Commuter's Center: A Home Is No House

Social Problems, University Neglect Weaken Dudley

At a recent Jolly Up the President of a smaller College club succeeded in finding enjoyable company with a Radcliffe Freshman. When the evening was nearly over the girl suddenly asked him the name of hour. "Oh, I'm at Dudley--the non-resident Center, " he answered. In a few seconds she found an excuse to disappear "to look for someone I just have to see." Although it was an uncommon affront, his resentment and her unfair prejudice might well characterize the perplexing difficulties confronting Harvard's commuting students. Their struggle is to win more prestige and facilities for a drab Center, and to capture the aid of an apparently inattentive Administration.

"You never see Dean Bunduy down here mixing with us," complained a member of the Dudley committee at their last meeting. While defenders of the Administration might point out that the Deans seldom make special visits to any of the houses, the commuters feel they deserve notice. "If the University men think they'll catch the plague or something by coming in Dudley," added a dance chairman, "then they should at least decide what they're going to do with us." Unfortunately, the Administration not only lacks definite plans for the commuter, but it has no solution for the obvious inequalities of the Center.

Located between the Square and Cronin's on Dunster Street, Dudley Hall is an ugly building with a nearly colorless basement and first level parceled out to the commuter. Over a block on Holyoke Street, next to the Hasty Pudding, is Apley Court, where tutorial offices, a bunk room, and a small library are available. For many commuters, the only clear satisfaction with the Center's facilities is the convenience of the place for "having a good talk with your buddies." While University officials debate whether to integrate the commuters into the house system as non-resident members or make large improvements at Dudley, the Center battles alone against cliches like "The Black Shoes."

Raise Prestige

To help Dudley's prestige, a number of vigorous leaders have promoted participation in a program of improvements. Last year, for example, a popular spokesman joined the Committee in urging the adoption of a coat and tie rule for the Dudley dining room. But the plan nearly collapsed when he won a large scholarship and moved into a house, emphasizing the danger in the continual drain of Dudley's leadership. The magnetic effect of the houses has drawn away nearly half of the commuter total since 1952, and many of this number have been the outstanding members who could get University support. While the move so fine for the individual concerned, it has had a depressing influence on Dudley's standing, evidenced by the steady decline in the Center's academic rank. Yet few commuters begrudge those who switch to a house "Good luck to them," is the general response, "I'd do the same if I could afford it."

Although efforts to boost Dudley are continually hampered by the loss of men, the leaders who have chosen to remain are not relaxing campaigns to improve the Center's stature. A student who moved out this year, in fact, has suggested that "without the twenty top men over there the place would fall apart." Undoubtedly, the task of improvement within Dudley is not an easy one. Much of the difficulty is coordinating the activities of almost 300 men who must divide their time among home, classes, and the Center.

Lamont Clan

On one extreme, there is the small clan that seldom makes the effort to walk through Dudley's doors. Their daytime home is the fourth level smoking room at Lamont, where they study, eat lunch, relax on the tables, and "shoot the breeze," as one of them put it. At the Center there is another group, relatively small in number, but a black smudge on Dudley's reputation. "I don't mind the guys who aren't the Ivy League type," a recent member of the Center remarked, "but those spoilers who wear dirty sweat shirts are just too much."

In an attempt to reduce the effect of this minority and the general carelessness, the Dudley Committee posted a sign which said: "As you have probably noticed, the condition of our ro9oms during the past few weeks has been absolutely filthy. The present appearance of these rooms distracts from both your own enjoyment and also from the overall appearance of our house. Please do not eat your lunch in these rooms." Further evidence of the difficulty, and the effort to eliminate it, are the homey "definitions" in the Dudley Reporter:

"Hoofers; the guy who puts his sweet feet (a la limburger) in your face during much time and thinks he looks co-leej-ut." The typical commuter, admittedly, is not the Brook Brothers picture of the finely styled man; he is, however, cleanly and comfortably dressed. He enjoys the casual atmosphere of Dudley and the opportunity to share his toughest with undergraduates who also face the daily trip to and from the University. He is also similar to his Dudley friends in his moderate financial background. With few exceptions, it is this lack of funds that necessitates commuting.

Even with the reduced costs of living at home, about one third of Dudley's students are helped by small University scholarships. Some of these men also work, bringing the total number of commuters who have part time jobs to somewhat over a third. "The trouble with commuting," one student said, "is the time I spend traveling makes it impossible to earn the cash I need to live in a house." For this dilemma their i8s apparently no answer--outside of a large loan or scholarship--except the sacrifice of studying and extra-curricular activities.

To pry loose the commuters' attraction to the house system would take a lever the Administration apparently lacks. A dean cannot smile at the commuters and tell them the houses aren't really very much, while advertising to the rest of the country that the house system is "one of Harvard's finest features." The policy in the past few years, then, has been to give Dudley a series of improvements in an attempt to satisfy the most outrageous inequalities. The commuters, however, have responded by shifting out of the Center at the pace of nearly a hundred men a year. "Before we got any help," an officer on the Dudley Educational Committee explained, "a lot of the guys didn't know there was anything at the University except the lecture hall. Giving us a few improvements and a little attention made it clearer what we're missing by not having the same advantages as the houses."

Unsatifactory Conditions

Part of the failure to woo the commuter to his Center is the continuing shortage of attractive and needed features. Putting a big flannel patch on a hole in a pair of blue jeans won't make them suit pants, and the stop gap measures at Dudley have not transformed it into a house. The complaints range from criticism of the grimy looking walls to condemnation of the entire Center as inadequate. The furniture just inside the front door is a collection of multi-colored leather chairs placed about a large red rug. Before settling down, the commuter must find a place for his coat on an overburdened clothes rack. In the basement, a student is apt to kick his locker rather than struggle with the old lock that opens the way to a minimum of space. Old ping pong tables, a billiard room with no pool table, and dingy lighting are all less than satisfactory. Even the television set hasn't been used for any length of time in months because Dudley's heavy stone walls block effective reception.

But the most urgent problem is the exasperating search for more space. By knocking out the wall between an old game room the dining hall this last summer, Dudley expanded its eating facilities to conform with the Cambridge fire laws for the first time in several years. A number of students, however, still slip down to the basement ping pong room to cat their lunch, and the closeness of tables in the lunch room gives it the atmosphere of a cafeteria rather than a dining hall. Yet the food, brought over from the Adams House kitchen, is as good or better than that of the houses. And the addition of the contested coat and tie rule, now strongly approved by the great majority of the Center, has helped make Dudley a likeable noon dining place for a daily average of fifty inter house students. The contest with house members has given Dudley a much needed push in its climb toward equal recognition.