Students Ignore Boston's Allure

News Feature

When William R. Rico '96 arrived at Harvard from his native New York, he expected to travel into nearby Boston often. In fact, the city was part of Harvard's attraction, he says.

"In New York, no matter where you get out in the subway, there's activities," he says. "When I came here I thought I'd be going to Boston a lot."

But Rico rarely finds the time now to make the trip across the river.

"It seems like it's too much of an effort," says Rico, who goes to Boston "two or three times a semester."

Like Rico, many students say they came to Harvard partially because of its proximity to Boston, which is featured prominently in University admissions materials.

But most undergraduates say they rarely get to the city.

Transportation may be one problem for students, who can't take the MBTA trains home after they shut down around 1 a.m. Harvard is also one of the few area schools that does not participate in the T's student discount program.

"The T needs to build a line from Harvard Square to Kenmore," says Jeffrey A. Lieberman '97. "Whenever you want to go somewhere besides downtown Boston, you have to go all the way downtown and then come back."

Boston Appeal

Harvard's viewbook for prospective first-years pitches Boston as "The Hub," offering attractions ranging from the Freedom Trail to the Patriots football games.

The fact that Harvard is close to Boston makes high school seniors "much more likely to visit and to apply," says Dean of Admissions William R. Fitzsimmons '67.

For many Harvard students, the pitch works.

"It was one of the primary reasons I picked [Harvard]," says Michael K. Kahan '96.

According to Fitzsimmons, a majority of students say Boston played a part in their decision to come to Harvard.

"People do mention the Boston/Cambridge area as one of the major determinants to come here," Fitzsimmons says. "Usually between 60 to 65 percent [of students] will say that location was important or very important in their decision, along with many other factors."

But students interviewed for this story say they visit the city on average just once or twice a month.

"I think a lot of students come here thinking. 'Boston! What a great city!' but then you never end up finding your way over there," says Heather A. Harris '92, a master's assistant at Quincy House.

"I thought I'd be going in every day, but it didn't quite work out that way," says Tehshik P. Yoon '96, who is a Crimson editor.

Many students say they came to Harvard thinking the school was in Boston itself.

"I didn't really have the impression that [Harvard] was separate from Boston," says Joanne K. Lee '98. "I was just thinking Cambridge, Boston....it was there."

Particularly for students from distant areas, the Harvard admissions materials use of Boston can be confusing.

"I bet a lot of people from other areas come thinking that they're going to school in Boston and end up going to school in Cambridge," Harris says. "They don't figure it out until they get here.

Although many say they would like to, most undergraduates say they rarely travel to Boston for cultural or educational purposes.

S. Greg Prakalapkorn '97 says he has only been to one museum this year, "and that was for a project."

"It's really sad... I guess I haven't taken in any of the historical aspects of the city," Lieberman says.

Several students interviewed say they also avoid the Boston night life, though Boston clubs say they advertise on campus and draw some Harvard clientele.

"I don't find the night life in Boston to be that good," says second-year Law School student Elise Boddie. "Everything shuts down early."

Why Not Boston?

Students give many reasons for avoiding the nearby Hub, but the one most frequently cited is lack of time.

"It seems like it's going to take too much time, and it's effort," says Lorelei J. Grunwaldt '97. "It's weird...it seems like it's so far away, but it's minutes away on the T."

Kawika D.B. Chetron '97 says he thought he'd be going into Boston more often. But "I thought I'd have a little more time to breathe as well," he says.

Some students say they started out visiting Boston a lot, then slacked off as the semester progressed.

"I did [go into Boston] a lot at first but now I've kind of stopped going in as much," says J. Elisenda Grigsby '98. "You get busy and then you just kind of stay here."

"I guess it's just time. On the weekends, I have so much work... I just sleep 'til two o'clock and just do my work," says Seth D. Hanlon '98.

Other factors also keep students out of the city. For younger undergraduates, one problem may be a strict carding policy in some Boston clubs.

"If they allow drinking, a lot of the clubs won't let people under 21 in at all," Lieberman says.

"I don't go to a lot of clubs or pubs in Boston because my ID sucks," says Kawika D.B. Chetron '97. "No one at Harvard Square would actually turn you down for a bad ID."

The dearth of other Harvard students in Boston is another reason undergraduates give for not traveling outside the Square.

"Why go into Boston when you can go into the [Crimson Sports] Grille?" H. Christopher Simonds '96 asks. "That's where I usually end up going because everyone else is there."

"If I want to hang out, I usually hang out around Harvard because I know more people around here," Yoon says.

Students also say there are enough entertainment attractions on campus or in Harvard Square to keep them in Cambridge.

"Anything I'd want to go into Boston for is in Cambridge," Hanlon says.

Jake S. Yoston '96 says after his Yale-plagued hometown, the Square looks pretty good.

"Cambridge is pretty nice itself," he says. "I'm from New Haven, so even being in Cambridge itself is an improvement."

What to Do?

Not all students avoid Boston. For some, it is a source of jobs.

"I have a research project that I'm doing over at [Massachusetts General Hospital]," says Yung H. Chyung '97. "I go about twice a week."

Boddie says she works at a legal services center three times a week.

And Phillips Brooks House (PBH) tutoring programs draw some students into the Hub to do community service.

Of the approximately 1700 students who volunteer for PBH, "at least half are working in Boston," says outgoing PBH President John B. King '95.

When students go into Boston for fun, most say they are looking for good food, or perhaps simply victuals free of the danger of mysterious illness.

"A lot of times I go out to eat," says Michael K. Kahan '96, who goes to Boston about once a week.

Students have some preferred areas of the city for their food outings.

"I usually go into Chinatown or North End," Rico says.

Several restaurants and clubs say they market toward Harvard students, trying to draw College customers.

"We cater a lot to the kids, so they always seem to enjoy it here," says Leo Sawyer, manager of La Famiglia restaurant on Newbury St.

Frank K. Wong, general manager of China Pearl restaurant in Chinatown, says he advertises in Harvard yearbooks and Commencement booklets.

"We have a limo service that picks up students at the Charles Hotel," says Dom C. Capossela, who is the manager of Dom's restaurant in the North End. "We advertise in The Lampoon and [the Business School newspaper] Harbus."

Capossela says he has two brothers who attended Harvard six years ago.

"That's initially how the name got spread around," he says. "Now, people just know the name. They don't remember why."

Many business use posters in an attempt to lure students out of Cambridge.

"We advertise at schools...we give out fliers," says Raffi Batalian, a receptionist at the nightclub Avalon.

"I list myself in The Harvard Crimson," says Venus de Milo manager Jeffrey R. Unger.

The nightclub also distributes fliers on campus and in Harvard Square and advertises on KISS 108 and WFMX 101.7, Unger says.

But Harvard does little to encourage its students to use the city's resources, beyond its initial viewbook advertisements. Students who complain of transport problems cannot take a Harvard shuttle to Boston except to the airport before vacations.

Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III says he doesn't think students use the city much, except at the end of the semester.

He doesn't know why the University does not participate in the T's discount program, he says.

According to Julie A. Vitek, an MBTA spokesperson, 13 area colleges, including Boston College and Boston University, participate in the program, which offers a semester T pass at a lower rate. Students in the program receive II percent off the price of monthly passes.

"I'm not aware of a [Harvard] student program," Epps says. "If it existed, it would be through this office, but we have not sensed a need."

Students say they regret how little they visit the city, whether to use its resources or help its residents.

"We don't use Boston as much as we should," says Kaleil Isaza-Tuzman '94-'95, "and it's the biggest travesty."

'In New York, no matter where you get out on the subway, there's activities. When I came here, I thought I'd be going into Boston a lot.'  --William R. Rico '96

'The T needs to build a line from Harvard Square to Kenmore.... You have to go all the way downtown and then come back.'  --Jeffrey A. Lieberman '97CrimsonGabriel B. Eber/C>Crimson File PhotoNewbury Street sees little patronage from Harvard students.