Getting involved in leadership on your college campus is a great way to build relationships with your peers and make a difference in your campus community. Additionally, adding leadership experience to your resume is a great way to showcase your social and organizational skills for potential employers.
Nhi, Sponsor-A-Scholar Class of 2014 and a graduate of Northeast High School, took on a leadership role in her sophomore year at Haverford College when she became a Peer Awareness Facilitator through Haverford’s Customs program. Majoring in Anthropology with a minor in Education, Nhi hopes to eventually apply her leadership skills to a career in Museum Education. We asked Nhi to tell us a little about her experience with Customs:
Can you tell us a little about Customs at Haverford? What is a Peer Awareness Facilitator (PAF)?
Customs is a year-long program for freshmen that helps new students get acclimated to life at Haverford. Each first-year residence hall (about 12-20 freshmen per hall) is assigned a group of eight upperclassmen which essentially serves as the “welcoming committee” for first-year students. There are five Customs positions for upperclassmen, each of which entails a rigorous interview and training process: Customs Persons (CPs), who live in the residence halls and are similar to RAs; Honor Code Orienteers (HCOs), who work in pairs and discuss the different aspects of Haverford’s social and academic honor codes; an Ambassador of Multicultural Affairs (AMA), who is a single person who educates first-years about cultural affairs and events; an Upperclassman Advisor (UCA) who acts as a peer academic advisor to first-years; and Peer Awareness Facilitators (PAFs), who facilitate discussions about social and identity issues
I’m a PAF. Basically, the main goal of Customs is to alleviate some of the pressure of being in a new environment and to give first-year students a chance to bond with each other and to build relationships with upperclassmen.
Why did you want to become a PAF?
Haverford introduced me to a lot of different conversations regarding my personal identity, and my own PAFs provided me with great opportunities to explore these topics. To me, a PAF is an integral part of a first-year student’s experience and the responsibility that PAFs have is very important. Being a PAF is such an important part of my Haverford experience that I also serve as the PAF committee head. As committee head, I am responsible for choosing the PAF committee and also interviewing, selecting, and training the PAFs for the following year. PAFs hold a very important position in facilitating tough discussions regarding sensitive topics with first-years. We help create a space for open dialogue.
What are your primary responsibilities as a PAF?
We facilitate ten hour-long discussions over the course of both semesters which on the topics of: Race, Class, Sexuality, Gender, Religion and Spirituality, Sexual (Mis)Conduct, (Dis)Ability, Sexuality, Body Image, and Mental Health. Sometimes the session is an equal mix of education and conversation, but sometimes we just try to create a safe space for first-year students to talk about these topics. We also act as general peer resources to first-year students, providing friendship, academic support, and anything else that a first-year may need that is in the realm of our ability.
What trait do you think is most valuable in a PAF?
Being able to be calm while facilitating the discussions is really important. As a PAF, your role is not to persuade every first-year to agree with your own ideas, but rather to hold a space for a dialogue on these issues. Mutual agreement is not the goal of the sessions, but mutual understanding and respect are. As a PAF, you have to be ready to have first-year students who have mindsets that are a complete 180 from your own, and you have to find a way to come to a place where everyone respects each other’s opinions and can learn something through the sessions. In today’s world, where issues like institutionalized racism, police brutality, sexism, and many other social injustices are so prevalent, it is really important for first-year students to respectfully discuss these sensitive topics. PAFs are trained to facilitate those discussions.
What advice would you give to a Philadelphia Futures collegian who is considering taking on a leadership role at their school?
I would say organization and dedication are key! Taking on a leadership role in college is very time-consuming, so it’s important to make sure you really care about the role and understand how much time it will actually take to fulfill all of your responsibilities. The time and effort aren’t worth it unless you really care about what you are doing. Organization is key because on top of your leadership role, you still have classes, extracurricular activities, jobs, etc. It takes a lot of planning to stay on top of everything, so having excellent time management skills is a must!
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