A Tango in Hilles

The distribution of space in Hilles is not quite commensurate with student groups’ needs

In December, as campus groups quivered with trepidation, we viewed University Hall’s plans to convert the upper floors of the Hilles Building into an unprecedented amount of student-group space through rosier-hued glasses. Yet, judging from some of the illogical choices in the final distribution of space, perhaps we were a bit too optimistic.

Although many previously homeless student groups are certainly satisfied to have space at all, several questionable assignments may leave you scratching your head. For example, the only Native American ethnic organization on campus, the Native Americans at Harvard College, requested an office but received only a storage locker. Large political groups, such as the Harvard Republican Club and the Harvard College Democrats, also felt snubbed, receiving significantly smaller spaces than they applied for. And if you write for the Harvard Salient, you could only look on with caustic bewilderment as other substantially less prolific publications (such as a glossy lifestyle magazine that has published exactly one issue) ended up with more than double your share of the Hilles pie.

These assignments are so surprising because the Committee on College Life’s Subcommittee on Student Organization Space, which was responsible for meting out Hilles space, had all the information it needed. Student groups filled out a 10-page application, explaining in great detail the groups’ activities and needs for office space. It is a matter of speculation as to why some of the assignments were made—perhaps the subcommittee was pressed for time or did not fully understand the size and scope of each organization. By all indications, however, the subcommittee was acting in good faith—trying to assign student space to the groups that needed it most—even if the result was imperfect.

Yet, even though the assignment of space fell short of our expectations, all is not lost for the ambitious project. The subcommittee says it will reevaluate its assignments next year, so these misallocations of space may soon be rectified. We hope that the subcommittee evaluates the application in a more scrupulous manner on its next pass. One simple suggestion is to hold brief interviews with group leaders so that needs that may not be immediately apparent on paper can be addressed.

Problems with space allocation aside, Hilles’ transformation is an unquestionably positive development. It is commendable that the College and University are spending more than $6 million to renovate existing buildings in the first place, thereby allotting an unprecedented amount of extra space to the student body.

That said, it was not the right decision to expel student groups from the basements of Yard dorms at all, and we are puzzled as to why increased space in Hilles must coincide with a reduction of space in the heart of the University. Even without the transformation of some Yard basements into social space for first-years, future freshmen will have a new pub in Loker Commons and possibly a 24-hour café in Lamont Library nearby. While some may argue that freshmen should have the same number of kitchens and common rooms as their upper-class brethren, marginalizing large student groups in the face of an already colossal increase in the Yard’s social space seems counterproductive.

Move-in day will be especially exciting this fall as student groups begin to inhabit their new digs in Hilles. For the groups that were slighted, we hope that the subcommittee reevaluates its office-assignment procedure so that next spring the Hilles space will be reallocated more carefully.