Special Plenary Round-Up

Written by Michael Weber

Photo by Lexie Iglesia 

In the first Special Plenary since 2013, over 940 Haverford students convened in the GIAC to consider eight resolutions and the passage of a revised Honor Code. After over eight hours, numerous tense moments, and a prolonged stretch of lost quorum, seven of the eight resolutions passed, and the Honor Code was ratified by a massive margin in its new form.

Attendance passed the required quorum of 941, or 75% of the student body currently on campus, only 35 minutes after the scheduled start. Alongside a higher quorum than usual, Special Plenary featured an abundance of snacks and pizza, and a more spacious layout. A smaller and quieter conference room on the second floor of the GIAC was also available as an alternative to the crowded gymnasium. With hundreds of more people present than usual, noise presented a recurring problem in the gymnasium, but at nearly every opportunity, multiple students broke through the clamor to share their thoughts at the microphones.

The Honor Code received 895 yes votes, 50 yes votes with objection, and 10 no votes. However, almost immediately after the Honor Code passed, hundreds of students left before the last two resolutions received consideration. Quorum was lost at approximately midnight, and because periods without quorum do not count towards the time limit, Plenary was stalled past the maximum seven-hour mark. Those who stayed in the GIAC urged fellow community members via Facebook, GroupMe, e-mail, and other platforms to return to the gym. Shortly before 1 a.m., quorum was once again surpassed, and Plenary continued.

Plenary finished shortly after 1:30 a.m. after the last two resolutions passed. Despite general optimism following an overwhelming ratification of the Honor Code, the tenor of the gymnasium quickly worsened when quorum was lost. Many students felt as though the student body, which had just passed a Code aimed at protecting marginalized students, was not interested in following up words with actions by staying to pass a resolution aimed at increasing all-gender bathrooms on campus.

President Kim Benston has 30 days following Plenary to review the seven resolutions.

Plenary Scheduling

The first resolution, presented by Brett Hungar ’21 and Devi Namboodiri ’21, added language to the Students’ Constitution calling on Students’ Council (SC) to more intentionally schedule Plenary, keeping in mind religious and cultural holidays. Spring Plenary early this semester occurred during the Lunar New Year, and to avoid a similar conflict, the resolution states that Plenary will be held within the first five weeks of the semester “unless that means Plenary will be held during a religious or cultural event.”

The resolution includes flexibility and encourages conversation between SC and “as many religious, cultural, and affinity groups as possible.” After the Plenary schedule is announced, students will have 72 hours to bring conflicts to the attention of the SC Co-Presidents, and if no date is set within the first five weeks of the semester, a two-week extension can occur.

One friendly amendment also passed with the resolution, adding “after final date is selection, the [SC] Co-Presidents will release to the student body a list of events they considered when deciding the day and time of plenary.”

Confrontation

Emily Chazen ’18, Devin Louis ’18, and Daisy Zhan ’20, alongside the rest of Special Plenary Committee (SPC), introduced a change to the Honor Code to lessen the weight of confrontation for harmed parties, and encourage active bystanders to intervene when students do not feel safe approaching their peers. The Code formerly declared, “the failure to confront or to report another student involved in a breach of the Honor Code is itself a violation of the Code.” The resolution, recognizing that “confrontation should be understood as both a process of self-healing for the harmed party and a process of restoring the confronted party,” prescribes alternative options for confrontation.

The resolution prescribed that active bystanders, students outside the harmed party that may be asked to serve as a confronting party, should create a support system for students who have felt harmed by their peers. And though it urged bystanders to step in and assist their peers, it added that they are not required to confront another party should they feel unsafe.

The resolution passed with four friendly amendments, mostly changing, editing, or removing specific language, and also calling upon all Customs team members, not just Honor Code Orienteers, to serve as mediators of discussions surrounding the Honor Code.

Social Code

In what was likely the most contested proposal of the night, Trevor Larner ’19, Eyasu Shumie ’21, and Hanae Togami ’19 alongside SPC presented an expanded version of the Social Code, which ended up passing after extensive debate. The resolution more explicitly prioritized protecting students from marginalized backgrounds, and also struck from the Code a specification that acts of harassment or discrimination based on political ideology violated the Code.

Over a dozen students spoke during the pro-con debate. While some students said that they felt unable to share their political beliefs, others responded that political affiliation does not equate to other experiences with marginalization that the Code seeks to address. While “political ideology” was eliminated from a list of other marginalized identities, a new clause presented in a friendly amendment stated “when expressing or encountering others’ political beliefs, students will be respectful of community standards as befits adherence to this Code.”

In response to the pro-con debate, Larner and Shumie stressed that the resolution was not trying to silence anybody. “We’re not attempting to discriminate against any political ideology,” said Shumie. “Our goal is to have respectful dialogue between the two sides.”

Two friendly amendments, one changing language that protects different English language uses, and another with more extensive language changes posed by SPC in response to community feedback, passed. Another friendly amendment failed that sought to update specifications for respecting staff and shared spaces. One unfriendly amendment posed by Charles Walker ’20, which would have reverted the new political ideology paragraph to its original form prior to SPC’s friendly amendment, gained enough signatures to be discussed, but failed.

Academic Code

The Academic Code also received extensive new additions as part of another resolution authored by SPC, and presented by Larner, Togami, and Soha Saghir ’21. The resolution aimed to incorporate parts of the Social Code into the Academic Code, especially because faculty are required to read the Academic Code in their faculty handbook, while the same is not true for the Social Code.

The resolution recognized power imbalances in the classroom and encouraged confrontation in cases of breached respect of community values, either between students, or between professor and student(s). Several students had reservations about whether faculty and staff would be on board with the new language, but SPC said that conversation has already begun and will be ongoing. Riley Wheaton ’20 said that SPC spoke to faculty before Special Plenary and will be meeting with them again later this week “to help resolve misunderstandings.”

In part to address raised concerns, SPC added a friendly amendment that specified that faculty are not under jurisdiction of Honor Council and that they should not restrict their syllabi. However, the amendment still encouraged confrontation when necessary in “the form of a meaningful discussion aimed at mutual understanding.” The new Academic Code with SPC’s friendly amendment was passed.

Raising Quorum

Standing in front of a crowd of over 1000 students at Special Plenary, Louis, Kevin Liao ’18, and SPC presented a resolution to mandate higher turnout all all Plenaries, raising the quorum threshold from 50% to 66% of the Students’ Association.

Besides upping quorum, the resolution also added an imperative for Students’ Council to offer more accessible options for attending Plenary, including but not limited to “introducing a livestream, the creation of a smaller overflow room, and digital question-and-answer systems.”

The resolution also calls on students to raise quorum to 75% of the student body over the next three years.

The resolution passed without amendments.

Day of Community Reflection

Following last fall’s thwarted resolution to create a “Community Day of Engagement” (CDE), Chazen and Alex Stern ’20 alongside SPC took the idea in new directions with a resolution to establish a “Day of Community Reflection” (DCR). Though many students supported the new plan, reservations about feasibility for faculty and international students to attend, as well as the addition of a service requirement, led many to vote against it. After an unclear initial vote, the SC Co-Presidents called for a paper vote, and the resolution failed, making it the only resolution not to pass during Special Plenary.

The resolution would have added an entirely new section to the Honor Code, creating an annual event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day that would foster dialogue about people’s experiences with the Honor Code, and facilitate community service with the help of 8th dimension.

Sophie McGlynn ’18 and Leah Budson ’19 approached the con mic to share their experiences as two students who tried to establish CDE last semester, hoping to recognize what went wrong, and how to make improvements with DCR.

“One concern for me is that we failed to communicate with staff, especially hourly staff,” said McGlynn, noting that hourly staff were also not consulted during this semester’s DCR planning. “I think that’s a problem because staff are consistently disrespected on this campus.”

Although the resolution included the possibility to make attendance of at least two DCRs a graduation requirement, students questioned whether DCR would only attract those already participating in discussions around campus. The resolution’s authors emphasized that it was just a start to a process of getting DCR to a good place.

“Our idea for this day is very flexible. There’s a lot of room for change,” said Togami. “I think this is something that a lot of students want to see in the very near future.”

The robust new plan, however, was not to be. Moving into Honor Code ratification, the student body would not be voting to include a DCR.

Honor Code Ratification

The Honor Code in its new form was read in its entirety by Honor Council Co-Chairs Arlene Casey ’19 and Joseph Spir ’20. With new specifications about the Social Code, Academic Code, and confrontation, the Code passed after members of SC and Honor Council counted hundreds of mints that students dropped into boxes marking “yes,” “yes with objections,” and “no” votes. 895 voted yes, 50 voted yes with objection, and 10 voted no.

The vote followed a five minute reflection period following the reading of the Code and an extended 20-minute pro-con debate. Some students asked their peers to consider possibilities of life on campus without a Code. Others emphasized that this was by no means a perfect document, and only one step in a continuous process.

Yet, the momentum of the room was clearly towards ratification. Even before the SC Co-Presidents announced the result of the vote, optimism was evident in widespread dancing, singing, and clapping to “Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners. Upon hearing the tally, the student body broke out in raucous applause.

Quorum Lost

Before Hungar and Namboodiri had the chance to present a resolution supporting a president’s office initiative to increase access to all-gender bathrooms, quorum was lost almost immediately after Honor Code ratification. Although students had extended the allotted time limit, and there were still about 40 minutes to discuss the final two resolutions, time passed under quorum did not count towards the time limit.

After a large wave of student departure, SC could not discern how far under quorum the Plenary had fallen. After a count of each individual left in the gymnasium, the Co-Presidents announced that 200 students would be needed to reach quorum again.

Because so many students left before considering a resolution specifically to increase all-gender bathrooms, many left in the gymnasium felt as though the new Code’s efforts to support students with marginalized identities were only symbolic and did not represent the community’s priorities. Multiple students spoke at the microphones to explain why the resolution was important, and urged people to reach out to those who left or didn’t come in the first place.

Attendance inched back towards quorum over the course of an hour, until only two more people were needed. Finally, quorum was reached around 1 a.m., leaving 40 minutes to consider two remaining amendments.

All-Gender Bathrooms

Hungar and Namboodiri presented the night’s seventh resolution immediately after reaching quorum. It was the only resolution not aimed at editing the Students’ Constitution; its text declared student body support for the President’s Office initiative aimed at providing greater access to all-gender bathrooms.

After a few questions specifying how the push to increase access would roll out, several students visited the pro microphone to speak to the importance of the initiative, yet several stressed that the resolution was only a small step towards making life easier for trans and gender non-binary students on campus.

The resolution passed without amendments, and with virtually no opposition.

Presidential Powers

With just over 10 minutes left before the seven-hour time limit, SPC announced the night’s final resolution, which made changes to the Administrative Review portion of the Students’ Constitution. According to Chazen, the resolution mostly aimed to give the President of the College a third option besides acceptance or rejection when reviewing Plenary resolutions: the option to accept with a stipulation for changes.

Without much time left, the introduction, question section, pro-con debate occurred speedily. Shortly before 1:40 a.m., the resolution passed despite a sizable number of abstaining voters.

Just like that, over eight and a half hours after doors opened, Special Plenary was over, and students were left with a new Honor Code. Per request by Eva Montgomery-Morrison ’20, BLAST played “Ocean Man” by Ween on the PA system as hundreds of students poured out of the GIAC in the wee hours of a cold April night.

This article was updated on 4/15/18 to include additional information about the resolution to raise quorum. 

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