Checking Out of the Library

The old adage “If you build it, they will come” worked pretty well for Kevin Costner. Cut down some corn, lay down some sod and BAM! You’ve got a sweet party in your backyard. But when it comes to Harvard Yard, the story is a bit different.

This past school year, Harvard embarked on a number of projects geared towards expanding social space, including undertakings as diverse as the $4.5 million Queen’s Head pub and the Harvard College Women’s Center. But designing a social space that caters to the diverse interests of the College’s roughly 6,500 undergrads has proved to be a challenge. As a result, two approaches have emerged: While some locales appeal to specific groups on campus, others aspire to the lofty goal of including the entire undergraduate community.

HILLES: FAR AWAY FROM MOST PEOPLE

Since its opening in September, the Women’s Center has made its impact on the student body. According to Director Susan B. Marine, over the course of a typical week, it serves as everything from a meeting space for student organizations to a home for marathon viewings of “The L Word.” However, Marine notes, “on any given night, the average would be around 15-20 students here hanging out. Most of the time they are sitting down in the lounge, drinking coffee, and watching TV.”

Despite the number of students who go to watch Carrie Bradshaw break her Manolo Blahnik heels, Marine is still cautious about over-representing the Center’s popularity. “I don’t want to over-exaggerate...we try to make the space feel very homey, but it’s not the be-all-and-end-all of social life at Harvard.”

In particular, entering the Women’s Center is a bit more intimidating for members of the male gender. “I never go there,” declared Dan R. Benevento ’10. “I once asked my friend Liz to go with me, but she didn’t, so I’ve never been there.”

Other spaces with a very specific audience, such as Harvard Hillel, also face similar problems as the Women’s Center, despite recent improvements. Josh C. Sharp ‘08, Vice President for Community Building, said “we have a lot of space, and we recently got wireless put into the building, so we’re trying to encourage people to hang out more at Hillel.” The building boasts a student lounge complete with satellite TV, big leather couches, a foosball table, and a piano. Sharp hopes that the addition of the wireless internet will encourage students to actually hang out at Hillel, instead of just eating matzah ball soup and attending parties such as “Purimpalooza” and “John Harvard’s Bar Mitzvah.”

Another new space on campus is the Student Organization Center at Hilles, more affectionately dubbed “SOCH.” It not only serves as home to student organization offices, but also plays host to social events on campus such as film screenings. However, students such as Shreya Maheshurari ’10 tend to complain about the location of SOCH. “A lot of people say it’s not too far, but it is. If you’re not living in the Quad, you can’t go there just to hang out.” Recent attempts to inject some life into SOCH have drawn around 30 students. For example, “Tuesday Night Acoustic Nights” in the Penthouse recently featured musicians Clem D. Wright ’09 and Kevin M. Bombino ’08. However, Bombino admits that other than his performance, he’d “only been to Hilles three times in all.”

PARTY IN LAMONT

In the fast-paced and competitive environment of Harvard, there is a safe haven for any student who likes to pair his or her homework with some Red Bull and stimulating conversation in the Lamont Library Café. Even on a Friday evening, there are plenty of students sitting in the comfortable chairs, munching on overpriced sushi. Since its opening on October 17, on any given weeknight, the room is packed with undergraduates, doing work on their laptops, sipping lattes, and chatting with friends who shy away from the quieter setting of the 3rd and 5th floor reading rooms.

“The ambiance in general is very conducive to students talking to each other, or studying,” observes Mahum Shabir ’10. It is ironic that one of the most social spaces on campus is so closely tied to the library, a reminder of the heavy workload that every Harvard student bears.

Getting A Head

Although the fact that Harvard students love to hang out in their library sounds like a bad joke, this sorry situation might soon change with the opening of the Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub, a new, dedicated space in Loker Commons that marks the end of the Harvard social space construction frenzy—at least for now. The Pub’s opening night drew almost 1,300 attendees, and the line to get in was reminiscent of the queues outside Annenberg during freshman week. “It’s a great safe social space, you don’t need to go with forty friends. You can go alone, get some food, and watch some TV or you can go with everyone from Eleganza,” observed Campus Life Fellow John T. Drake ’06.

Those behind the construction of the pub hope that its success will come from its inclusiveness of the entire Harvard community. “It is a space which is as comfortable, and appealing for a freshmen from Holworthy as for a senior from Dunster—two students who may otherwise rarely cross paths,” noted Project Manager Zachary Corker ’04.

S. Maggie Spivey ’08 was especially impressed with how the re-done Loker atmosphere brought a variety of students together. “I was surprised because there were a lot of people there who I didn’t know. I thought I knew everyone who hangs out and parties, but I guess not,” she said. “At the very least, the $2 draft will bring people there,” she added, referring to the pub’s $2 beers on tap. “But it’s probably the best thing Harvard’s done for the social scene since I’ve been here.”

With the completion of these hangout spots, Harvard has a handful of new spaces aimed at revitalizing undergraduate campus life. Now it remains to be seen how students utilize these venues in the coming years. Perhaps the lure of a smooth-finishing frosty mug of “Harvard’s specialty 1636” beer will be enough to draw Cantabrigian bookworms from their sushi-filled holes in Lamont and out into a social setting.