school and other activities, it is really hard to handle…. like you are able to say like sorry this is my limit.”
With other resources available during trainings such as CAPS, self care will be a important part of customs this year. Le emphasises how they are constantly in communication with administration to express their concerns. Furthermore, there will be more emphasis on transparency on behalf of the Co-Heads to be upfront about the challenges customs members may face such as microaggressions. As Le points out some of those scenarios may be: “ How do you call out a first year when they microagress you?”
The goal with the changes have been to improve Customs for both freshmen and those who have taken on the personal responsibility of being a part of the team. As Le explains: “hopefully at the end of it, [Customs] will have changed..made a certain amount of people think differently than they would have before… At the end of the day it’s like what keeps us going.”