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Why I’m Doing Customs

One would assume that based on my decision to be an AMA for next year’s Customs program, I must have had a good Customs experience. While I value certain aspects of my Customs experience, the truth is that I actually hated most of Customs. From the trust walk during Customs week to the PAF sessions, I had to endure numerous microaggressions and attacks to my identity. Customs was not built for people like me. Many times, I found myself having to educate others on how to be decent people— a position I did not volunteer for when coming to Haverford. Nevertheless, when Customs team member applications came out, I quickly opened a new tab and began working on my AMA application. But why would I put myself through Customs again, willingly this time? Why would I want to educate people when I have so many other things I could be doing instead? Why would I put my brown body through more tokenization?

My first problem with Customs was that I was expected to be friends with people I could not really relate to. While my hallmates are nice for the most part, I could not connect with them on many levels. I found myself sitting at the edge of the table as my hallmates talked about what they had done during the summer. They talked about their travels and their wonderful times with their families. Though I had an amazing summer with the Chesick program here at Haverford, I was reminded of what I didn’t have. I don’t have money to take fancy vacations nor the privilege to spend all of my summer with my family. Instead, I came to Haverford during the summer to try to get on the same level as everybody else on this campus. I knew that because I lacked the resources afforded to many of my peers in high school, I was already behind, even before I started my college career. I was forced to bond with them, even if my customs hall would never understand what it is like coming from so many hardships and challenges. Instead, I heard complaining that they had to pay $60,000 for this college tuition, while I couldn’t even process how people had that amount of money to pay to attend Haverford. Then, only a couple of hours into meeting them, I was expected to trust them throughout the Trust Walk. I was expected to be comfortable with a stranger putting their hands on my shoulders and then with closing my eyes— expected to trust someone I didn’t know to guide me. I was taught to not trust anyone besides my family because, growing up in East LA, I was expected to not even trust my neighbors. Yes, I had the choice to not participate but I was already pushed to the side. Not being part of the Trust Walk would just endanger my ability to make friends even more. I participated, but I didn’t close my eyes,because I just couldn’t bring myself to go against the lessons of my upbringing.

While Customs week was overwhelming, Pluralism allowed me to see that the people I was living with were in fact human. Sure, I still didn’t know them enough to disclose my entire life story but listening to them being vulnerable allowed me to see their humanity, something I had not seen during the entire week. But seeing someone be vulnerable is not enough to create friendships, and I quickly realized that just because we went through an entire week of activities and workshops,  we were not necessarily friends. PAF sessions began, and I grew more and more disconnected from my hall . During the PAF session on socioeconomic class, we had an activity where we clapped if we heard a statement that resonated with us. Our eyes were closed in an attempt at anonymity. But of course everyone knew who was the only one who clapped after the statement “I have been evicted or have come close to being evicted from my home” and “I have gone days without knowing if I would have a meal the next day.” Yet, almost the entire room clapped when the statements read were “I went to a private school” and “I have gone on vacation before.” But instead of my hallmates realizing the amount of privilege they had, they tried to make it seem as if they were not wealthy. They started saying how their families lived simple lives and it was almost as if they were low-income. yet, they can afford a $60,000 college education and have never feared not having enough to eat. After calling someone out after the session, they told me that I was lucky to be on financial aid. Am I really lucky for having to come from an impoverished city where I have grown numb to violence, gunshots, and hunger? How am I lucky for all of the hardships I have gone through?

So why would I do Customs again when I had a horrible experience the first time? Well, not my entire Customs experience was terrible. I am blessed that I have had supportive PAF’s, AMA, and HCO’s throughout this experience. Even though I felt excluded from my hall, they made sure I still had someone to lean on. I also have appreciation for my suitemates and some people from my hall.I think if Customs did not exist, our paths would not have crossed. I value the good aspects of Customs and that is why I decided to do Customs. I value the Customs team members that have supported me and I realize that without them, I probably would have moved out of my hall within the first week of classes. Customs team members that care make a difference in the first-year student experience. I feel like I owe it to the Customs program to provide other first-year students with the same quality of support my PAF’s, AMA, and HCO did and I do not want to leave it to someone else to do it when I know I can do it myself.

I do sometimes feel like the Customs team selection process is tokenizing, especially since I know the color of my skin may dictate what team I am placed in since there needs to be at least two people of color on a Customs team. While I feel like the Customs team I was placed in is actually the best match for me, there were still fears of tokenization in me that caused me to rethink my AMA application. But then I realized that my background also allows me to help students with marginalized identities on the hall. Just how my AMA was to me, I want to be part of the support my first-years receive. I can’t say everyone on my hall will look for me as their first resource for support, but I at least want to give them the option to see me as someone they can confide in. Customs was not built for us, but we can find our space within it.

One Comment

  1. anonymous April 19, 2017

    While I sympathize with your Customs experience, as someone who has also felt as though I couldn’t connect with the other first-years on my hall, I really take issue with the language you use to condemn it – and, by extension, your hallmates. Just because you can’t relate to someone’s specific experiences – such as vacations, private schooling, etc. – doesn’t mean that you can see them as lesser, that you are given free rein to dehumanize them with comments like “…Pluralism allowed me to see that the people I was living with were in fact human…listening to them being vulnerable allowed me to see their humanity, something I had not seen during the entire week” – that’s basically the entire point of a multicultural/multiethnic society.
    At one point, you write “…I had to endure numerous microaggressions and attacks to my identity,” but then you turn right around and do the same thing to the other members of your Customs group, by disparagingly writing about how you couldn’t relate to their experiences and, as such, saw them as “not human.”
    Maybe this is an issue of inexact phrasing; maybe this is genuinely how you felt. But regardless of that, it’s somewhat of a twisted worldview.

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