"A lot of students go through four years at Harvard thinking that Harvard Square is Cambridge," complains Councilor Francis H. Duehay '55.
But to those who would like to explore beyond that mental boundary, Cambridge offers many opportunities for students to gain substantial experience, especially in the field of politics. This city, like most of Massachusetts, takes its politics seriously but it is not averse to letting some of the newcomers into the action especially this fall during city council elections.
"It's a great experience and a good way to learn about the community around you," says Damon Krukowski '85, who worked on the campaign of City Councilor David Sullivan two years ago. Krukowski took Sullivan around the Yard introducing the councilor to his classmates asking people to vote for him.
Sullivan, a liberal politician and Harvard Law School graduate who usually gets the most student support, says that the experience is a two way street. "In addition to helping the candidate and community with your skills, it could be one of the most important parts of your education."
In fact, sometimes Krukowski says it changes your education. He remembers when Sullivan went through the dorms telling how important rent control of apartment buildings was to the citizens, many freshman told him that their introductory economics book said that rent control was detrimental price fixing. So Krukowski wrote and printed a pamphlet titled "Why Lipsey and Steiner [the textbook authors] are wrong."
Some students, especially from big cities think that Cambridge politics is small potatoes and not worth getting involved in, says Peter Choharis '83. But the Boston native insists students learn much more at a lower level. "The temptation especially as the presidential race gets nearer is to join a candidate like Mondale but if you instead work for a councilor or a state representative, you'll learn a lot more and have a lot more impact."
Choharis, who has worked on the local, state, and national level, suggests that students have to be careful if they want to get the most out of their local experiences. "If you are from Harvard you have to strike the delicate balance between obnoxious and aggressive," he says, adding. "If you work at a smaller level, when you do go to the Governor or Congressman's office, you won't be licking envelopes."
Students unsure about active political participation can get a foot in the door at local politics by at least signing up to vote in the city. At registration, the Cambridge Election Commission representatives will have a table just under the red and white circus tent offering 18-year-olds the opportunity to join their rolls.
A Cambridge election official said that approximately 400 Harvard students sign up at registration each year. Students have until October to vote in the November 8 election.
If politics are not your game there are programs sponsored by the public service group Phillips Brooks House and the University's Public Service Program which place students doing community work. You can choose from more than 20 programs in Cambridge alone offering chances to tutor local kids, coach soccer, represent tenants in grievances against landlords, and work in hospitals among other opportunities.
Duehay sums up what the possibilities are for students in this town. "The University could be more creative in solving problems they create and college kids can think of ideas to improve on what their elders do. That's the process."