The essence of freshman year can perhaps best be remembered by recalling mealtime in the Freshman Union. Often resembling a cattle drive more than a meal, a year in the Union begins in a friendly enough way, but the novelty of dining with 1600 other freshmen have stopped introducing themselves to the people seated at their tables, even if they sit down with strangers. Dining room cliques begin to gell and conversations have turned from, "Hi, I'm Joe Schmoe, who are you and where do you come from?" to, "Oh my God, I've got an Ec 10 problem set and an Expos paper due tomorrow." By spring, the joys of the Union are fading and freshmen are eating in the Houses any chance they can get--for any reason. "I love Adams House granola," is an often-heard excuse.
But the freshman class has not always shared its first-year experiences over meals in the Union. It fact, it has been ten years since the whole freshman class was housed in the Yard, and then it was only fresh men. "I was a freshman in the Yard when that plan was in effect," says Dean Fox, fondly recalling his freshman days. "If you compare the freshman experience at Harvard to that at other colleges, you find we spend a tremendous amount of time and effort on the freshmen," Fox adds, implying that he finds many positive aspects to his plan, which has become known as the Fox Plan.
Last year, after much debate over ways to make the unpopular Radcliffe Quad a more appealing place to live, Fox came up with a plan for all freshmen to live in the Yard or Union dorms this year, and the Freshman Union remained open for meals on weekends. Overcrowding in the Yard dorms was eased by using Canaday to house some freshmen who two years ago would have lived in the Quad, and most of this year's freshmen say they are satisfied with the Fox Plan, though they readily admit they have nothing with which to compare it. Fox is also reluctant to offer hasty judgment, and says, "The plan is a long-term thing, not something you can discuss after only one year."
Many freshmen complained this year of the relative isolation of the Yard, but say they did enjoy the feeling of unity. "It was good to be in a central location," says Alyssa J. Karger '81. She adds, "You fear you will be put in a House where everybody already knows everybody else--the cliques are already formed and you'll be left out. But in the Yard, everyone is in the same situation."
Countering this complaint, Fox says, "I quibble with the word isolated. Freshmen are separate from the rest of the University. But they are involved in music, drama and other activities."
For Henry C. Moses, dean of freshmen, the Fox Plan is a fact of life. "I knew when I arrived it would be five, ten years before the question of messing around with the living system would be brought up again. I've seen no one questioning whether freshmen should live at Eliot and everybody else at North, Moses says.
Most objections to the Fox Plan came from Quad residents who felt an absence of freshmen would change the atmosphere of the Quad dramatically, and that the Quad would therefore lose its appeal along with its freshmen. The difficulty, however, was that some freshmen who used to live at the Quad felt they were missing something by not living in the Yard.
"I feel the plan might end up short-changing the Quad by eliminating freshmen from the life up there. It's also poor because more upperclassmen are unhappy now. It's nice to have freshmen in one place, but I can't imagine it would be traumatic to live at the Quad as a freshman," says John C. McCullough '78 of Mather House.
Administrators, however, are have a tough time dispelling Radcliffe's "unlikeable" reputation, which has prevailed over the years. "Unfortunately, Radcliffe is in a bad situation. The ultimate solution is just to assign people, but that eliminates free choice, and the House system depends on free choice. It's very much a trade-off," Michael W. Gibbons '78 says.
Most seniors emphasize the underlying problems of Radcliffe housing: single rooms and the distance from the University proper give the Quad a sense of isolation. Two years ago, students assigned to the Quad were referred to as having been "banished North" or "banished South" or "exiled to the Quad."
"No particular plan is going to solve that problem. The Quad has to be integrated into the University. Rather than the Fox Plan, more classes should be help up at the Quad, and any future College building should take place there so that it become a part of the lives of all the people at Harvard," Joan D. Channick '78 of Leverett House says.
Quad problems aside, freshman year is a unique experience in University life, and in part an underlying reason for the Fox Plan. "You can make a list of the stresses of freshman year and they all add up to what George Goethals calls the 'crisis of adolescence,'" Moses says, pointing out the classic case of the freshman who leaves home, where he has succeeded at everything he has tried, and finds great difficulty dealing with freedom and with academic and social demands.
"I'm very interested in freshman year and the proctors' advising on it. Let's face it--it's a bitch," Moses says.
Freshmen and their proctors also realize the peculiar nature of their situations, which call for enduring intense living, studying and social circumstances. "This is a strange society for we Homo sapiens to live in. The traditional civilized way of responding may not be the right way," Charles J. Duffy '77, a proctor in Thayer, says. "Perhaps the greater tension in the Yard may be due to overcrowding. When you live in the bunk above someone else, you are forced to get to know each other more rapidly than you would if you were in the next room over."
During freshman year, the architecture of some dorms makes it hard, if not impossible, for students to meet each other, Karger says. "In a place like Matthews, where everybody lived off a hallway and shared a bathroom, you got to know each other right away. The only time we [freshmen in Wigglesworth] saw people in the next entryway was when our proctor scheduled activities, and that was about once a month," Karger adds.