YOU could die in your room at Radcliffe and, if the door were closed, no one would know about it until the stench from your decaying body became so unbearable that it offended people out in the hallway.
Life at the Cliffe is very different from life at Harvard. Much of the difference is built into the structure of the dorms. In the old brick buildings like Briggs, where I have dwelled for over a month now, there are no living rooms. Bedrooms are arranged in rows along corridors, much like those in an expensive psychiatric ward. To visit someone, one must be in a bedroom where the owner of the room is clearly in the dominant social position. In Harvard living rooms, all are equal and more at case.
The structure of the dorms is one of the fundamental factors in the difference in life at the Cliffe. The famous Cliffic depression and loneliness, the jealous guarding of privacy, the abhorrence of noise in the corridors, the pall which hangs over the halls after midnight, and the excruciating desire to escape to Harvard or off campus are all phenomena relating to physical environment.
How at least one Harvard boy, and he is still a boy, reacted to this environment is the subject of the following, often factual, account.
Sunday: I got back from intercession and suddenly realized that what had once been merely my name on a sheet of paper was about to mean a radical change in my life style. From the rooms and roommates at Adams, where I had lived for a year and a half I would now have to move to the Cliffe. Setting myself adrift in a sea of unfamiliar names and faces I would have to begin a new life. The chaos and confusion, mixed with a feeling of hope and adventure, could only be matched by freshman year.
Yet in freshman year at least we all had something in common. All new freshman face the same lack of social structure, while at Radcliffe it was a group of fourteen invading a set system with firmly established mores and ground rules.
I MOVED in on a Sunday, with a bright blue sky overhead and not a soul in the dorm. The only sign of life was a small notice taped to the hallway where the boys lived which read, "Mamma Sara, third floor for sewing, brownies, ironing, and tea and sympathy." Never one to turn down a little tea, and in need of a little sympathy I became Sara's first customer.
Because of the size of the rooms and the nature of the occupants, certain rooms in Briggs are known as "people caters," and one is unable to walk by them without going in. There are always people there, talking, smoking, napping, or just playing. Sara's room is one of those.
In addition to occupying one of the "people eater rooms," Sara is a freshman. Freshmen do things together-go to plays, movies, and mixers. They still have the group sensibility which is an integral part of Harvard life but which is lost to Cliffies by their sophomore year. They still have a bright optimism which shines in their faces. The freshmen make me feel old-not wise or jaded, just old.
Tonight I had my first meal as a Cliffie. I had of course, eaten in Radcliffe dining rooms before, but never had I been so overwhelmed by the female presence. For the first time, I think, I felt a little of what it must be like to be a member of an obvious minority group. Unreasoned paranoia set in. I figure I will last maybe three more days here.
Most of that night I spent meeting the people on the floor living with me. They put the boys on the fourth floor where they occupy one end of a corridor. In a basic instinct for survival we moved some of our furniture out into the halls and declared that the halls belong to the people. The girls who came to visit and say "welcome" retired by midnight and the rest of the night I spent meeting the boys.
We had come to Radcliffe for a variety of reasons: to support the coed living plan, to meet new people, to find out what it was like, and to get away from roommates. Above all we had come to find out about girls. We were preppies and heads, jocks and students, lovers and lonely. We were, I think, a good cross section of Adams House.
Monday: Picking new courses and going to classes is a pain in the ass. The walk to classes, previously so short as to be almost nonexistent, is now a trip in itself. There is time to walk, sing, or think. Above all it is cold. Walking through the Common tonight I could not find a degree anywhere. I looked under bushes and behind lampposts, but there weren't any to be had. Next time I'll remember to get dressed up, though I won't go as far as some of my cohorts and buy a bicycle.
Tonight we had a dorm meeting. There is no such animal in Adams House. We males, in common terror and with tongues in cheeks, banded together in the "Male Chauvinist Party." We were crushed. I had wanted to run for fire captain-for the honor, not the job. I could just see it, running through the halls in a red hat and underwear making sure all the rules were obeyed during fire drills. What a gas. But the meeting decided that the present fire captain would remain in her post.
The next blow to the fledgling MCP came in the decision on dorm elections. Last year, in a disputed and unprecedented election. Briggs Hall had elected a boy co-president. This year, however, it was decided that only girls could run for the office and a special office of vice-president was created for the boys.