A Place to Call Home

Critics Shouldn't Judge Canaday by Its Cover

As I sloppily ate a very squishy orange last week in my Canaday dorm room, I discovered that I needed a useless piece of something to protect my futon from the juice and sticky orange peels. I opened my door and luckily found an untouched copy of the Harvard Independent in the basket.

I randomly opened it up and came across an article entitled, "Canaday Must Be Destroyed," by Mike O'Shea '95. As a resident of Canaday and a hardcore fan of my dorm, I decided to skim through it.

I found, after enjoying the article's profound insights, that my educated mind was not at all "insulted" by the architecture of Canaday--as O'Shea suggested it should be--but rather that it was insulted by O'Shea's lack of understanding and affection (he resided in Pennypacker Hall his first year at Harvard) for a dorm which many actually find quite wonderful and cheerful.

Like a tightly-bonded community, like an arena for social interaction, Canaday Hall stands proud. Although it may not be one of the most attractive first-year dorms, it is one of the most loved by its residents and visitors. It is a model of tradition as well as the ideal setting for a college experience of unity and social interaction.

There is no question that Canaday Hall has maintenance problems. But these could easily be alleviated with some simple renovations. To raze and then rebuild Canaday, on the other hand, would be to destroy more than just its exterior "lameness." It would consitute a waste of time and money, and it would entail the destruction of the tradition, unity and morale that Canaday Hall has come to represent for many of its residents.

On that brilliant fall day when I first walked around the Yard in search of my dorm, I was struck by the beauty of the other buildings I passed. As I happened across the proud Gothic edifice with lovely, inviting stairwells close to Johnston Gate, I prayed that the name plate would say Canaday. How my heart sagged when I discerned the name "Matthews" instead!

When I found the real Canaday, by contrast, I was not very impressed. Admittedly, on initial inspection it has all the aesthetic appeal of a prison, and it is somewhat isolated from everything else in the Yard. While Weld residents strutted around boasting about elevators and long hallways, the only thing Canaday residents could boast about, during those nascent weeks of our residency, was the fact that we were right next to the Science Center and could get our mail before anyone else.

Yet after living in Canaday for close to seven months now, I can honestly say that it hasn't been all that bad. Indeed, it has been quite great.

Critics of Canaday typically argue that it is not as aesthetically pleasing as the other dorms, like Weld or Matthews. And it is true, that at first glance, there is somewhat of a solemn and desolate look to Canaday. But I would hardly go so far as to say that my dorm is "an insult to the educated mind." Nor would I agree with O'Shea that it is "cheerless."

Residents of the dorm try to make the best of Canaday. During the holiday season, for example, Canaday's windows and doors were decorated with festive lights and ornaments. And although other first-years may look at Canaday with an air disgust, its residents are quite comfortable and cheerful. After all, the spacious suites and the guarantee of having a single as first year student is rather appealing.

At any rate, what becomes important of first-years as they make the difficult transition from their comfortable homes to a college dorm is not exterior architecture or construction cost, but rather the close friends they make and the comfort they find inside. And it is this comfort and the tight bond of dormmates for which Canaday is known and loved, especially by its residents.

Canaday offers its residents something that other dorms can't. With its six entryways, Canaday forms its own close-knit community, separate from the rest of the Yard. Each entryway, in turn, is like a small family. And although that may seem detrimental in some ways, it is actually quite refreshing to escape into the world of Canaday.

Moreover, my dorm's exterior architecture has meant nothing to me, and I am confident I can find close to 200 students who feel the same way.

What Fine Arts Professor James Ackerman calls "a misfortune," others call a blessing, for Canaday has risen to first-years' expectations of what a college dorm should be. It has not disappointed us, it has not insulted our minds and it has not reminded us of failure, as O'Shea suggests it should. Rather, it has provided more than 10 percent of the first year class with large suites, perfect walls to hang posters on, wall-to-wall carpeting and the opportunity to have a single sometime during the year.

Of course, isn't it ironic that the one building O'Shea hopes to destroy is the very building that has been the home of The Harvard Independent for more than a decade?

Perhaps if the Indy editor had enjoyed the spacious mansion on 14 Plympton Street for the last few years instead of that dank Canaday basement, he wouldn't harbor such destructive tendencies.