Harvard Students Just Can't 'Slow Down'

“Do you support women’s rights?”

“Would you like to travel to Uganda?”

“Do you sing? You don’t have to. Just sign here!”

“Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?”

Welcome to the freshman activities fair, where first-years each September are accosted by a series of perky upperclass students who sound oddly like the Spare Change vendors and religious proselytizers they avoid in the Square.

The activities fair for the Class of 2006 last week was no different. The attempt of nine first-years to navigate the fair as a group fell apart in minutes: Three veered off toward the musical organizations, another made straight for the Undergraduate Council table and, one by one, the remaining stalwarts fell victim to the recruitment pitch du jour.

In some ways, the dizzying maze of the activities fair is an unsurprising sight on a campus where about 250 extracurricular groups exist and where new organizations are founded each year.

Joining and leading these groups is a way of life for many Harvard students—but whether that way of life is a healthy one is open to debate.

On The Go

Nearly 40 percent of undergraduates are involved in music or the arts and almost 60 percent are involved in public service activities at some level, according to the 2000-2001 Harvard College Report by Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68.

Government concentrator Michael B. Jobbins ’04 is a case in point.

Jobbins—an officer in the prefect program, director for a Phillips Brooks House Association program, production manager for the Demon, president and founder of Harvard Lovers of the Garden State, term-time dorm crew worker, facebook designer and intramural representative for Pforzheimer House, and Institute of Politics and Harvard Model Congress member—says he routinely skips classwork and sleep to work on his extracurricular activities.

He rescheduled his interview with The Crimson last week to work PBHA’s introductory fair.

“When I went to the freshman activities fair, there were just so many things [I wanted to do],” Jobbins said. “What I tell my prefectees is that everyone signed up for things and quit. I just didn’t quit.”

While Jobbins’ extracurricular life may be more extensive than is the norm here, his approach to extracurriculars is common enough that Lewis encourages students to slow down and seek help for stress at the beginning of each year.

Lewis advised students to choose one “major” and one “minor” activity in which to participate in a letter he wrote to incoming students this summer.