Mather: Not Just For Jocks

TOURING THE HOUSES Fifth in a continuing series on House life.

For many Harvard students, the mention of Mather House evokes a standard set of images: crowded parties, a dining hall decorated by baseball caps, two men for every woman.

Not many students think of Mather as the home of Harvard's Society of Nerds and Geeks.

Yet what seems an anomaly in a place known as the "jock house" points to a house life more diverse than often assumed.

"There are a lot of different kinds of people in the house," says former House Committee Chair Michelle M. Shih '93.

"You can definitely stereotype Mather if you want to, but if you stereotype it you're going to miss a lot," she says.

"You have to peel back the layers a little bit," agrees House Committee Chair Michael A. Jobst '94.

Jobst points to Mather's strong community service involvement, from Citystep to the Harvard Neighborhood Development program, as evidence of a more multi-faceted house.

"Community service is probably the huge thing in this house, but it's not something that gets mentioned a lot," he says.

Mather House Master Sandra Naddaff, senior lecturer on literature, also emphasizes the variety of interests in the house.

"This seems to be a house in which there's a tremendous amount of musical talent," Naddaff says, noting that Mather also boasts pottery facilities and a drawing studio.

Naddaff and her husband Leigh, a business school professor, took over as Master and comaster in February from Jeff and Nancy Williamson, and it remains to be seen how the new masters will influence the direction of the life of the house.

Still, most students say the stereotype, though limiting, does have basis in the house population--45 percent athletes.

Jobst estimates that Mather is home to two-thirds of the football team and a majority of the baseball team.

"Like any stereotype, there's some truth to it," Naddaff says. "We do have a lot of athletes in the house. It's always one group that gives a house its stereotype."

Perhaps the greatest--and most undeniable--categorization of Mather concerns is its male-to-female ratio of over two to one.

Although most students consider the gender issue less a problem than a fact of life, Naddaff says that the upcoming change in housing policy to equalize the proportions is definitely in order.

"I think in general terms we'd like to see Mather as a place where all people can be comfortable, and in this case it speaks to the issue of gender," she says.

"I think it should change," says Pat C. Hoy 11, senior tutor. "I don't see it as a problem about sexism at all, I just see it as not the best balance in the house, in any house."

Naddaff also attributes the gender ratio to unpredictable circumstances. "As with in any house, these reputations develop on their own, almost accidentally. The house acquires a reputation for gender imbalance and as a place where women aren't at ease, and that becomes reality."

Regardless of stereotypes, many Mather residents praise the house for its lack of social cliques.

"If you're not a football player or a lacrosse player or something like that, sometimes you feel like you don't belong, but that wears off quickly," says Allen J. Baker '94.

Some divisions remain, however, according to Leonid M. Fridman '85, resident tutor and advisor to Harvard's Society of Nerds and Geeks.

"I think the general atmosphere is pretty good, but there are some tensions, and often tensions seem to center around athletes and non-athletes." Fridman says. "Nerds aren't really isolated from other people, but nerds don't interact so much with jocks, and vice versa."

Jobst says, however, that all kinds of residents can be seen at house activities, ranging from Mather's popular intramural teams to the upcoming computer-dating dance, "A Match Made in Mather."

For many students, though, the house's social life suffers from the layout of the tower: all single bedrooms and no common rooms.

"My roommate lived in the tower last year, and it was almost like living in exile," Baker says. "In the tower there's really no mingling. The most you'll do is say hi to someone in the elevator."

Kendra E. Nichols '95, who lives in DeWolte Street overflow housing says the whole house is fragthented in its design. Each section is so divided The tower is separate from the low rise, which is separate from DeWolte."

Many students, however, are more concerned with the aesthetics of the exterior of the house, built in the 1970s.

The house was definitely sold to the lowest bidder," says Oliver J. Rando '93. It's a teenage house. It has acne. If you look at the cement you can see all the pockmarks."

Still students say the house's attributes make up for the drawbacks.

When I say I live in Mather," says Jobst, "people always say, 'fun house.