As a sophomore who is close friends with many current Residential Student Leaders (RSLs) that spearheaded the 2022 Customs program, and as someone who also experienced 2021 Customs, I can confidently say that the College successfully revamped the program this year. Customs is a pre-orientation week designed to help incoming first-year transition into the college environment. This week is crucial for new students since it is their first taste of college life and a great time to meet people and make new friends. This year, Customs was not only able to pull off this high stakes program, but greatly exceeded what it was last year.
Despite its good intentions, the 2021 Customs program was not designed for success. The Orientation Leader was burdened with the responsibility of facilitating every activity, while the RSLs had little to no role in the Customs experience. Last year, I, and most people on my floor, never had a single conversation with our RSLs. This year, Customs was successful because it separated roles more clearly within the Customs team. This division was extremely helpful, not only because responsibilities were shared evenly among the customs team, but also because they could better support the first-years in their respective roles. Whether it was through providing academic support or facilitating friendships, each person on the Customs team was fully committed to helping the first-years integrate into the community.
During 2021 Customs, I really needed a fellow student to help me with course selections or major and minor requirements. While I was paired with a pre-major advisor in Customs, it still felt like I was blindly navigating through academics in a new collegiate environment since the professors were from various departments and were often not familiar with the major or minor requirements for my specific interests. This year, there is a Peer Academic Facilitator (PAF) whose main job is guiding first-years through college academics, from helping them choose classes to teaching them about email etiquette. In addition to the Academic Facilitator, there is a Customs Facilitator (CF), who facilitates conversations about difficult topics, and an Honor Code Orienteer (HCO) who runs sessions on the importance of the honor code. They help educate people from different backgrounds on prominent issues, as well as emphasize the significance of a core part of our school: the Honor Code.
While the Customs groups contained first-years from various dorms last year, the Customs groups all lived on the same floor together this year, which was a factor for success. This helped cultivate deeper and more meaningful friendships among people from the same Customs group since they could hang out after the planned activities and when they returned to their dorms. Similarly, people could form better friendships with people on their floor since they saw them all throughout Customs. Last year, many first-years I knew were not friends with anyone on their floors since they never had a chance to get to know each other, and many people were not friends with other first-years from their Customs teams after Customs ended.
While some may argue that you won’t be able to meet people from other dorms, as Zoe Ozols ‘25, an RSL, put it: “the only people that I knew from customs were from my hall anyways, so this is simply fostering closer relationships with people in the hall.” Plus, there were organized events this year to meet people from other floors and dorms, which were not present last year. Some halls hosted a pizza night, while in another hall, the RSL ordered in DanDan (a Chinese restaurant in Ardmore) for the whole floor to share. The Jones 2 Hall also had a powerpoint night, where each person made a presentation about a fun topic and presented it to the rest of their hall.
Additionally, the RSLs are much more involved with the first-years this year, since there is an RSL on every floor who is always available to help them deal with any problems they have. Because the RSLs are more present, many of them have become close friends with the first-years on their floor. This year, the RSLs are also leading trips to cool places in Philly, where first-years can try unique foods and become more familiar with the area.
Despite the mild disappointment of Customs week in 2021, the Customs team in 2022 was able to rebuild the customs experience from the ground up and turn a forgettable week into an unforgettable one. With all the new improvements, like more RSLs and additional trips to both Ardmore and Philadelphia, the college met with an exceptionally welcoming and supportive community as well as an excellent insight into the life of a Haverford student.