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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.