Honoring the code


By Emilia Otte                      

Recent cheating scandals have caused some of the most prestigious colleges in the United States to take steps toward implementing an honor code.

At Harvard University, 125 students were suspected of collaborating on a take-home final exam in May of 2012, according to the New York Times.

Eight months later, multiple allegations of cheating on exams spread across ColumbiaUniversity and its sister school, BarnardCollege.

In response to these widely publicized events, Harvard faculty voted last May to instate the first honor code in the history of the university. The code outlines expectations of academic integrity among students. According to The Spectator, The Columbia College Student Council also voted unanimously for the introduction of both an honor pledge and an honor code on campus.

However, students and professors alike remain skeptical: Will a written code of values really be enough to keep students honest?

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For students at Bryn Mawr and HaverfordColleges, two small liberal arts colleges located in Bryn Mawr and Haverford, PA, respectively, the honor code is a fixture in their daily lives. Dating back to the 1890s, the honor code is one of these schools’ oldest traditions. It calls for integrity in both academic and social settings.

Haverford_logoProspective students coming onto either campus for the first time might be surprised to see iPhones lying across tables with no owner in sight, bikes left outside without locks, and laundry left unattended. This is proof that the honor code extends beyond the classroom and into the greater community.

In a survey done of 295 Bryn Mawr and Haverford students, 72% said that having an honor code enhances their college experience “a lot”.

Victoria Tamura, a first-year at Bryn Mawr, said of the honor code: “It made me feel like the place was a lot more welcoming. I guess it affected my view on the community.”

She continued, “I liked the fact that we were trusted. I like the flexibility that the honor code gives students here.”

Students who participated in the survey cited a variety of positive things about the honor code. Many students appreciate the ability to self-schedule their final exams, the feelings of trust and safety the code promotes in the community, and the freedom to make decisions “like adults”.

“The thing I like best about the Honor Code is actually the social part,” said Veronica Benson-Moore, a Bryn Mawr sophomore. “I feel more comfortable knowing that people are more likely to accept my expression of my feelings as well as more likely to tell me if I’ve offended them.”

Francesca Felder, a sophomore at Haverford, believes that the honor code fosters a unique trust between students and professors. “Professors can take students at their word and not be suspicious that students are cheating or trying to manipulate them,” she said, “Students can trust that a professor will believe what they say.”

Haverford sophomore Samuel Walter agrees. “I enjoy the trust it creates between students and teachers,” he said. “I also find that it encourages learning for learning’s sake rather than fostering cut throat competition over grades.”

Although most students have a basic knowledge of its contents, only 22% of Bryn Mawr students have read the code cover-to-cover, according to the survey, which was emailed to Haverford and Bryn Mawr students in December.

So how do Bryn Mawr students know if they are following the rules?

“Oh, that’s such a scary question,” said Claire Craig, a sophomore at Bryn Mawr, when asked whether she follows the honor code. “I guess I do. I hope I do. I try to.”Bryn Mawr logo

Rather than struggle through the pages of mundane procedures and antiquated language, many students choose to adhere to their own, simpler, variation of the code.

“I adhere to the verbal honor code that I’ve heard; as in don’t cheat, don’t steal things- that stuff,” said Bryn Mawr sophomore Lauren Sauers.

“I take part in the supportive community here, and I’ve never stolen anything, or cheated since I’ve been here,” said Rosemary Ryden Cohen, a Haverford first-year.

Students at Haverford are far more likely to have read their honor code, as the school requires all first-years to be familiar with it. Out of the 61 Haverford students who completed the survey, two-thirds had read the full text of the honor code, and all of them had read at least parts of it.

* * *

In general, the words “respect”, “responsibility”, “trust” and “freedom” seem to highlight students’ understanding of the honor code at both colleges.

Courtney Bria Ahmed, a first-year at Haverford, explained that the honor code “didn’t just set forth rules, it set forth hopes and expectations.”

Josh Nadel, a senior at Haverford, said that he has read the honor code and “abides by the spirit of the Honor Code- the concepts of trust, concern, and respect for the community.”

While students feel drawn to the “spirit” of the honor code, the “letter” of the code sometimes falls by the wayside. If the violation is serious enough, students are called to account for their actions before the honor board- a panel of students and faculty members that review the case and determine the proper penalty.

According to Melanie Bahti, president of the Bryn Mawr honor board, Bryn Mawr’s honor board hears roughly five to eight cases per semester. Haverford sees about the same number- an average of 13 or 14 cases per year. The academic violations span all class years, course levels, and departments. The overwhelming majority of cases deal with plagiarism. Punishments include receiving a failing grade on the assignment in question, having to go to the WritingCenter to learn proper citation methods, or writing a letter to the community. The punishments are directed toward reintegrating offenders into the community rather than forcing them out.

The number of students that stand before the honor board represents a tiny percentage of the Haverford and Bryn Mawr communities. In the online survey, however, 13% of students admitted to violating the honor code themselves, and 27% of students have witnessed a violation by one of their peers.

“You see minor infringements of the social honor code…especially at parties,” said Bryn Mawr senior Anna Kalinsky. “[Stuff] gets broken, people swipe in strangers.”

Other common problems include stealing food, laundry detergent, or dishes from the dining hall, looking up answers or taking extra time on a take-home exam, collaborating with friends on a solo homework assignment, discussing grades and tests openly, and breaking confidentiality.

“Somebody ate my birthday cake and left the dirty fork in the sink,” recalled Alexandra Krusinski, a junior at Bryn Mawr.

* * *

Out of 107 students who claim to have witnessed violations of the honor code, only seven brought the issue to the attention of the Honor Code committee. Thirty-five percent preferred to confront the offender themselves, and a whopping 62% took no action at all.

While the honor code encourages constructive dialogue, the reality is that many students feel extremely uncomfortable at the idea of confronting their peers.

“I’m really bad at confrontation in general,” explained Amala Someshwar, a Bryn Mawr first-year who chose not to report the violation she witnessed.

Responders to the online survey also expressed concern that taking action would be ‘making too big a deal’ out of minor incidents, while others feel that the result of the confrontation is not worth the anxiety that goes along with speaking up.

Haverford sophomore Francesca Felder admitted to feeling “rather unequipped to confront people. There was recently an experience where a friend of mine was hurt by something someone said, and decided not to confront him about it because ‘it won’t make a difference’.”

She continued: “I wish there was more conversation about exactly how to confront people and what to expect from it.”

James Truitt, another sophomore at Haverford, agreed that the code could be confusing when it comes to the issue of confrontation.

“There’s a lot of questions in my head about confrontation- at what point should  I confront someone about something, and at what point should I let it go? Most times, with any confrontation, I don’t want to go through the hassle of confronting them about it. Is that a violation of the code?” he asked. “When does confrontation become an attempt to impose my value-system on others?”

Even those who readily confront their peers are reluctant to bring their case to the honor board, preferring instead to give the offending party the benefit of the doubt.

“I didn’t think they were thinking coherently,” said Alexa Gjonca, a sophomore at Bryn Mawr, about students she caught stealing.

“I know people who have, like, talked to the honor board, but I feel like… most of the time, people aren’t consciously violating the code…they don’t know all the rules or they’re just really not aware of what they’re doing in a given moment,” said Ava Hawkinson, another Bryn Mawr sophomore.

She feels that confrontation is a better course of action. “Usually when you remind someone [that they are violating the honor code] they’ll just be like ‘oh, let me modify my behavior.’ That’s the optimal situation.”

 * * *

Honor codes have a long and proud history. They originated in an era when knights in shining armor and samurai went to battle for their countries. In those times, a code of ethics was something to be followed at the expense of all else, and honor was a principle worth dying for.

In the context of a 21st century college campus, is such a code still relevant?

Celeste Ledesma, a sophomore at Bryn Mawr, believes so. “The honor code is necessary, because at this point in our college education, we don’t know any differently.”

Eighty-six percent of respondents on the online survey agreed that the honor code is a vital factor in keeping the community honest.

A few students presented a different and compelling argument: that, rather than adjusting their actions to fit the code, students who already held themselves to certain standards chose a college with similar values.

In fact, 75% of Haverford respondents and 46% of Bryn Mawr respondents online said that the honor code influenced their decision to apply to the school.

“I wanted a trusting and safe environment and I liked the degree of independence and responsibility the honor code awards,” said Ariel Dineen, a Haverford sophomore.

“I saw it as a marker of a school that cared about good values,” said Adam Stambor, a first-year at Haverford. “A group of students who all feel the honor code is important…I believed would make a good group of people- moral and ethical and honest.”

Therefore, does the code influence good decision-making, or does it simply bring honest people together?

“Is it ‘necessary’? No, probably not,” said Christopher Hedad, a sophomore at Haverford. “At Haverford and Bryn Mawr, where an Honor Code exists, I’d like to think that even if the text of the Honor Code went away, the values would still persist.”

Either way, Hedad points out, there is “something special” about having an honor code. The vast majority of Bryn Mawr and Haverford students feel that it is a positive force in their lives, and a far better solution than having the administration crack down.

A few small changes could go a long way toward making the code more effective. Clarifying some of the more confusing aspects of the code, such as rules about confrontation, discussion of grades, and collaboration, would help more students understand what actions are acceptable. Shortening the code, or reorganizing it into bullet points, might inspire more students to read the document, particularly at Bryn Mawr, where the code is a formidable 12 pages in length.

* * *

Even without these modifications, 95% of the students surveyed believe that the honor code has at least some effect on student behavior, and 41% believe it has a great deal of impact.

“We see the honor code as a privilege and a responsibility, and are willing to do the work necessary to protect its benefits,” commented one Bryn Mawr senior on the online survey.

Said Bryn Mawr sophomore Teresa Wang: “I think the honor code is an idea that’s embedded in the entire community. It’s how the Bryn Mawr and Haverford students ought to live throughout their entire college life and even carry…into society once they graduate.”

Perhaps Haverford junior Kelsey Owyang best summed up how Bryn Mawr and Haverford students feel about their code and its effect on the school community.

“Yes, it could be strengthened and more comprehensive; yes, it has problems”, she said, “But on a fundamental level I think it affects our behavior a lot — the atmosphere here is unlike any other learning environment-or living environment-I’ve experienced.”


This story was a class project for ART264W students at Bryn Mawr College and it involved numerous face-to-face interviews plus an online survey of students at both colleges.  Additional reporting was done by Emilia Otte, who also wrote the story.


The gift that keeps giving


By Kelsey Rall

In room 54 of Rhoads North, one of BrynMawrCollege’s dorms, a little dinosaur pillow sits on a white chair. Its body is purple with small blue spots, and it has a yellow underbelly. A long neck curls around, over the dino’s body, and connects to its back via a small square of Velcro.

It’s nothing incredible; the years have left it somewhat dingy. It smells a little, and its clothe exterior does not have the same bright look it may have had when first purchased. The only thing that sets this little pillow apart from others is a crumbled five-by-eight note card, attached to the dinosaur’s back by a safety pin.

Written on the note card is a list of names and years. “To: Erin Hunter ’99…To: Molly Kaput ’02…To: Alex Tisman ’09…To: Tyler Williams ’12.” Thirteen names in all are written on the note card: the 13 previous and current owners of the dinosaur pillow. At the top of the list reads the following message: “HAPPY MAYDAY!”

The Dinosaur Pillow is one of thousands of May Day gifts given every year from seniors to underclassmen at Bryn Mawr. On the first Sunday of May, after the last classes of the spring semester have ended, students, faculty, and alumni gather together to celebrate the past year, and to wish the seniors good luck in the future.

It is customary to wear white, though some students spice up the ensemble with red shoes or colorful flower crowns. May Pole Dancing, concerts, feasting, parades, and carnival games occur throughout the festive day, but the most touching part of the day is the May Day Gifting, which happens early in the morning.

May Day, a Bryn Mawr tradition

May Day, a Bryn Mawr tradition

The night before May Day, seniors scramble from dorm to dorm, dropping off gifts to the underclassmen. Generally these gifts go to the underclassmen with whom the seniors have developed a close bond. According to Bryn Mawr’s official traditions page, “The tradition is that, if the gift has been handed down more than once, you must hand it down again when you graduate. Gifts that you receive that have only been handed down once, you may keep.” This clause has resulted in gifts that have been passed down for decades.

Taryn Traughber, a senior from Pocatello, Idaho said, “the oldest gift I have is an ‘Amateur Rugby’ poster from 1995.” Traughber is currently one of the captains of the Bryn Mawr-Haverford Rugby team, and the gift was handed down from a fellow player.

Lucy Gleysteen, class of 2014 from Lincoln, Massachusetts, also received an old rugby-related gift. She got a “bloody yellow and red rugby jersey.” She didn’t know the exact age or lineage of the strange gift “because so many of the names had wash[ed] off,” but she was “pretty sure the gift started in the 80s.”

Weird 90’s hair

Abby Crum, a sophomore from Ogdan, Utah also received a gift from the 90s. She said “the oldest and weirdest [gift I received was]…a book of hair tutorials from the 1990’s. I love it to death but the 90’s were a very strange time for hair.”

Aly Robins, a sophomore from Wayside, New Jersey, didn’t receive any gifts that were incredibly old. Instead, her oldest gift was “a plastic egg from the class of 2009.” Many May Day presents are strange, much like the plastic egg.

Generally, a May Day gift carries a special importance that only a certain group of Bryn Mawr students will understand, like Gleysteen’s bloody rugby jersey. However, some gifts don’t make sense even to the recipient, and would not be considered appropriate presents outside of the May Day context.

According to Robins, some gifts are given not because of a special importance or meaning, but because “it’s a better way to get rid of unneeded items as seniors transition to post-college life than the free box.” The “free box” mentioned is a special Bryn Mawr institution. On each hall of a Bryn Mawr dorm, there is a cardboard box next to the trashcans for unwanted items. Instead of throwing something away that could still be used, a student can place it in the free box with the hope that someday, another student might rescue the item from its cardboard limbo. Robins argued that certain May Day gifts are no more than re-routed free box items.

When asked what was the weirdest gift she had ever received, Robins said, “A senior from a club I’m in gave me a replica of a ship. I think she just needed to give stuff away. It doesn’t really matter, I love it and it classes my tiny room up.”

Another reason for bizarre gifts is that they are just funny. While May Day seen as an emotional day, and May Day gifting is generally viewed as a sentimental tradition, some gifts are given precisely because they carry no importance whatsoever. These are often the gifts that are the most memorable.

Most memorable

Traughber once got “a Dora the Explorer soft night stick.” Claire Romaine, a sophomore from Cincinnati, Ohio “only really got two gifts,” but her “hall mate was given a three-foot long, five-inch in diameter tree trunk” as a May Day gift.

Gabrielle Smith, a sophomore from Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania got two equally strange presents last May Day. Of them, she said, “I’m not sure if the bath toys or the shake weight is weirder. I’m still deciding.”

Christina Stella, a sophomore from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania had high hopes for her strangest gift. She said, “Somebody gave me an inflatable pool shark.  I live my life waiting for the day it comes in handy, because it will.”

Anna Kalinsky, a senior from Chatham, New Jersey may have everyone beat on getting out-of-this-world presents on May Day. She said, “The weirdest gift [I’ve ever received for May Day] is probably [four] cans of knock-off brand Playdoh from 1993.” She confessed that she “opened one of them once”, but she has since vowed, “Never again.”

Each year, May Day is planned, organized, and managed by the two Traditions Mistresses. The role is voted upon by the student body every spring, and it is typically held by two juniors. Last year, Anna Sargeant, a current senior from Williamsburg, Virginia, was one of the two Mistresses. Her room has become a bit of a May Day gift shrine over the years. Every available surface is covered in items that have been handed down for years, and some for decades. For overflow gifts (of which there are several), the Bryn Mawr senior has a large grey box. When all of her gifts are stored inside of it, “it’s filled to the brim.”

Sargeant said, “I have a number [of gifts] from the 80s and 90s”, though she has several that span back to the mid-1900s. Sargeant’s oldest gift is a tri-color hoop from 1950. Holding the thin wooden hoop in her hands, Sargeant inspected the rough surface for names. The lineage of gift owners is often written onto the surface of a gift, as it was with Sargeant’s 64-year-old hoop. “The problem is that this one gets so faded that it’s hard to read. This one starts at 1950, and it’s my oldest May Day gift. The last time it was given to someone was 1988.”

One of Sargeant’s weirdest gifts was a broken megaphone, passed down to one Traditions Mistress every year. The initial owner of the megaphone was Sarah Bristow, class of 2014, who “fell flat on her face” while using the device, and broke it beyond repair. Since then, the megaphone has become a May Day gift for the one Traditions Mistress each year that is in charge of calling out orders to first-years during Lantern Night, another Bryn Mawr tradition. The voice enhancing feature no longer functions, but Sargeant assured “the siren still works.” Without prompting, she pressed the button. The siren does indeed still work, a little too well.

Not every student was as lucky in her gift getting. Jasmine Rangel, a sophomore from Houston, Texas, didn’t receive any gifts last year. She said, “I didn’t know any seniors, so like, it wasn’t a big deal. I wasn’t close with any seniors, [because] what’s the point of getting to know people who are going to leave in a year?” While Rangel’s point is valid, a lot of students find the May Day gifting tradition to be a very special one.

Stella said, “It makes for a tighter community. May Day gifts provide space for the act of simply giving within the community with the added magic of thinking about the individual histories of each object a student chooses to leave behind.  And that’s so important.  It’s similar to the importance of family heirlooms, I guess.”

Crum agreed and added, “I do think that this tradition is important because it kind of gives us a peek into the lives of past [students].  It also connects us to them in a way.  I think that it is also a really sweet tradition that celebrates friendships and remember friends who graduated.”

Tradition, tradition

Smith said, “I love this tradition, and I think it is very important because it creates a tangible connection between current students and alums.” She went on to say, “Somebody told me that they were talking to and alum, and the alum mentioned the name of their girlfriend, who was also an alum, and the student recognized the name from one of her May Day gifts!” Of this new connection, Smith added, “It was really cool.”

As an alumna, Gleysteen had some light to shed on the importance of the tradition. She said, “I think there is something meaningful in both giving the gifts and receiving them.  For seniors, they are leaving Bryn Mawr and with that, they are leaving many things behind. It is kind of sad actually because a lot of the stuff that is given out for May Day gifts is stuff that would not necessarily belong in an apartment in post grad life, so seniors end up leaving stuff that they may have grown out of to an extent.”

She continued by saying, “something that means the world to someone in the context of Bryn Mawr may not have the same degree of importance when it is outside of the campus.  I guess I am saying that May Day gifts belong at Bryn Mawr because they are objects that are so deeply connected to the place.   Not only are the gifts themselves connected to the physical space of Bryn Mawr, but they bind students to an ongoing legacy.”

In the months before next May Day, seniors are preparing for the tradition by deciding what they will give to each person. Every senior has a unique way of getting ready. Sargeant said, “I like to pretend that my process is that I have an Excel sheet with all of the people that I like that I want to give things to, but it’s going to end up being very last minute.” She is confident that everything will turn out well though. “Everyone will get the gift that they were meant to get.”

Gleysteen shared some of her experience from last year. “A lot of wine went into gift giving. It was kind of sad so my friends and I made a night of drinking and figuring out May Day gifts.  We ended up staying up until four a. m.” She mentioned, “the process of choosing came naturally for some items and less naturally for others. With some people, you know exactly what you’re going to May Day them, and for others, you know you want to give them something but it’s hard to decide what that thing is.”

As seniors decide where their legacy gifts will go, some gifts have been saved from re-gifting for a few more years. The purple dinosaur, currently the possession of a sophomore, has two more years before it’s passed once again down the chain of Bryn Mawr students. For now, it sits in its little white chair, ready to serve as another link in the tight chain of Mawrters.

Flying the flag


By Kelli Breeden

It was a run-of-the-mill September afternoon and two seniors were finishing decorating their dorm rooms at the Radnor Hall residence at BrynMawrCollege. They turned to the small hallway alcove that gave way to their singles. A short time later, they stepped away to reveal a three-by-five foot Confederate flag occupying the stretch of wall between their doors and masking tape labeled “Mason-Dixon Line” separating themselves from the rest of the hall.

These students said they intended to make a statement of hometown pride, both having been born and raised in the Deep South. This would go unquestioned in a Southern university, but at Bryn Mawr, women’s liberal arts school outside Philadelphia, it would turn out to be a grievous mistake.

confederate-flag_663655This decision, over the next few weeks, would completely alter their place in the college and reveal schisms within a school that prides itself on being an inclusive and cohesive community. What started as the independent self-expression of two students became a platform for larger racial issues.

Remarkably, this whirlwind of events occurred in the span of two weeks. Emotions ran hot and blood boiled, but just a month after the events, campus had returned to normal. The students involved declined requests for comments, after being publicly named by local and national news.

All the quotations were gathered from campus meetings and events where the two women spoke to the community at large and other students spoke about their thoughts surrounding the incident. When asked about it today, students shake their heads and say they don’t really understand how it all happened so quickly and intensely.

Day One: A Flag Unfurled

The flag was put up, the line was put down, and the two students continued their day as usual.

Decoration in dorms on Bryn Mawr’s campus is the norm. Each year, dorm leadership teams get together to decorate halls before the rest of the study body arrives. Competitions are held to see which students can decorate their room the best, the winner receiving prizes such as a Kindle or a high number in the room lottery for the following year.

This leads to eclectic styles: a winner from 2013 collected gnome figurines and potted plants, filling her room with the little guys and countless artistic papers from postcards to full sized posters. One student papered a wall with maps of Philadelphia.

Ironically, while there are dorm rules that govern such items as type of adhesive used to hold décor in place, there are no rules censoring the content of what is put up.

This is considered a great thing at Bryn Mawr: walking down the halls, one can see anything from naked women to marijuana posters to Marxist iconography. This idea of self-expression is important here, where culturally taboo topics, such as gender identity and sexually, are encouraged and openly discussed.


Day Two: Side Looks and Murmurs

A college campus loves its gossip. Whispers around the dorm began, many recalling a rumor from last spring that a Confederate flag would be seen in Radnor Hall. Many felt that this large flag was too ostentatious and inflammatory, and spoke with Radnor’s dorm leadership team about taking action.

The issue that concerned most students was with the ties this flag has to racial issues throughout American history. The Confederate flag you see flown across the south today was in fact the battle flag of the troops lead by General Robert E. Lee as part of the army of the Confederate States of America in the Civil War. Americans remember this war in different ways: for some, it was a war over the continuation of slavery while others see it as a battle for states’ rights.

Regardless, the flag was re-appropriated in the 20th century in Alabama and Georgia to protest the desegregation of schools following Brown vs. Board of Education in 1956. From there it became a common symbol of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1950s and 60s.

What to do about the appearance of this flag? People turned to the dorm leadership team.

Dorm leadership teams, or DLTs, are comprised of several members, including dorm presidents, hall advisors, customs (orientation) leaders, peer mentors and community diversity assistants. These women are selected by their peers and trained to assist in conflicts that may arise through students from many different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic classes, etc. living together. They are supported by graduate students of the School of Social Work and Social Research, as well as the Residential Life Office.

Day Three: The First Step

One of Radnor’s dorm presidents felt compelled to act after so many complaints from Radnor residents and growing awareness around the rest of campus. She held a private meeting with the two women, explaining the connotations associated with the flag and asked that they remove it. The students refused.

To them, the flag had “a stronger connection to home than the other messages” as one of the students explained in Q&A meetings following these events.

The discrepancy seen here was that while the ties to racial discrimination are apparent, so are seemingly benign associations of the flag with Southern heritage and culture. In WWII, regiments made of men mostly from the South used the flag as their unofficial banner. Today, it can be seen on t-shirts, flip flops, bumper stickers and more.

 Day Four: “No Offense Meant”

While refusing to remove the flag, the women recognized the hurt fellow students were feeling. Thus, by midmorning, the flag in the hallway of Radnor featured an index card sign saying that it was a symbol of Southern pride and no racial insensitivity was meant by it.

Concerned members of the dorm leadership team sought a meeting with a member of the Residential Life Office “basically to find out what resources we had available to us in dealing with this issue” said a senior and Radnor resident. There weren’t any.

“We were told to handle this as best as we could,” the senior said.

However, at the same time, students of color approached representatives of the PensbyMulticulturalCenter to express their concerns over the public display of the flag.

This was another topic of debate. The two women were part of what is known at Bryn Mawr as a ‘hall group’ –a handful of rooms set aside for a group to select together so they can live with her friends.

These are often organized around the building’s unusual structures, which usually allow some separation of the group from the rest of the dorm. In this case, the girls did have a small inset of the hallway to themselves. They “thought it was a private space”, explained one of the students. However, it remained in clear view of the rest of the hallway, regardless of what section of wall it was on.

 Day Five: Dorm Issue Goes Campus-wide

Another meeting was called between the dorm leadership team and the residents displaying the flag, officially asking that the flag be removed.

Recognizing the mounting opposition, the students agreed and moved the flag to one of their rooms.

If the DLT and two students thought this would resolve the issue, their hopes were dashed. While the flag was no longer in a public space, it was in plain view of the main campus green through the window.

What was considered a potential misunderstanding was now interpreted as a “blatant show of disrespect,” according to an anonymous student at a later Q&A session.

Other students throughout campus felt that the two women in question were purposely trying to create issues by first refusing to take down the flag, then by putting up a sign that could be construed as telling everyone to ignore their hurt feelings over the display of this symbol. Finally, when forced to take down the flag by dorm leadership, placing it in clear view of the not just their dorm but the entire school and any visitor walking through campus.

The two students later said they were “unaware of the impact” their actions would create. “I was not exposed to a lot of American history. I only knew what was around me, conversations [about the flag] were not being had in that light where I grew up and was not aware of how it effects people now” explained one of the students in a public forum. However, this ignorance was not considered enough by many students at the college, many calling for the women to be removed from Radnor Hall and not even be allowed to walk at graduation in May.

It was claimed that this is a violation of the Bryn Mawr Honor Code that states that one must have “continued commitment not only to our own environment, but to that of our sisters and brothers, result[ing] in the enrichment of our atmosphere, the strengthening of our foundation, and the constant reaffirmation of our community.”

This passage points towards an expectation for adherence to social responsibility – that when one’s ignorance leads her to harm others in her community, immediate and reconciliatory action ought to take place.

While these two students had so far done everything that had been officially asked of them, many doubted their sincerity and true beliefs.

Day Seven: Radnor Community Deliberates

A dorm-wide discussion with almost all Radnor residents took place; discussing reactions and what ought to be done about the situation.

No conclusion was reached. Outrage mounted amongst the students.

“The residents showed a blatant disregard for the feelings of fear and violation expressed by first years, students from the south, white students, and by students of color” said a group of 31 Radnor students in a letter to the public.

Day Eight: Bigger Than Two Students and A Flag

A meeting was arranged through the Bryn Mawr-Haverford-Swarthmore chapter of the NAACP to discuss and organize a demonstration in protest of the indifference the administration of Bryn Mawr to this issue.

While Bryn Mawr administrators considered it primarily a social issue and encouraged the dorm leadership to handle it themselves in an expression of self-governance, most students felt their reluctance to step in revealed a larger and systemic issue of failing to protect the rights and feelings of students of color.

Over 150 students and faculty attended the meeting, as well as key administrators, including Kim Cassidy, President of Bryn Mawr.

These women sought to “transform the campus-wide pain of a negative situation regarding the hanging of the Confederate flag into a positive, larger discussion about systemic race relation that our institution faces” wrote a member of the NAACP in response to this meeting.

Meanwhile, the blinds to the window revealing the flag were closed.

 Day Nine: Protest and National Attention

That afternoon, several hundred students and faculty of all colors gathered together in solidarity for those suffering from the racial issues not addressed by Bryn Mawr’s administration.

Everyone wore black and linked arms to show their support. Signs declared sayings such as “Administrators silence speak volumes”, “Ignorance is not an excuse” and “Your privilege > my safety”. Hashtags such as #IfIWere, #BecauseIAm, #BMCBanter, and #RaceAtBMC were used in social media to support the demonstration and the call for change.

This demonstration brought outside attention. Local and national news outlets took note of the story.

Cassidy was supportive of the demonstration, saying in an email to the Bryn Mawr community that she “believe[s] our diversity is a strength and a mark of excellence and I am deeply committed to working together with you to create a campus climate that is experienced as safe and supportive by all community members.“

While she stated that both the issues experienced on campus and the rights of the two students involved needed to be considered, she was confident a reasonable decision could be made and Bryn Mawr could move forward through better diversity education.

This statement seemed to be saying that this was all a misunderstanding by the two students involved, and the school, while letting the student body resolve the issue, was deeply committed to the support and proper representation of the students of color at Bryn Mawr.

The flag was removed following the demonstration.

Gone but Not Forgotten

While the initial concern over the display of the Confederate flag had been rectified, many felt that the students in question were not forced to face the consequences of their actions. Many wanted these women to be examples for a stronger presence of a zero tolerance policy for racial bias and insensitivity.

In a signed letter, representatives of the Radnor community asked for the removal of the two women not just from Radnor Hall, but the campus residential community as a whole. “While we are unwilling to live in an environment with those students, we cannot, in good conscience, impose this threat on members of the greater Bryn Mawr community,” the letter said.

Bryn Mawr strongly supports the idea of self-governance. So, when a statement, such as the letter by Radnor residents, gives a clear issue and solution, and is backed by the majority of the residents at the residence hall, it is generally honored.

The two students were relocated to an off-campus apartment leased by the college.

Repercussions also found their way into the two students’ extracurricular lives.

As members of multiple athletic teams, their right to continue participation was called into question. Ultimately, it was decided that the students be allowed to keep their places on the roster. However, one of the students was removed from her leadership position as the secretary of SAAC, the Student Athletic Advisory Committee.

The events surrounding what began as a harmless, if misguided, display of hometown pride became a conduit for larger issues.

Two students raised in the South and ignorant of the racial implications of the Confederate Flag found themselves as symbols for the larger culture of passive oppression through a refusal by administrations to act quickly and decisively in instances of personal insensitivity and bias.

This led to their removal from campus, loss of leadership positions, and quasi-ostracism from the community at large.

Are these just consequences for the ignorant actions of two college students? Or are they an over-zealous response channeled by frustration at not being able to address racism on a larger systemic basis?

Nerd = Cool?


By Tembisa Aborn

James Campbell, a 20-year-old Haverford College student, sits in front of his television while wearing Batman pajamas. Right now, he’s playing Call of Duty on his Xbox 360, but he might switch to Halo, or better yet, turn on his Wii and call over some friends to play Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Maybe they’ll talk about the way the last season of Game of Thrones ended, as he is an avid watcher, or about the new Marvel Comics movie.

In short, Campbell is a nerd.

Because of that one word — and knowing nothing else — if you were asked to conjure up an image of Campbell, you might imagine him to be sweet but socially inept. Skinny and pale, wearing thick glasses. Maybe he has braces and wears a lot of plaid. The exact opposite is true. Campbell has 20/20 vision, perfect teeth, plays basketball, is 150 pounds of mostly muscle, and while he likes movies and video games, he also likes parties and shopping.

That doesn’t make him any less nerdy.

Campbell and his kind represent the increasingly large number of people who, despite not fitting into the mold of the traditional geek or nerd, still partake in various aspects of the culture, like comic books, video games, and tech. They are living proof of the fact that nerd culture, once perceived as the domain of anti-social basement dwellers, now belongs to whoever feels like taking it.Print

Even the words “nerd” and “geek” have evolved tremendously to accommodate this demographics shift. Not all that long ago, these terms were the jeers of the cool kids beating down on people whose interests placed them on the fringes of society. As Mikey Ilagan, the editor-in-chief of popular Philadelphia-based nerd blog Geekadelphia, explained it, “There was a time when being knowledgeable about certain topics or fields was perceived negatively.” Now, the very same words are worn as badges of pride.

Even pop culture seems persistently aware of this transition.

For instance, in a 2013 episode of the NBC comedy Parks and Recreation, after someone attempts to insult him by being called a nerd, one character shoots back, “Nerd culture is mainstream now. So when you use the word ‘nerd’ derogatorily, that means you’re the one that’s out of the Zeitgeist.” At the very worst, one might see friends roll their eyes at one another and say teasingly, “Jeez, you’re such a nerd about this,” as a way to acknowledge someone’s enthusiasm and mastery of a particular subject. Even this could be described as grudgingly respectful. It certainly isn’t mean.

The gradual shift of nerd culture from counterculture to mainstream is probably due in large part to the ever-expanding role of technology in our everyday lives.

“[Nerd culture] has become mainstream because we’ve got everything thanks to the advancement of technology, the interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math education), and who knows what else,” said Ilagan. It’s true. Computers, cellphones, gaming consoles, web sites, these things make up our day-to-day, and they were pioneered by the nerds of our world. To shun the culture whose participants, from Bill Gates to Elon Musk, have provided the foundation of much of modern society would be to bite the hand that feeds.

There’s more to this change than society simply paying its dues. In fact, part of it seems to be that nerd culture is starting to pay its dues to society. For a long time, nerdom put its money on appealing to specific types of people. If only non-athletic teenage boys seemed to take an interest in certain types of books or shows, then that was partly because they only attempted to appeal to non-athletic teenage boys Continue reading

Welcome to Nerd House


By Stephanie Marrie

Pokémon Night

One rainy night, students from Bryn Mawr College cross the bridge to a small, two-story house next to a soccer field. It is 8 p.m. at the Yarnall House on Haverford College. Tonight’s events revolve around Pokemon, the popular kids show that captured the hearts of these college students when they were little.

Unsurprisingly, there is a huge and noisy crowd. The main hallway separates two rooms, a kitchen and a TV area, both of which are packed. In the kitchen, six young men are playing their 3DS systems simultaneously. There is a picture of Pikachu taped to the wall, with several different paper tails to pin on her. In the hallway, seven others sit on the carpet. They take turns on an old board game based on the show’s second season. In the TV room, the rest of the club members play various mini-games from “Pokémon Stadium 2,” a classic from the Nintendo 64.

Students at Nerd House

Students at Nerd House

After that, two of the four players, one boy and one girl, decide to hold a one-on-one match. Once word gets around that there will be a Pokémon battle, all four floral couches in the TV room quickly fill up with commentators. When the female player picks out her monster, Jynx, the audience is shocked.

“Jynx is the biggest drag-queen,” one onlooker quips. The girl is undeterred, even though her chosen character is beaten easily. She used to play this game with her younger brother, and simply wants relive her most competitive years.

This is the only place on campus where she and other closeted video game enthusiasts can come together to have such fun. It may not have been around for long, but according to those in charge, its history says much about the nature of a geeky community that is part of the Haverford and Bryn Mawr sub-culture.

Yarnell, one of Haverford’s residence halls, become their official place to hang together. It is known — officially and unofficially — as Nerd House.


It is the year before the birth of the Nerd House, and Yarnall’s atmosphere is more sports-oriented. Kamala Codrington has just been admitted into the school. By the next spring, she will become one of the first members to sign up for the Nerd House. At this point, she has only heard stories about the Yarnall House, but apparently only because Lacrosse players live there.

“They stand out because of their rowdiness,” Codrington says of the relationship between the sportsmen and the Department of Residential Life.

After the jocks move out, the place grows quiet. The TV room is empty, save for a few obscure DVDs lying against the plain white walls. One student, Tatiana Hammond, tries to take advantage of this new atmosphere by proposing a sanctuary here. She wants to hold Yoga lessons but, unfortunately, her plan is not accepted. Nothing else happens here for a long time except for the occasional superhero movie night, like Superman or Spiderman.

“Nobody goes to see them,” Hammond sighs. “It’s weird because they were pretty popular when they first came out.”

Jocks and movie buffs, however, are not the only major players on campus. Daniel Plesniak, founder of the Nerd House, is one of the few freshmen who likes to game as a hobby. Although he does not think Haverford College is unaccepting of people like him, he feels that sometimes its acceptance is not enthusiastic. So, he sought to create his own space. Continue reading

Call the Midwife


By Rosa Nanasi Haas

It was noon and midwife Jessica Schwarz was caught with her head between a 42-year-old woman’s legs at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia one Friday in November. The patient’s water broke the night before, but when Schwarz checked her patient’s cervix and it was completely closed.

Schwarz gave her patient Pitocin, a drug that induces contractions and it started to do its job. The patient’s cervix began dilating.

The woman’s contractions grew longer, stronger and closer together. Her cervix started thinning out. The patient pushed harder and harder, until a little head started crowning.

Schwarz looked at the monitor and saw the baby’s heart rate dip. The dips continued.

The baby had to come out. Schwarz did a maneuver to help the baby deliver faster.

Schwarz delivered a shocked, eight pounds, 10-ounce baby boy at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania.

Another delivery successfully completed, one of thousands Schwarz has assisted in.

Schwarz is currently the Team Lead for the midwives and nurse practitioners at CHOP who assist women during and after pregnancy. Over the course of her 11 years as a midwife, she has been present for thousands of births and has risen in her field to become a skilled midwife.

“I learn stuff here everyday,” Schwarz said of her job at CHOP. “It’s like the weirdest, strangest place to work.”

Schwarz, 37, received her degree in Midwifery from the University of Pennsylvania in 2003.

When asked why she is a midwife, Schwarz replied, “It was all the natural, earthy-birthystuff was what I really fell-in-love with.”

Newborn Baby

Schwarz began her career as a midwife in 2005 when she went to work at Lawrence OBGYN, a small private practice in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

Schwarz explains how she hopes women feel after giving birth. “I hope they can come through feeling like they have a voice and they have decision- making capacity.”

* * *

Schwarz had recently started working at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania. A mother was admitted to CHOP.

When she arrived at the hospital, she was nine centimeters dilated. The woman was nervous and jittery.

Schwarz comforted the patient.

“Take a breath. It’s going to be fine. You’re almost there. We’re going to push the baby out. We’re going to be done. We’re going to be done before you know it.” Continue reading

The Survivor


By Samantha Love

Jackie Speier’s life changed forever one day in 1978 on the landing strip of an airport in Guyana.

In November of 1978, Speier was a staff member of Congressman Leo Ryan’s ill-fated trip to Jonestown, Guyana that inspired and initiated her life’s work. Ryan had constituents who had children who had gotten involved in the People’s Temple, a Church in San Francisco.

The Rev. Jim Jones had taken about 900 members of his congregation to Guyana in 1978-79, where they created, Jonestown, a commune in the middle of a jungle. Ryan’s mission was to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by Jones and his Peoples Temple followers, most of whom were American citizens.

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier

As Speier recalled it: “People had defected and told Congressman Ryan about their experiences there and the abuse that was going on and so he wanted to go and find out first hand, and he took a number of relatives and staff members. We found out that people were being held against their will and many of them wanted to leave with us.”

When they left for the airstrip, they were not aware that a tractor-trailer armed with seven gunmen was following them, ready to ambush Ryan’s team and fleeing Church members. Speier recalled, “On the airstrip and I was loading passengers onto both planes and I heard this noise and I didn’t know it was gunfire.”

Ryan ran under the plane and she followed suit and hid behind one of the wheels, but they were both shot at point blank range. Congressman Ryan was shot 45 times. He was the first U.S. Congressman to be assassinated. Six others were killed. That same day, November 18, over 900 of the remaining members of the Peoples Temple died in Jonestown and Georgetown in a mass murder-suicide y drinking poison-laced KoolAid..

Although Speier got away with her life, she did not get away unscathed. She was shot five times on that airstrip.

Nearly dead

“The whole right side of my body was blown up. I was 28 and I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is it. I’m not going to live to be 85. I’m not going to get married and have children,’”

Speier said. She “experienced firsthand what mortality was all about.” As she lay there, the image of her grandmother, who was then 86, flashed in front of her. Speier recalled thinking: “I don’t want her to have to live through my funeral.” So, she dragged her body to the side of the plane, avoiding anymore gun wounds. “I don’t know how I did it” she said. And then, “someone pushed me into the plane,” which “wasn’t going anywhere because it had bullet holes through it.” Eventually she was taken out of the plane and put on the side of the airstrip, conveniently located on top of an anthill. She quipped, “I always tell everyone, you don’t sweat the small things when you are dying.” She waited there for 22 hours without medical attention. Continue reading

Modern tales of school life

Four diverse stories about modern school life.

Aldis Gamble, whose beat is college food, writes about how Haverford and Bryn Mawr are trying to deal with food allergies.

Emilia Otte, who covers education, has two pieces: one about introducing blended learning at Bryn Mawr and a day in the life of a teacher at an all-boys private school.

Kyra Sagal, who covers art, writes about a movement to empower women called The Red Lips Project.

Building a Gluten-free world


By Aldis Gamble 

A new sight greeted students returning to Haverford College this fall during their very first meal in the Dining Center. The corner of one of the two dining rooms was walled off to create a new room. On the grey clapboards over the room’s door, large letters spelled out the words “GLUTEN FREE.”

In the beginning of August, Haverford’s Facilities Management built this new room to help Dinning Services better meet the needs of students with severe gluten allergies. According to Bernie Chung-Templeton, director of dining services at the school, students with celiac disease or similar conditions must first meet the college’s nutritionist before they are given one card access to the room.

Inside the small room, gluten free baked goods, such as sandwich breads, pastries and tortillas are stocked daily, just as their glutinous counterparts are in the main dining area. Similar rooms have existed in Bryn Mawr College Dining Halls for over a year. Chung-Templeton, who also heads food services at Bryn Mawr, first piloted the idea of a segregated gluten free room at Bryn Mawr in the 2013-2014 school year, and after finding it successful, expanded the program to Haverford.

Chung-Templeton’s efforts to accommodate students with specific dietary needs are similar to those being made in colleges and universities across the country. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2007, the most recent year for data is available, 3 million, or 3.9% of children under the age of 18 have a food or digestive allergy. Additionally, in the decade between 1997 and 2006 the number of children who reported having food allergies increased significantly. In the face of these statistics, many colleges and universities have started trying to make their dining halls safer for students with food allergies.

In January 2014, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), an organization that researches and advocates for those living with food allergies, launched the College Food Allergy Program. According to its website, the goal of this program is to work with numerous stakeholders create a “comprehensive program to improve the safety and quality of life for college students with food allergies.” The website explains this goal in a list of “five major components” which include developing “best practices guidelines” for universities to identify an accommodate students with allergies, and providing prospective college students and their parents with useful information to consider while applying to colleges.

Bernie Chung-Templeton

Bernie Chung-Templeton

Although College Food Allergy Program has yet to publish guidelines either for colleges or prospective students, the Resources for College Students page of FARE’s website provides an idea of what types of information may be included. A bulleted list of tips for prospective students includes such suggestions as, “Make sure the dining facilities are safe by … asking the food service director how you can verify the ingredients of each meal.” Students already in college are advised to alert their hall mates to their allergies, avoid drunkenly injecting friends with epinephrine as a joke, and wait a few hours and brush one’s teeth after eating peanuts before kissing someone with a peanut allergy.

The question of how best to accommodate students with food allergies, Chung-Templeton said, is raised at every conference for college and university food service directors she attends. Although she cannot control how students act in their dorms or social lives with regard to food allergies she does what she can to ensure that none of her staff are putting them at unnecessary risk. Continue reading

Blended Learning


By Emilia Otte

In the high-tech atmosphere of today’s universities, the chalkboard still has a place.

Even with the rise of its fiercest competitor to date, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), studies continue to show that face-to-face learning is more effective than online instruction.

However, educators are realizing that there is no reason why they can’t bring the rivaling models together for the overall good of higher education. This combination of a traditional classroom with online materials creates “blended learning”.

After blended learning had some success at large universities, administrators at Bryn Mawr College, a small liberal arts women’s college in Pennsylvania, wondered if the system could apply equally well to an institution like theirs.

In the 2011-2012 school year, Bryn Mawr received a $250,000 grant from the NGLC (Next Generation Learning Challenges). In fall of 2011, the faculty launched 18 blended introductory STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) courses. Students in lower-level biology, chemistry, and geology courses took online quizzes, watched online tutorials, and practiced basic math skills needed for the class. Professors did not have to reduce time spent in the classroom- and none of them did.

At the end of the semester, 93.5 percent of the students in the blended courses earned a merit grade (2.0 or better), versus 83 percent of students in traditional STEM classes. The average grades for the biology, chemistry, and geology courses were significantly higher than they had been in the past.

Bryn Mawr President Kim Cassidy

Bryn Mawr President Kim Cassidy

The next year, liberal arts colleges across the country developed blended courses on their own campuses. Macalester College used computer-based games and experiments for an introductory economics course. Oberlin College incorporated Skype sessions into one of its Spanish classes. A professor at Lafayette College “flipped” an introductory statistics class -students watched the lectures online and used class time to work through problem sets.

In total, according to the NGLC study’s official website, 25 small liberal arts colleges created over 40 blended learning courses for the 2012-2013 school year. None of the Bryn Mawr professors teaching the original 18 courses stopped using blended methods. This more than doubled the total number of blended courses offered at liberal arts colleges in a single year, and the trend continues to spread in small colleges across the United States. Continue reading