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Quaker Bouncers Reevaluate Role After Reports of Racial Bias

Quaker Bouncers, despite their bright yellow bandanas, are often a nearly invisible presence at larger Haverford parties. However, the institution, created by students in 2004 as a response to binge drinking, has been thrust into the limelight this semester with a series of procedural changes in reaction to reported incidents of racial bias early in the academic year.

Present at most whole-campus parties—such as First Drinker, ‘80s Dance, or Apartment 19 and Gummere basement events—they are responsible for checking identification, mediating conflicts, and being a resource for party-goers that are uncomfortable and need assistance. This role gives them the ability to deny people entry to a party and even to ask people to leave a party if needed.

In a campus-wide email towards the end of winter break, the Quaker Bouncer Board reported that this responsibility had been abused with “students of color [being] disrespected by Quaker Bouncers at parties, specifically upon entrance to the party space and at parties hosted by affinity groups.” The email went on to apologize for the failure of some bouncers to properly fill this responsibility, requested any comments students had with the service, and announced a forthcoming mandatory training on racial bias for all Quaker Bouncers.

One first-year, who preferred to remain anonymous, reacted with concern to the email. “The racial bias part of it is antithetical to safety. If you can’t feel safe in your own skin color then how are you supposed to feel safe with the people who are protecting the party? In theory, if you’re not let into a party, they are choosing not to protect you, not because they’re saying they’re not gonna protect you after they let you in, they’re saying they’re not gonna protect you by omitting you from the party.”

A training session for all Quaker Bouncers took place on February 8th and was led by Nina Harris, current Harvard Bias and Education expert and former Title IX case manager at Swarthmore and the University of Pennsylvania. The training did not focus specifically on racial bias as advertised, but discussed wider-ranging questions such as what makes parties good or bad, what the role of Quaker Bouncers had and should be, and what it meant for a place to be safe. Bouncers that did attend were compensated for their time, while those that did not attend the training were no longer considered eligible to bounce. (As part of a broader move to include all paid student positions, Quaker Bouncers are now paid through Workday, the college’s online payroll system. Bouncers—one of the highest-paid student positions, at $12.50 an hour—were previously compensated with cash at the end of the night.)

An hc-all email from the Quaker Bouncer Board on February 20th, following the session, directly addressed bouncers’ ability to permit or deny entry to parties. Larger campus parties typically have two bouncers stationed at the entrance that check student IDs to ensure all present are either part of the Tri-Co community, or, if they are not, that their names are taken and a Tri-Co student affirms their responsibility for the guest. When students did not have their OneCard or other student ID with them, bouncers were until this semester told that a student could submit informal proof, such as logging in to their Moodle account or answering a Haverford-specific question, such as who the Student Council presidents are. The Quaker Bouncer Board discussed this policy with Student’s Council and, with their backing, committed to a stricter and less subjective ID policy, in keeping with the anti-bias concerns. Under the formalized system all Tri-Co party-goers are now required to display their OneCards before entering, and off-campus guests must present some other form of photo ID. “We also ask that if there is a Quaker Bouncer not following this policy, please remind them of the ID policy or inform the on-point bouncer. … This is a commitment, and we will take it seriously,” wrote the Quaker Bouncer Board in a follow-up email to all students.  

The Board said they hope this change will help address the racial bias concerns, as well as eliminate confusion surrounding access to parties and streamline identification of partygoers in emergencies. There are concerns, however, around how attainable such IDs will be for off-campus guests, especially those not attending a college, and whether the move is any improvement from the previous system of a vouching TriCo student and sign-in sheet, a process which typically involved a Bouncer recording a photo of a guest’s ID. In the ID update email, the Board alluded to other future unnamed policy changes that they hoped would begin to alleviate racial bias concerns and declared that “all of the Quaker Bouncer decisions are motivated by respect for our fellow community members. We have not lost sight of our mission as active bystanders and community stewards and we are committed to making Haverford party culture peaceful, fun, and safe.”

Former bouncer Rosie Silvers ‘22 had this to say of the changes: “I think it has a lot of really good intent and in a lot of ways is a really important part of how students can help take care of each other, trust each other, and have an active role in creating healthy spaces on campus—but at the same time I think that giving power to students is always a two-edged sword, and in some ways the power that students have over each other in that position can be exploited just as almost any powerful position can be. So I think it’s important that we’re reconsidering that role and thinking about how it can be manipulated.”

[Corrections and Clarification: An earlier version of this article reported Quaker Bouncer Co-Head Joseph Staruski as the author of the follow-up email regarding the change in ID policy. The email was actually written by the entire Quaker Bouncer Board and sent to all students via Staruski’s email account. Staruski’s class year is 2020, not 2021 as previously reported. Additionally, though Quaker Bouncers were previously able to use student credentials other than Tri-Co ID cards to admit students into parties, this was never allowed by official Quaker Bouncer guidelines.]

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