ALOT of people complain about social life at Harvard. The women complain about the men. The men complain about the women. And everybody complains about the stuffy, uptight and strung out atmosphere which pervades the campus.
Some significant social, if not climatic, improvements are, however, possible. Foremost among them would be the creation of a Harvard/Radcliffe student center.
Yes, a student center. Harvard has the most decentralized campus in the country. Almost every other college in the nation has a student center. Why? The same reason almost every other college has exams before Christmas: it's a good idea. Harvard may be at the cutting edge of Ukrainian literature, but when it comes to student life, this place is not part of the avant-garde.
THINK OF it. A student center could have a grill that would sell cheap food and save students from Tommy's $2 fries. Plus it could have a lounge, space for bands a bar--for those 21 and up, of course--a cinema, practice rooms, and perhaps a room for large dance parties. A student center would provide a much needed alternative to the house dining halls for hanging out and partying. And the central location would allow students to escape the claustrophobia of house life and to mix more freely with students from other houses.
Once you accept that Harvard needs a student center the question becomes: Is it feasible? And if so, why hasn't one been built already? The answer to these questions is intimately tied up with Harvard's late great white male social institution--the finals club.
There are some thing that the Harvard social life needs, and there are some things it doesn't need. Finals clubs fall into the latter category. Where do you think Harvard's uptight, snotty, and detached social atmosphere comes from? Certainly not from the snotty, exclusive, all male finals clubs whose members waltz around in tuxedos and perform male-bonding exercises in the wood-panelled back rooms of their prissy Cambridge houses, talking about Mr. Smidgetpoop '51, alumnus of this particular club, who's now president of Merrill, Lynch.
Alan Dershowitz says that the clubs are where Harvard students learn to discriminate. They really are the places where students learn to be uncool. Uptightness literally billows out of the clubs, covering the campus with a smog of bad vibes.
YEARS AGO, when Harvard/Radcliffe went co-ed, an historical dialectic was set in motion. A wave of sexual equality came crashing down on the white male Harvard establishment. (Note the Marxist imagery.) Although it hasn't hit the overwhelmingly male faculty and administration, when the process is consummated a new social order--and a new student center--will rise upon the ruins of the finals clubs and the entire bald white patriarchy.
Most historical dialectics take a long time. Fortunately, this one can be speeded up. Some finals clubs, notably the Phoenix and the Fox, are experiencing financial difficulties. Were they sued for sex discrimination, the cost of a lawsuit might mean their financial ruin. The UC should step right in and buy them up--before the University has time to bail them out like they did the Hasty Pudding club. A new student center could be constructed on their land, or the buildings could be sold to pay for a student center on, say, the site of the Fly Club, it they were willing to sell.
In any case, the basic idea is for the Undergraduate Council to take over the resources owned by the finals clubs and turn them into a central student center open to all.
Obviously, this process is complicated by the fact that the clubs are not officially affiliated with the university. In 1984, Harvard told the clubs they had to go co-ed or go private. The offer, while it allowed Harvard to claim the moral high ground, protected the clubs from the rigors of integration. That Harvard did not force its finals clubs to go co-ed suggests some rather dubious intentions on the part of the administrators responsible for student life.
It's no coincidence that Assistant Dean of Harvard College John Marquand attends finals club parties routinely and Dean L. Fred Jewett '57, is a member of the exclusive all-male Somerset Club in Boston. To mere undergraduates willing to fight for a less exclusive, less uptight and far more fun social life at Harvard, let this be a warning--know what you're fighting against.