Time to Talk Birds 'n Bees

BRASS TACKS

LAST WEEK THE Crimson reported that an upperclass prefect had resigned after becoming romantically involved with a freshman advisee. Only six days before, The Crimson had learned the identity of another prefect who had been reassigned after he began dating one of his assignees.

Asked what significance the romantic entanglements would have for the future of the fledgling program designed to give freshmen the benefit of upperclass wisdom on Harvard's intricacies, Dean of Freshmen Henry C. Moses dead-panned: "None."

The appropriateness of the dean's sparse remarks warrants underscoring. The blossoming of young love doesn't justify fundamental changes in the prefect program, and shouldn't even come as a surprise. To react to it in either fashion would be naive.

But the fact remains than in at least two instances this term a College-supported peer advising program has turned into a quasi-dating service. Discussing the incidents with participants has revealed the proper area for concern: the College, many prefects agree, hasn't shown a very profound understanding of what kind of training is needed to turn peers into peer advisers.

Clearly, administrators of the program should spend more time and effort instilling in prefects a stronger sense of what is inappropriate to the program. Inexperienced prefects need to be taught counseling methods--a key element of which is learning how to avoid getting personally and emotionally involved with an advisee.

Putting clueless freshmen in touch with less-clueless upperclassmen is a desirable end. It certainly justifies the risk of an occasionally more energetic tough consented to by both parties. After all, some prefects are only a few months older than their assignees. Prefects do not give grades, aren't particularly desirable as writers of letters of recommendation, and can have little direct influence on one's life after Harvard.

By definition and design, the prefects serving in about 30 of the Yard's 66 proctoral units have no real power. It's precisely because they aren't really part of Harvard's sometimes intimidating bureaucracy that they can supplement the work of teaching fellows and proctors. Because they have none of the coercive power that comes with authority, prefects need not be held to the same standards of professionalism as other advisers.

Some might even argue that no one should be concerned at all that, as one prefect described the situation, "Two [affairs] have happened. I wouldn't be surprised if there are more. The numbers say if two have gone out in eight weeks, more are going to go out in the remaining 24 weeks on the academic calendar."

BUT MOSES AND others with Ed. D's to back up their opinions say the extra-vigorous introduction to Harvard a Cupid-skewered prefect will happily give his or her chosen freshperson will make it a bit more difficult for a proctorial unit's other residents to get the attention they deserve. Clearly, having a roommate who is having an affair with your prefect makes things a bit awkward.

The admonition against engaging in sexual or even platonic love affairs with their advisees that Moses gave the prefects at their principle training session--at 7:30 a.m. the first Saturday of Freshman Week--has been humorously recounted by many of those who attended. Some would say the joke is on Moses, who has day-to-day responsibility for running the prefect program and therefore must deal with any conflicts as they arise.

According to prefects, the command "not to get personally involved" made up the bulk of their "training" to deal with romantically-inclined freshmen. In fact, the prefect who was reassigned says he missed that first meeting and consequently never found out dating one's advisees was prohibited.

Mack I. Davis II, assistant dean of the College for advising and counseling and a member of the committee which oversees the prefects, says the training the prefects received was just fine. "I'm not about to say that we should start having training programs to teach people common sense."

But Jennifer M. O'Connor '87, who serves on the student-faculty Committee on Advising and Counseling, calls Davis's remarks "not quite appropriate." She argues that the heart--especially one in an adolescent chest--often refuses the rule of reason.

It is certainly true that romance will occasionally flower when college-age people meet at dinner, in a biology section or as participants in a prefect program. That shouldn't concern or surprise anyone too much.

But what is not nearly as certain is that those responsible for the prefect program have adequately recognized that fact. If romances are undesirable, then every prefect should be told to ignore any siren songs which might be heard in the background of a proctorial meeting. If a prefect can legitimately not realize that he or she shouldn't date his advisee, then the FDO hasn't made its rules sufficiently clear.

Sure we're all adults here and no one should get too concerned about love in the Yard. But then again, we're not really adults. The grown-ups at the FDO should realize that and take the time to explain a few facts of Harvard life.

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