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The Fall 2019 Alternative Plenary Space. Photo by Maxwell Cox

Students’ Council Prepares for First In-Person Plenary Since Spring 2020

The student body will convene for the first in-person Plenary in over a year on Sunday, October 24, seeking to amend and ratify the Students’ Constitution and Alcohol Policy. If quorum is made, students will review just a few resolutions, after contentious changes to the Social Code last spring.

The Clerk sat down with Students’ Council Co-Presidents Amolina Bhat ’23 and Sam Aronson ’22 to discuss common questions about the upcoming event. Although there is much on their plate, they have a few key objectives: keep Plenary pleasant (read: short) and bring the community together.

Last year, after plans for a Fall Plenary were scrapped amid the student strike, Spring Plenary was held over many rounds of remote and asynchronous voting through Google Forms. The Students’ Council Co-Presidents see a return to in-person Plenary as a matter of community values. “I think we wanted to bring that sense of community back,” said Bhat. By returning to an in-person meeting, she explained, more students will be able to engage with the ratification process. There will be a remote attendance option, available for students who email a request for access to Students’ Council.

In recent years, most knowledge about Plenary was passed down during Customs Week and informally through Customs teams throughout the year, in addition to a formal pre-Plenary session held by a cohort of Honor Code Orienteers. This year, under a shrunk Customs program, this education was moved to a 90-minute session on student governance led by the Students’ Council and Honor Council co-heads.

There will be mandatory pre-Plenary training for first-year students in the week prior to the event: Tuesday, October 19 for students in Gummere, Wednesday for Lunt and Tritton, and Thursday for Jones and Comfort. On Saturday, October 23, all students may attend a plenary orientation at 4 pm, in Stokes Auditorium or over Zoom.

Explaining the stakes of an in-person event, Bhat explained that “at the end of the day, the Honor Code is just mutually shared values that we all hold and Plenary acts as a procedure to legitimize that.” Both her and Aronson see the importance of Plenary proceedings in affirming the Students’ Constitution, not just formally, but also culturally. “We hope to have a conversation and have a bit of an opportunity to reflect on [our] values,” said Aronson.

One example, which was emphasized in an email to the student body from Students’ Council, is the Alcohol Policy. Bhat and Aronson asserted that if not ratified during Fall Plenary, the Alcohol Policy may no longer be in effect. While this claim may not be true—the policy was ratified during Spring Plenary for the last two years—Aronson and Bhat both believe it is in the student body’s best interest to affirm the Alcohol Policy. “It makes a better community and it allows [the] admin to look at something written down,” said Bhat. Aronson went on to explain that if the current alcohol policy isn’t working, “[Haverford’s administration] needs to find another one.”

So far, the Students’ Council has only a few amendments on their radar, primarily concerning modernizing the language of both Students’ Council procedures and the Alcohol Policy. The deadline for submitting a rough draft of a resolution is October 17, to allow for the Co-Presidents to give feedback to writers before submitting their final drafts. Final resolutions will still require a customary 200 signatures and are due on October 21.

The school has been holding in-person classes and gatherings throughout the semester, but Students’ Council is still especially mindful of ongoing concerns about COVID-19 exposure, as Plenary will entail a much larger indoor gathering than any Haverford class. Masking will be strictly enforced, according to college guidelines for in-person events, and students will have access to an outdoor quorum zone to eat and drink if they need to do so. 

The exact length of the event is notoriously unpredictable, but new rules of order seek to push the friendly amendment process to before the event, shortening the length of proceedings. “If there are changes people feel very strongly [about], they are welcome to present those as unfriendly amendments and then gather the signatures to do so,” said Aronson, expressing hope that resolutions presented will be in a somewhat final form before the student body convenes.

Although a long-run tradition of Students’ Council providing food at Plenary will be broken, Aronson and Bhat promised that there is plenty for students to look forward to. In addition to the presence of an ice-cream sandwich truck for students after the event, there will be an hour-long Plenary pre-show for a cappella ensembles, improv groups, and other acts to perform. Students can sign up for the pre-show here.

Aronson notes that faculty were informed of Plenary’s date over the summer, while planning their syllabi, to keep student workloads under control for the weekend. “Just come to Plenary,” said Bhat. “It will be a good time.”

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