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A Pre-Plenary Rundown

By Ari Kim and George Doehne

A new semester in full flow, the glorious amber and scarlet of the arboretum just beginning to fade, and discourse in the air—it’s plenary season. Student’s Council has presented the campus with a drastically different format for the biannual gathering of the student body to affirm (and alter, if necessary) the Honor Code and Alcohol Policy.

Student’s Council and Honor Council decided that Fall 2019 Plenary will be run discussion-style. In previous years, students who wished to speak stood behind microphones to address approximately 800–that’s 66% of the student body to reach quorum–other Plenary attendees. In light of the Clearness Committee report that revealed 74% of students don’t feel comfortable speaking at Plenary, as well as feedback they received while tabling at the Dining Center and holding Plenary Restructuring meetings on Tuesday evenings, both Student’s Council and Honor Council believe that a discussion-based Plenary will best serve the students’ needs this semester.

In a letter addressed to the student body, the Student’s Council Co-Presidents and Honor Council Co-Chairs explained the details of these changes to Plenary and answered some questions they claim to have received frequently. They write of their motivations to change up Plenary: “Perhaps the issues with Plenary run deeper than verbal participation. The rigid bureaucratic structure, including its language and terminology, may be outdated and inaccessible. First-year students are not introduced to the language of Plenary until their HCO session and even then, it is difficult to understand what exactly is going on. Until joining student government groups on campus, many of us did not even understand the difference between friendly and unfriendly amendments.”  Read the full letter here. 

Upon walking into the GIAC Arena, students will receive a slip of paper randomly numbered from 1-37. If students vote to move forward with the agenda, they will break out into 37 groups with 20-30 other peers, led by pairs of trained and compensated student facilitators. After consenting upon community guidelines, each group will discuss the following topics based on a poll that Student’s Council sent in an hc-all email:

  1. Labor/wages and Customs
  2. Sustainability
  3. Party spaces and culture
  4. Mental health

Facilitators will guide the 45 minute-long discussions with predetermined questions, which can be found in the Plenary Packet. If the groups so choose, a representative from each group will summarize essential ideas to the student body. Additionally, all groups will select a notetaker who will anonymously jot down key points, and these notes will all be compiled and made available to the community post-Plenary. 

JSAAPP also brought about another unprecedented change in this semester’s Plenary. Kathryn Correia ‘20 and Cyrus Bahadori ‘21, JSAAPP Co-Heads, announced in an hc-all email that the Alcohol Policy ratification, traditionally held in Fall Plenary, will instead be moved to Spring Plenary. They hinted that due to the Plenary agenda changes, JSAAPP felt that the ratification of the Alcohol Policy was made out to be the anchor that keep students at Plenary.

“The ratification of the alcohol policy has become more of a formality rather than an intentional decision by the student body,” they wrote. “In the spirit of the newly proposed amendment to plenary, JSAAPP hopes the student body will bring the same intentional engagement to the ratification of the Alcohol Policy and the Honor Code in the spring,” wrote Correia and Bahadori. They conclude the email: “With the absence of the Alcohol Policy ratification this plenary, we as your JSAAPP co-heads urge you to still attend plenary this Sunday. Please show up and join your fellow peers in thoughtful and intentional participation this plenary. “

While this change may come as a shock to many students who have experienced past Plenaries, nowhere in the Alcohol Policy (note: last updated Fall 2017) or Constitution does it mandate that the Alcohol Policy must be ratified in the Fall. The Alcohol Policy will remain in full effect until its ratification this coming Spring semester.

Students may also wonder about the missing call for and lack of resolutions this Plenary. The Constitution requires Student’s Council, Honor Council, and JSAAPP to invite the student body to submit any resolutions to amend the Honor Code, Alcohol Policy, and other campus policy changes or initiatives. According to a Student’s Council member, the Council elected not to collect any resolutions in order to focus on the campus-wide discussions.

“We want the discussions to generate more thoughtful reflection about the issues students face and that more productive resolutions will come forward at Spring Plenary as a result,” the member clarified.

The Clerk Editorial Board encourages all students to attend Plenary, engage critically with the new discussion-based structure, and actively reflect on the state of Haverford’s culture.

Cover Photo by Ankith Suhas Pinnamaneni ‘23

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