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.
"We decided it would be great to bring in an officer to institutionalize the collaboration. An officer gives a person a greater voice in PBHA," Windt says. "It will bring housing and advocacy issues to cabinet meetings. There's a feeling that housing and advocacy are on the fringes of PBHA because it's swung so totally toward direct service. It's so important to think beyond the day to day."
Apart from the new officer's position and the new prison reform program, PBHA is now also a member of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization
(GBIO), a coalition of more than 90 Boston-area congregations and community groups that advocate for social action.
Trevor S. Cox `01-'02, PBHA president, encourages the proliferation of advocacy programs, which he says are a natural growth from direct service programs like after-school programs and the homeless shelter.
"We're seeing more and more programs with an advocacy bent. People are becoming more and more involved in the direct service aspect and this is just another way of getting at the root of the problem," he says. "As PBHA's become more and more involved in the direct service aspect, the underlying issues become more and more apparent."
Former PBHA president Natalie Guerrier `01 says she thinks the flexibility the PBHA officers' board has in creating new positions is a strength of the organization.
"I think [the new officer position] is great. The president and vice president are able to create the position as it makes sense for the organization. It does reflect a trend in greater interest in advocacy," she says. "I think that position could really be useful to get a voice on cabinet that isn't always heard. It could really be great to have more support for these students."
And Cox thinks that the recent large-scale advocacy at Harvard--the Mass. Hall sit-in and living wage rallies--highlighted the importance of all aspects of service for PBHA volunteers, not just direct activism.
"I think it [the sit-in] calls attention for the greater need for PBHA programs. Even as PSLM, one PBHA program, is tackling the problem on one front, there's still a great need for PBHA to keep on doing what it's doing."
Bringing Home The Dough
Onstage at the "BJ Show," a student-run variety show held last month, Professor Robert Kirshner joked that it was a "fun-raiser" not a fundraiser for PBHA. And while Bob Saget's scatological humor earned more than $3,000 for PBHA, the annual operating budget and centennial campaign both look healthy at the end of this year thanks to more serious ventures in corporate sponsorship and alumni fund-raising efforts.
PBHA Vice President Andrew Park `01-'02 worked with a recent PBHA alumna at Goldman Sachs (GS) to put together a successful bid for corporate sponsorship from the investment banking company.
"It started as a corporate appeal initiative especially since we wanted to try and build our endowment," Park says. "We created the scholars program that's a competitive program, so the individual camps are applying for funding."
Goldman Sachs is giving $10,000, which PBHA will use to fund 10 Summer Urban Program counselor positions.
"It's going to be pitched to a lot of companies--they'll see how well the GS model works," Park says.
While Wall Street is doing its part for the annual budget, University President Neil L. Rudenstine spent some time this spring helping PBHA meet the long-term Centennial Campaign funding goals.
Rudenstine accompanied PBHA student volunteers to an April development event with alumni at the Harvard Club of Manhattan, and Michelle Soohi Lee `03, student chair of the Centennial Campaign, is confident that the $7.25 million goal is in reach. The campaign is on track to meet its goal by January 2003, Cox says.
Reaching Out To Alums
The optimism that Lee and others have for the campaign is bolstered in part by increased PBHA alumni involvement. Earlier this year, PBHA hosted an alumni reunion, centennial campaign kick off event and retirement party for longtime PBHA staff member Lee Smith.
"The Nov. 10 and 11 event was definitely a highlight of even the past few years. It was the first time PBHA really worked to bring its alums to campus," Guerrier says.
In addition to financial support trickling in from PBHA alumni, the campaign has also helped Nick Beilenson `58 launch the PBHA Alumni Association (PBHAAA). Beilenson and a group of about a dozen alumni created a network of public service internship and fellowship opportunities to connect PBHA students with alumni who have connections in the public service world.
"The Alumni Association is definitely really exciting," says Guerrier, who will spend next year on a Stride Rite public service fellowship working in Dorchester for Urban Dreams. "The [AA] was so helpful--there are 18,000 PBHA alums, many of whom are involved in public service. OCS doesn't offer that much to people who are interested in it."
It may have a clunky acronym, but PBHAAA is another example of long term planning that Cox is proud PBHA has done this year.
With a network of alumni contact in place, fundraising and internship opportunities will be readily available even after the initial student coordinators have graduated.
"A lot of what officers do is take what they're given and try to make it run better. We take a longer view of the organization than in past years," Cox says.
He says he is happy with the progress PBHA has made in increasing advocacy programs, utilizing the board of trustees and streamlining the budget, but there is still a lot on his plate for next fall.
"I'm very ambitious for PBHA, and I think you have to be for any large organization where you see a lot of potential," Cox says. There's still enormous potential and there always will be because there's still a lot of need. So I'm not sure that we got everything done that we wanted. But you're never going to get everything done, especially the projects we're thinking about.
"You just have to trust that the best way to get anything done is to begin and I think we've had a lot of beginnings this semester," he adds.