Our Way, Not the Yale Way
Getting rid of the blocking system would deprive students of important social freedom
Such a move, which resembles the current system at Yale, has been lauded by some as a way to more quickly integrate first-years into the life of the College. The change, however, would cut down significantly on student choice by ending the current system of blocking groups. Instead of moving on to a House with seven other good friends, first-years would face the prospect of living for all four years with entryway mates assigned by the Freshman Dean’s Office who may have a different view of the acceptability of vomiting in the halls on Saturday nights. Though many students form close bonds with their first-year roommates (and ultimately block with them), others can’t wait to move on to meet a different group of peers in the Houses.
Blocking groups are imperfect means of distributing first-years to Houses, but they are preferable to arbitrarily consigning denizens of, say, Stoughton Hall to the Quad. The specter of forming blocking groups often goads reclusive first-years into engaging in more socializing than they might otherwise do during their first months at the College. Such a spur can be only a good thing for the social health of the campus. Conversely, much of the community of the Yard would be lost by moving to a plan like Yale’s. Because Harvard first-years have no House affiliation, only an affiliation to their class, they have less reason to narrow their circle of friends to those who are in their dormitory.
Several Houses already make a good effort to welcome first-years in the spring after House assignments are announced, and the others could learn how. From tea with the Master to the spring formals, first-years are made to feel part of a House community even before they move in. Coupled with the ability to move into a house with a group of friends, these efforts make the transition to House life relatively painless.
We applaud Summers for bringing up the topic of student social life and for soliciting the opinions of students on a specific, innovative proposal before making any major decisions. The Houses as academic and social communities leaves a good deal of room for improvement, but pre-assigning first-years is not the answer.