Bursting the First-Year Bubble

By Scott A. Resnick

For the past year and a half I misled prospective students and their parents about what it’s like to be a first-year at Harvard.

As one of the student greeters in the admissions office’s information sessions charged with giving the student perspective on College life, the picture I often painted of the first-year experience was a rosy one, filled with the supportive proctors who live in first-year entryways and help with things like picking classes and concentrations.

And while many students’ initial experiences here are quite positive, the reality of being a first-year at Harvard is a dirty little secret that ought to be brought to light.

The College does not treat first-year students like full-fledged members of the Harvard community. If it did, then it would not subject them to the unfair and arcane policies of the Freshman Dean’s Office (FDO).

These policies all aim to protect Harvard first-years. No one on this campus wants to see a student get hurt or even die from an activity, such as drinking, that could have been otherwise prevented.

However, the way that the FDO carries out these policies creates a first-year experience that is overly unpleasant for students and doesn’t seem to reflect the ideals of respect and scholarly inquiry that are at the center of our University.

Ask virtually any student on campus to recount a tale where either that student, or one of his or her friends, was treated unfairly by the FDO and you will come up with a treasure-trove of surprising experiences. Although fortunately I have never had to interact with the FDO for a discipline-related problem, many people I know have, and the stories are not pretty.