Looking at the nine-page “Senior Survey,” a CUE guide for the entire Harvard experience, I promised myself I would be more objective. I would complain about all the minor annoyances and real aggravations that marred my time at Harvard. And having taken an hour out of my reading period work schedule to procrastinate by answering these questions, I feel like I managed to dispense more constructive criticism than I usually do.
Still, when I got to the last question, “What is your satisfaction with your overall experience at Harvard?” I couldn’t help myself. I answered with the superlatively sanctioned “Very satisfied.” But this assessment is more than optimism; it is in fact quite true.
I’m not sure how many of my fellow seniors will agree with me, but based on what you hear after class or in the dining hall, we certainly express our dissatisfaction a lot. The culture of complaint is starting to become a defining aspect of the Harvard experience, and while our endless complaining is occasionally legitimate, I’m not sure it reflects our true feelings. My generally positive demeanor certainly hasn’t stopped me from joining the chorus several times a day.
So in an effort to subdue my senior nostalgia, I present common complaints and the underlying truths that we take for granted.
Common complaint number one: “Harvard’s social scene sucks. We don’t have any fun.”
While it’s true that we don’t really party like our friends at State U, this seems to be the biggest case of “the grass is always greener” in the pantheon of Harvard undergraduate complaints. Part of the reason we are not a party campus is because we don’t go around throwing the stereotypically undergraduate parties. However, I believe this deficit is more a result of who we are than a lack of campus resources. More social space would be helpful, but what we really forget is the general humor and craziness of just hanging out with friends. As a recent reading-period-insane dinner proved again for me, some of the most enjoyable social moments come from a fellow diner’s desire to consume an entire bowl of jam, or another’s wish to become “the salt fairy,” spreading salt-shaker goodness, or having a friend there to laugh at you even when your jokes no longer make any sort of sense.
Common complaint number two: “I hate my TF/core class/annoying professor.”
For the first time in four years, I nominated a professor for one of the Undergraduate Council’s Levenson teaching prizes. Having never taken the time to fill out a form, and frankly, not really seeing the point of it, I almost put it off indefinitely, until I realized that this would be my last chance to recognize a phenomenal learning experience. There are plenty of problems with TF consistency—which I detailed thoroughly in my senior survey. The Core was kind of ridiculous—and is thus being abolished—and I took a few classes in which I spent hours contemplating the number of ways you can kill a man with a single stick of pencil lead. But there were other classes that I was excited to attend, classes that have changed my intellectual passions and my future.
At Harvard, we expect to get our money’s worth, to have every class be top-notch, and we shouldn’t stop working towards that goal. (By the way, College and University administrators agree wholeheartedly—Larry Summers said as much a couple of nights ago.) But I’m willing to bet that everyone has had at least one awesome professor, probably more, and it’s worth remembering that the brilliant faculty—and it is—is one of the reasons we came to Harvard in the first place. A Harvard education is rigorous in scope and often intense in expectations, flaws and all.
Common complaint number three: “The administration doesn’t care about students.”
I’ll admit to offering my own occasional dig at the administration when it seemed like perfect opportunities for a student center were wasted, or when the notion that undergraduates would indulge in late-night food if the College made it available flew over administrators’ heads. Indeed, change at Harvard rarely comes quickly.
But we forget that change has been made. After all our complaints about concert debacles, the President’s Office opened up its money chest to bring us Ben Folds, which turned out to be a fun—and free—event. Though it often took a student push to get there, we now have a 24-hour library and a soon-to-come pub in Loker and café in Lamont. It might take a while to get administrators to really listen, but progress is often made.
There are plenty more complaints that could be debunked at least partially. And I’m not saying that it is plausible, or even logical, for us to stop complaining. But at the risk of sounding like Little Miss Sunshine, it’s worth remembering why Harvard is special before you only have three weeks left. Despite Harvard’s problems, I would guess that most of us wouldn’t be happier anywhere else. Our culture of complaint pushes the change that needs to be made, but c’mon, we have it pretty good.
Margaret M. Rossman ’06 is an English concentrator in Mather House. Her column appears regularly.