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Spring 2019 Plenary Recap: Less Done in More Time

After a series of Plenaries which tested the student body’s commitment to the Honor Code–including the Fall’s hour-long meeting, last Spring’s extended-time Plenary and Special Plenary events, and Fall 2018’s protest–this semester’s Plenary was more typical in form, though it still left a lot of room for improvement in the ways that students engage with each other and with the school.

The event began promptly at 2:30, though the required quorum of 807 students present in the GIAC was not reached until around 3:30. After a moment of silence and introductions from the members of Students’ Council and Honor Council, Students’ Council Co-Presidents Maurice Rippel ‘19 and Andrew Eaddy ‘19 kicked off with the first speech of the day, a presidential “State of the Ford” address.

Eaddy spoke about updating and rethinking spaces on a campus which doesn’t have much space, citing renovations to Apartment 22 basement and the creation of an International Student Lounge, as well as future projects to rename or rededicate popular places on campus such as the Multicultural Center. Rippel focused his comments on initiatives aimed at increasing dialogue on campus, such as the Discourse on Discourse project, the Town Hall held earlier in the semester, and the “Ford Form,” an online communication channel between students and Students’ Council.

Next, the student body voted to approve the afternoon’s agenda and went right in to discussing resolutions.

Each of the three resolutions presented–two from Students’ Council and one from the Committee for Environmental Responsibility–ultimately passed when it came time for student votes. But each resolution was passed with amendments. In almost all cases, they were “friendly” amendments, meaning they were in agreement with resolution writers. (Read a full overview of the resolutions here.)

Students’ Council Co-President Maurice Rippel addressing students
Photo by Arshiya Bhayana

Students’ Council’s first resolution, regarding changes to student election procedures, passed with a friendly amendment brought forth by Honor Council to set Honor Council elections to take place during November, a few months earlier than originally intended in the resolution. The new election timeline component of the resolution was not a huge point of concern among students, although several spoke during the pro/con portion with concerns about the resolution’s call to lower quorum for Students’ Council elections and about procedures for uncontested elections and special elections. Additionally, some students spoke strongly against the resolution’s proposal to allocate $600 for student campaigning costs. Co-treasurer Alejandro Wences ‘19 who helped write the resolution was not present at Plenary to address the financing issues. Despite questions about the finances going largely unanswered, students voted not to extend the pro/con debate period and went ahead to vote to approve the resolution with the amendment.

Despite the student body’s approval of the resolution, some students left Plenary with concerns about it. “I’m concerned that lowering quorum is sort of just a bandaid on either a student engagement problem, a campaign/candidate visibility problem or both… I think a lot of people don’t vote because they don’t feel well enough informed to, and I wish the resolution had mostly focused on fixing that rather than just lowering the bar for student engagement by dropping quorum. I’m concerned that lowering quorum, even as a stop-gap measure to make sure we can get people elected, serves to normalize the current inadequate levels of student voting.” said Isabel Floyd ‘20,  one of the students who spoke against the resolution in the pro/con debate, in an email following Plenary.

The second resolution of the afternoon, brought by the Committee for Environmental Responsibility, passed with two friendly amendments which clarified the language and impact of the resolution, as well as one unfriendly amendment to address light pollution as an environmental harm that the College should curtail.

The final resolution, brought by Students’ Council to add a Students’ Council Librarian position, also passed with two friendly amendments. The first amendment changed the proposed term of the Librarian to be only two semesters, starting in January of each year, so as to ensure more students could be eligible for the position in light of the resolution’s requirement that a Librarian must have served a previous year on Students’ Council already. The second, brought forth by members of Honor Council, added language to the Librarian position to mandate that the librarian intervene if Students’ Council discusses plans for something that the librarian found unconstitutional.

Things took a dramatic turn as it came time to discuss voting to open ratification of the Honor Code. To mirror Students’ Council Co-Heads’ presentation earlier in the afternoon, Honor Council Co-Heads Daisy Zhan ‘20 and Lourdes Taylor ‘21 presented a “State of the Code” address prior to the discussion period for the Honor Code. In their speech, each co-head strongly advocate for safe spaces on campus and recognized the many forms of discrimination that persist at Haverford today (read the full speech here). They also spoke about getting students involved in the Code beyond just Plenary, noting that the Code cannot function without student engagement.

In the pro/con discussion devoted to discussing the Code following this speech, Rippel read excerpts from a lengthy anonymous submission to the Ford Form, in which the author advocated for a removal of language involving safe spaces in the Honor Code. In the submission, the author identified themselves as a white male athlete and cited experiences from their Customs week to support their opinion, though  the submission was not read aloud in its entirety. Students used the remainder of the pro/con discussion to critique this Ford Form submission and speak in favor of the Honor Code and its sections which protect safe spaces at Haverford.

Following this discussion, the student body voted in favor of opening ratification of the Code, and Plenary concluded. But as students gathered their belongings and grabbed slices of pizza served by Students’ Council, the weight of the past discussion-packed four hours set in.

“It’s clear that a number of aspects of Plenary just don’t work as they were originally meant to. The group is too big, the Rules of Order are too clunky, and generally the event itself feels pretty dead and lackluster. I’d like to see some fundamental change happen – Plenary has the potential to be amazing and right now it’s just not.” wrote Eaddy in an email after Plenary.

Maurice Rippel echoed the sentiment of his co-president. “I have mixed feelings about Plenary. I’m happy with the robust conversations we had but I kept thinking about who’s actually engaged in the space. What are we actually accomplishing? We did a lot, but with 900 or so people in the room for four hours, it felt like we could do so much more,” he wrote in a separate email.

To address multiple resolutions and the Honor Code in one go, without ever breaking quorum once it was first achieved, is an impressive feat given Haverford’s past few Plenaries. But between the outcry at the Ford Form response, the unanswered questions from some resolutions, and the Co-Presidents’ concluding sentiments, many students again left Plenary unsatisfied.

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