Changing Faces

It took more than three hours of impassioned rhetoric, sideways watch-glancing and frustrated castings aside of Roberts' Rules of order for the cabinet of the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) to decide in the early days of the Mass. Hall living wage sit-in to support the Progressive Student Labor Movement's (PSLM) drastic action.

PSLM is a member of PBHA, but the cabinet, the organization's governing body made up of individual program directors, still called an emergency meeting to issue a public statement of support for the PSLM cause.

Despite a handful of vocal dissenters, the vote was a landslide in favor of cabinet support.

And at the next cabinet meeting a month later, an equal landslide majority voted to usher in two new programs within the Prison Education committee that focus on advocating for prison reform.

PBHA, in addition to usual service-orientated programs, has taken on a slew of new activities this year that reflect a crucial shift in the organization. While PSLM's activities are reminiscent of 1960s era activists' techniques, PBHA too is consciously returning to its roots--the advocacy work that characterized the organization in its early days and throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

These changes do not come easily, however, and they are expensive.

Students have spent a fair amount of energy this year courting potential donors in attempts to increase PBHA's endowment with the centennial campaign's $7.3 million goal.

With a corporate sponsorship from Goldman Sachs, the centennial campaign goal in sight and new institutional support for advocacy, PBHA's current officers are on their way to creating a new PBHA--one that continues direct service to those in need but that also is politically and socially active.

An Advocacy Advocate

PBHA boasts 1,800 student volunteers and more than 80 programs in the Boston and Cambridge area. Managing the resources and internal machinations of the largest student organization at Harvard is an officers' board made up of more than 16 students who grapple with student and staff relations, deal with the administration and focus on the umbrella organization as a whole.

In an effort to consolidate the advocacy programs all ready in existence, next year PBHA will create a new officer's position to oversee and support the programs that deal with housing and advocacy issues within PBHA.

These programs, including the Environmental Action Coalition (EAC), Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, the Housing Opportunities Program (HOP) and PSLM, usually get lumped together in the PBHA organizational structure as "non-program group programs" because they fall outside the tidy categories of mentoring adult education or summer programming.

"It's always been one of my personal goals to see how PBHA could better incorporate [the housing and advocacy groups] since I came into PBHA through EAC and the Homeless shelter," says Rebecca A. Windt `02, PBHA secretary, who pitched the idea of an advocacy and housing officer.

She says the idea grew out of informal collaboration among groups that focus on housing issues. The groups shared ideas and resources despite having no official ties within PBHA.