White ink: Racial anxieties in the Honor Code’s preamble

Editor’s Note: Ming-Fui Chai ‘15, Aaron Madow ‘14, and Catherine Quero ‘15 are co-sponsoring a resolution at next week’s Plenary which proposes changes to the Honor Code’s preamble which urge students to “be mindful of how we enter into—and work to transform—the social dynamics that shape our identities and everyday interactions” (see end of post for full text of the resolution). Below is Madow’s argument for why such a change is necessary. Comment on this post, or send responses and letters to the editor at hcclerk@gmail.com. 

“As Haverford students, we seek an environment in which members of a diverse student body can live together…if a diverse community is to thrive, its members must come to terms with their differences.” – Preamble, accepted at Plenary, April 9, 2000, adopted Fall 2000

The issue of diversity was brought to the fore of Haverford’s Honor Code for the first time at the Spring 2000 Special Plenary. Yet in the discussion surrounding the revision, this important change went unnoticed and issues faced by students of color ignored.

This silence about the Preamble’s emphasis on diversity persists today, and its language and implications continue to haunt us. The way the Honor Code talks about diversity in these first two lines reflects the deplorable state of tolerance, never mind multiculturalism, in 2000.

To understand what the Preamble says about diversity, we must first clarify the philosophical significance of the Preamble and its social context. The Preamble, the first words that every student affirms in entering the Haverford community, defines our essence as a diverse community. The diversity of the student body precedes our pursuit of an environment, of living, learning and socializing.

The second line reiterates the precondition of diversity, but stipulates the conditions for its success: “If a diverse community is to prosper, its members must attempt to come to terms with their differences.” The Honor Code’s supposition is that diversity thrives upon the recognition of students’ differences. However, this implies an endpoint for thinking about “difference” far different from the ways we presently strive to be mindful of our how different backgrounds and perspectives shape our positions in the community and relationships with one another.

The limitations of the Honor Code’s model of diversity result from changing demographics in 2000 and the uncertain belief in tolerance held by many of the white students. According to a 1999-2000 Board of Managers report, “Building and Sustaining Diversity: A Report to the Board of Managers on Work-in-Progress on Diversity,” 26 percent of the Class of 2003 was a student of color, a large jump from the previous years when racial diversity had hovered between 16 – 18 percent.

As Haverford enrolled more students of color, the board fretted over this troubling report on the status of the lives of these students at the College. The authors of the present Preamble who seemingly gave primacy to diversity did so in an environment hostile to students of color.  According to the report, the College’s “traditional” white students considered there to be a “problem of diversity.”

“A perception of malaise and discomfort regarding diversity at Haverford persisted and surfaced again in 1998-1999,” the report reads, sparing no words to describe a fundamental discomfort with diversity among white students. In other words, the board learned that the first obstacle to ameliorating the experiences of students of color was white students’ intolerance of racial diversity.

The report explicitly blames the white student population for the discomfort of students of color, “symbolic of otherness,” at the College. It recommends enrolling more “majority” students who attended “integrated” high schools and had experience interacting with students of color before arriving at Haverford.

Apparently, intentional discrimination from white students was rampant:

“Attitudes and preconceptions which make life difficult for people of color at Haverford come from the racist society and history of this country, exemplified by attitudes of white members of this community, sometimes unintentionally.”

“Students of color report constantly being asked questions or subjected to comments which reveal how ignorant of their situation and their lives white students are.”

The incoming Dean of Multicultural Affairs Sunni Green Tolbert related the state of affairs indicated by the report to multiculturalism when she told the Bi-College News in August 1999, “What I want to know from the individuals and the community is what are people willing to invest in seeing that Haverford reaches a goal of multiculturalism, what will multiculturalism look like when it comes, and how will it make the campus and community different?”

The community which ratified the present Honor Code also declared that multiculturalism had not yet arrived. A product of the racism of 2000, the Preamble of the Code provides a model for relationships where merely recognizing differences is defined as prosperity. This aspiration is understandable given the context of 2000 but far from the critical and thoughtful way we strive to approach each other today. 

In a Bi-Co News article dated April 11, 2000, the revised Code’s drafters explained how their changes merely updated antiquated language and brought more clarity. Their lack of focus upon diversity of background, at a time when Haverford had just begun shifting its demographics, helps explain how we obtained the inadequate formulation that persists today.

We are uniquely positioned to adopt a new paradigm for relationships across all types of difference at Haverford, one that pushes us beyond mere tolerance and toward meaningful awareness of one another. As we usher in a new President and our population continues to better reflect that of this country and the world, it is time to re-articulate the meaning of our communal bonds.

The Honor Code should not merely be a tool to recognize difference as it is now, but one that makes possible challenging but enriching dialogue about our identities. This community is only possible if our Preamble reflects this achievable aspiration. I hope you can join me in voting for a revision of the Preamble that articulates the Haverford of 2013 that we all seek to create.

Special thanks to Shahzeen Nasim ‘15, Special Collections Librarian Anne Upton and College Archivist Diane Peterson.

Full text of the proposed resolution:

Modernizing the Preamble of the Honor Code

Co-sponsored by Ming-Fui Chai ‘15, Aaron Madow ‘14, and Catherine Quero ‘15

In order to achieve the goal of a community inclusive of all members, we hereby propose this modified Preamble to the Honor Code:

As Haverford students, we seek an environment in which members of a diverse student body can live together, interact, and learn from one another in ways that protect both personal freedom and community standards. If our diverse community is to prosper, we must be mindful of how we enter into—and work to transform—the social dynamics that shape our identities and everyday interactions; this goal is only possible if students seek mutual understanding by means of respectful communication. By holding us accountable for our words and actions, the Honor Code acts as an educational tool, instructing us to engage one another in dialogues that yield greater awareness for all parties involved. Through encouraging respectful conduct, we hope to create an atmosphere conducive to learning and growing. The bonds of our community are continuously created and strengthened through our engagement with one another. Through our differences, we can understand the richness that we each bring to the community and the limitations of any one perspective; only in the context of community can we fully realize our potential as lifelong learners.

Below is a version with additions underlined and omitted words struck:

As Haverford students, we seek an environment in which members of a diverse student body can live together, interact, and learn from one another in ways that protect both personal freedom and community standards. If a our diverse community is to prosper, its members we must attempt to come to terms with their differences be mindful of how we enter into—and work to transform—the social dynamics that shape our identities and interactions; this goal is only possible if students seek mutual understanding by means of respectful communication. By holding us accountable for our words and actions, the Honor Code acts as an educational tool, instructing us toresolve conflicts by engaging engage each others one another in dialogues that yield greater awareness for all parties involved. By encouraging respectful conduct, we hope to create an atmosphere conducive to learning and growing. The bonds of our community are continuously created and strengthened through our engagement with one another. Through our differences, we can understand the richness that we each bring to the community and the limitations of any one perspective; only in the context of community can we fully realize our potential as lifelong learners.

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9 Responses

  1. Sam Hersh says:

    First off, I totally support this.  A few things to pick at though.

    First off, you mention that in 2000 (as if it was generations ago) racism by students was intentional when the quote says just the opposite:

    “Apparently, intentional discrimination from white students was rampant:

    ‘Attitudes and preconceptions which make life difficult
    for people of color at Haverford come from the racist society and
    history of this country, exemplified by attitudes of white members of
    this community, sometimes unintentionally.’
    ‘Students of color report constantly being asked questions or
    subjected to comments which reveal how ignorant of their situation and
    their lives white students are.’”

    This is actually quite an important point.  The motives of white students are very important.  If the problem is white students who feel that minorities should not be a part of the Haverford Community, then the honor council, board and administration have a rather major problem to parse.  However, if the problem is white students who do not understand how to interact with students of color (which I and the report seem to indicate is the problem) then the answer is to make people aware of differences and how to properly deal with them.  As one of the few queer students at this school, I am sometimes asked awkward questions. This doesn’t mean that I am encountering the face of homophobia.  In fact, just the opposite.  When someone asks me an awkward question, I know it is not out of maliciousness but precisely the opposite – they are interested in learning about my experiences.  I understand that breaking down barriers is a two way street and that, as a minority, I must be prepared for people who are ignorant to my situation to be inquisitive.  

    Secondly, I hope that you might be able to cut your use of “multiculturalism.”  Though it isn’t in the code change, it is very present in your argument.  That word means so much that it means nothing.  Is a group of black students “multicultural?”  Is a group of white, straight, male students from disparate classes and localities multicultural?  By using the term “multicultural” you either intentionally or unintentionally: (1) imply that only certain groups count as “cultural,” (2) imply that said groups are only on campus to increase “multiculturalism” and (3) discount the differences, not pertaining to culture, that exist within the students body.That is all.

  2. Aaron Madow says:

    Hi Sam:
    First, I’m glad to hear your surpport for the resolution. But I’d like to engage with your critique of the article and my reading of the material in the report. Silences speak loudly, as do hedged statements, and I think if you re-read the Board report with that hermeneutic in mind, where it mentions discrimination “sometimes unintentionally” you will get the weighty feeling that I have, that you are reading a polite statement of something far more malicious. To say “sometimes unintentionally” is to admit haphazardly that it is, in my reading of a rather sedate document, often intentional. And any amount of “intentional” discrimination that happens “sometimes” qualifies as rampant for me in an ethical sense.

    I also feel your criticism that I talk about 2000 as if it was 200. I wanted to very specifically re-create the social context of Haverford then, and leave discussion of today for Plenary. I am one person with only one perspective, and here, it is that of the historian. I gesture several times to the lingering effects of the current wording of the Preamble, using words like haunt, and persist. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the connection, but I’m going to hide behind my focus on the past for this one, and merely note that whether this continues today or not, and in doubtlessly does in some forms, the language of that time tragically remains.

    I’m also glad you shared your perspective on negotiating exoticizing comments and questions. While it is not necessarily discrimination on the act of an individual actor to ask you questions about your queerness, it says something about our society that you are made an object of curiosity. I think people have very different reactions to this though, with the key being that these questions assume a norm from which one has deviated, and because you fall outside of the spectrum of “mainstream,” you are a shadowy figure; that too me is not the type of Haverford that we want. When people are curious, their are gentle ways to register your ignorance with someone you trust, but the person being asked to represent their experiences or that of an entire group has the right to refuse.

    Lastly, I want to comment on multiculturalism, a framework whose institutional support Haverford registers through the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Yes and no is this resolution about multiculturalism. This is one model for understanding diversity, but it’s certainly not the only one, nor does it encompass every form of diversity, such as gender, sexuality, politics, etc. This resolution is about making Haverford a place where we deeply engage with each other and thus allow for all forms of diversity to flourish. Only by our willingness to think about and consider perspectives that seem alien to our own can we understand our own narrow vantage point. I’m not endorsing the perspective on diversity that says that there should be diversity because it facilitates learning. The very clear sub-text to that is that having people who are different from a perceived norm benefits the “normal ones”. Diversity does facilitate learning, for everyone, but we have more compelling reasons to desire it as the essence of our communal being, to make our engagement with our heterogeneity central to how we understand ourselves.

    • Sam Hersh says:

      Aaron, thanks for the response.  First off, my critique re 2000 was a pretty minor one.  I  simply think someone should have acknowledged that we were all alive in 2000 and that the solace of elapsed time one might glean from the injustices of “history” do not really apply.  The semantic debate about “sometimes unintentional” versus “unintentional” is not one that I think will be productive, but I certainly see your point and it is duly noted and definitely worthy of consideration.  I think that the term “multicultural” is rarely useful unless we are describing someone who identifies with more than one culture (which is most people, really), but you don’t use it in the code change, so it’s a bit of a moot point.

      As far as your comment on “exoticizing,” I want to say that I don’t see it that way.  I understand that conversations of race, class, sex, gender, ideology etc. can be uncomfortable, especially in Haverford’s tight-knit (some might argue “PC”) community.  But (as I get at in my last paragraph) the real benefits to diversity (opening people’s worldviews) can only be realized  through open conversation.  A place that is both conducive to open conversation and forces people to know each other well enough to ask questions of substance would require all Haverford students to acquire and build relationships strategically to increase his or her outlook, which I believe is quite unreasonable.  In my opinion, a section of the honor code that addresses diversity should stress the importance of genuine questioning and inquisitiveness in our diversities of thought, background, race, class, gender etc., not one that stresses the importance of comfort for minorities in the above categories. 

      Being a minority is uncomfortable.  I have learned that over and over again coming out to new people or holding my boyfriend’s hand on a busy street.  But, not only do I feel none of those pressures at Haverford, I feel that people’s questions are with the intent of understanding my own experiences.  I can’t imagine a more counterproductive resolution than to ask people to put their comfort above the interests of the community.  That sounds crass because it is.  I genuinely believe that the vast majority of Haverford students have interesting perspectives, stories, ideologies etc., but too many of us are too afraid to ask probing questions because we might make others feel uncomfortable.

      I also had some questions about this quote:

      “This resolution is about making Haverford a place where we deeply engage
      with each other and thus allow for all forms of diversity to flourish.
      Only by our willingness to think about and consider perspectives that
      seem alien to our own can we understand our own narrow vantage point.
      I’m not endorsing the perspective on diversity that says that there
      should be diversity because it facilitates learning. The very clear
      sub-text to that is that having people who are different from a
      perceived norm benefits the “normal ones”. Diversity does facilitate
      learning, for everyone, but we have more compelling reasons to desire it
      as the essence of our communal being, to make our engagement with our
      heterogeneity central to how we understand ourselves.”

      Can you please explain this more.  It seems to me that you directly contradicted yourself (sorry if I am wrong about that).  What I glean from this is that you first claim the point of the resolution is to allow students to engage with, and learn from, each other (I’m all for it), but then you say that the end goal of diversity is not to facilitate education.  Then you say that diversity as a learning tool is a valid argument in favor of it, but secondary to,”the essence of our communal being, to [making] our engagement with our
      heterogeneity central to how we understand ourselves.”  This second part sounds a bit imprecise (if you can clarify, that would be very helpful).  Personally, I am not in favor of endorsing any cause (diversity included) simply because it is in vogue.  When you say that diversity helps us reach the “essence of our communal being,” I am forced to question whether diversity is being couched in some quasi-liberal value system instead of a rationally formed argument. We all fall into the trap of mistaking logical arguments with communal values, I just hope that, especially when formulating communal values, we can find better reasoning to propel diversity as a cause.  You get at that a bit when you say, “engagement with our heterogeneity [should be] central to how we understand ourselves.”  Taking this one step forward, I hope that you were arguing that the lives of the vast majority of Fords (even most of those whom we might describe as a protected class under this amendment) come from a background that is strongly rooted in Western, middle class, hetero-normative values.  However, the majority of the people in the world are not Western nor middle class (by American standards).  If Haverford hopes to equip its students with the tools to become global citizens and affect change on such a scale, understanding human differences on a global scale is paramount.  If this is your argument, then I think you are arguing for diversity as a tool of education?

      • Aaron Madow says:

         Hi Sam:
        There’s a lot to reply too here, but I’m going to be brief in this post, and focus on your last point. I was merely referring to the argument made in Supreme Court cases favoring affirmative action that the educational value of diversity is stressed as the ONLY legitimate reason to have this policy; as I see it, that means that affirmative action is about benefiting the mostly white, middle to upper class students who are the presumed occupants of the university/college without it (I’m  not endorsing this view, merely noting that I think it’s the assumption underlying much of the media coverage). I have a problem with saying that diversity is only useful because it only benefits the “normative” members of a society; I think it benefits everyone as an educational tool. The way I apply this to the HC is by de-centering any one group as the norm benefiting from diversity; we all benefit from engaging with each other’s different perspectives. And given that over 51% of Haverford students are on financial aid, with the average grant over 30K, I’m not sure the vast majority of Fords are middle-class, or if they are, are certainly not upper-middle class. I agree with your point that our time at Haverford needs to prepare us to engage the rest of the world, but I also think the Honor Code is first and foremost a document that should guide our relations with each other, relations based  on trust, concern, and respect precisely so that we can learn so much from each other.

        I’m a little confused by the line you are drawing between “rational” and “liberal-communal” argumentation. I don’t see how you can carve out a whole discourse as “rationally” above politics; this resolution is certainly not about “liberal-communal” ideology, but I just don’t see how you are going to draw the line between what is rooted in liberal ideals and rational ideals. Perhaps I’m a little too postmodern, but I don’t see a space of objectivity for rationality when it comes to arguments about how a community should be constituted. I’m not for throwing rationality out, but I think our arguments always inhabit political spaces, and tap into certain traditions of thought. So if you are saying this sounds a little bit too much like a liberal’s paradise and not well-argued, that’s a critique I’ll have to address tomorrow, but I would say right off the bat that we tried to formulate this resolution in accordance with what trust, concern, and respect can enable in a diverse community. We aren’t mandating closeness or strategic conversations, but merely stating this should be our ideal moving forward.

    • Henry Bradford says:

      What is it to “deeply engage,” I ask you, if not to be curious? What is
      it to understand heterogeneity as one student engaging in dialogue with
      another if not a mutual readiness to question and be questioned, or to
      choose to refuse? I could not disagree more with you, Aaron, that any individual (in 2013, mind you, as the student body from 2000 won’t be much affected by your resolution) posing a question out of curiosity is still symptomatic of a social attitude that the person to whom the question is directed is a “shadowy” figure. Diverse growth depends upon learning, and learning is the agency of our curiosity. If we all chose only to learn in “gentle ways,” as you suggest, I put it to you that little would ever change.

      Of course, as we agree, any person being asked to represent an
      entire group has a right to refuse, but if we are to take any of the
      rest of the Honor Code seriously, we ought to put some faith
      in students to adhere to the social principles and conduct their inquiries respectfully. In fact, I highly recommend you read the rest of the honor code more carefully — there are more relevant places to put your resolution’s text than in the preamble. Do not mistake me as opposing your resolution: I disagree with your characterization of the code as it is.

      The “spirit” of the the code, as you so astutely recognized, is not dependent 1:1 upon the words therein. That is the nature of a living document, and you misunderstand such documents to assert that to respect the spirit is to disregard the content. The spirit derives from an interpretation of the content by those under its jurisdiction, one example of which you have provided in your article. Clearly others are possible, because Asa Hopkins provided one above which you chose to disregard. One may, for instance, interpret your revised preamble as conflict-phobic and homogenizing. That all depends on the student body choosing to read the code, and not, in fact, the climate in which your revisions were written. Or, at least, so I hope.

      As a student of Linguistics and English, I am deeply attuned to rhetoric. I find the justifications in your article inflammatory, mainly because so many are unsubstantiated, and your follow-up arguments obfuscated by manipulative metaphor. Were the text of the resolution all that you had put forth, I may have been better convinced. The “social context” in which you frame the unrevised preamble is as narrow for your readers as your own reading is narrow. In short, you are forcing your “spirit of 2000” reading of the current preamble on a student body who would not otherwise read it that way, thereby creating the necessity for your own changes.

      My societal ideals as a member of the Haverford community are held to the standard of the Honor Code, as are every student’s. To assume that any of us are not in favor of a community enriched by an active exploration of the diversity of the student body would be ridiculous on the part of those assuming, and on the part of those assumed intolerant. When we read the Honor Code, the social context of the writers does not force us to ingest the supposed spirit of 2000 unless we choose to, but rather we form our own spirit of 2013, undoubtedly a spirit of tolerance, and next year there will be a spirit of 2014. I understand your shying away from language that may symbolize the past, but I beg of you not to justify your changes by blowing the situation out of proportion.

      I plan to vote in favor of your resolution at Plenary, but do not expect me to believe that I would be held to any higher standard in the revised code than I am in the current code.

  3. Aaron Madow says:

     And one more thing:
    I address multiculturalism because this was the framework, or the lack thereof, through which my historical sources engaged the “problem of diversity’ in 2000. I don’t at all imply that having people from different backgrounds of all sorts isn’t meaningful; in fact, just the opposite. There’s a reason you don’t see we define what difference is in the revised Preamble; to do so would be to narrowly circumscribe what counts, and I have no interest in doing that. That is a decision enforced by the admissions office, though one we can influence. For example, some people feel we need more Republicans on campus; other people feel it is ludicrous to contemplate that. That’s not what this resolution is about. Again, I’m sorry if you got the sense that I have such a limited understanding of social plurality.

  4. Asa Hopkins says:

    I should preface this comment by saying that 2000 was a long while ago, and I don’t remember all the details, but I thought I might add a small piece of perspective from a member of the class of 2001. I’m quite sure that Haverford isn’t exactly the same place today as it was then — I have been impressed and pleased with the college’s ability to become more diverse and multicultural over the last decade or so.  I must admit to being a little taken aback by hearing my era described as hosting “the racism of 2000.” I’m sure the on-campus conversation has progressed in many ways.

    Caveats now stated, the new Honor Code preamble we adopted has now been lived with and interpreted, so meanings/interpretations may have shifted. Perhaps I’m being an Originalist. Anyway, when I read the text that this article most directly addresses (“If a diverse community is to prosper, its members must come to terms with their differences; this goal is only possible if students seek mutual understanding by means of respectful communication.”) I see this as addressing diversity of opinion, diversity of action, as well as diversity of background, identify, or perspective. In this context “difference” and “diversity” is more/broader/deeper than just “social dynamics that shape identities and actions.” Addressing differences of all sorts requires a seeking of mutual understanding through respectful communication.

    • Aaron Madow says:

       Hi Asa:
      Thank you for chiming in, and I can certainly understand your sensitivity to the broad brush of racism that I attributed to Haverford, and doubtlessly before; but the report, in my eyes, with how I read texts, made it very clear that students of color felt as constantly offended as the constant questions sent there way that reduced them to a single aspect of their identity, and doubtlessly also mis-labeled many people, or not in accordance with the ways they would identify people.

      Your “Originalist” interpretation is doubtless prevalent among many Haverfordians today, who regard the Honor Code not so much as a text with specific words but as an inhabited spirit. I must say that while I understand this reading, I cannot as a humanist take this seriously; you mean that the words we choose to literally establish members as part of the community don’t matter?

      I think you are missing the point of the revision in your focus on the perceived range of differences that the HC addresses. My critique was not of the ranges or types of differences mentioned in the Code, because there aren’t any, and it is impossible, thankfully, to categorize all of the different ways we can be different from each other. And I think you are also doing my revision a mis-reading by claiming I reduce diversity to social dynamics that shape our identities and interactions; that’s about as capacious an understanding of what type of difference could be at work as anything. Crucially, and I mean this fully seriously, it gives narrative power to the person forming the identity; it is “our identities.” Certainly, “social dynamics” implies the presence of an Other who is shaping the terms of our interaction, so that the terms of the social always predate me. Also, everything is subject to social dynamics, even geography; why did your relatives move/be forced to move there?

      The problem isn’t with the types of difference not enumerated, but with a Code that merely asks us to accept difference. It says we need respectful conduct, also clearly an ideal for your Haverford, and it tells us to do nothing more regarding difference. If you think that’s adequate, we must accept that we disagree, and ask where this arises; and I look right at your concept of “addressing differences,” which makes difference sound like a problem, which it indeed was for the Haverford of your generation. We don’t need to legislate difference, we need to address  each other while being mindful of the differences we inhabit and that are forced upon us.

  1. February 20, 2013

    […] penned an editorial for The Clerk about a week before Plenary, citing a 1999-2000 report which describes discomfort among white […]

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