Change We Can Believe In
The CHL report offers encouraging proposals for Harvard’s houses
March 16, 2009
CORRECTION APPENDED. See below.
Harvard’s multi-billion-dollar house renovations progressed one step further on Thursday, when the preliminary findings of the Committee on House Life report were presented. The report’s conclusions will be familiar to anyone frustrated by missing the 7:15 dinner deadline or losing a fight over a common room, as it outlines significant changes that should be made in the new houses. Though we await the specific details of the final report, these initial findings address important student concerns and offer encouraging signs of progress.
An essential change mentioned in the report is renovating house dining facilities to allow for longer and more flexible dining-hall hours. This proposal is sure to be greeted with delight by nocturnal students craving something more substantial than a slice of bread from brain break after their dinner at an hour better suited to an early-bird special. Many students stay up long past the time when food is available, and extending dining-hall hours would reduce the need for students to spend additional money on food outside of the dining hall.
Those students more concerned with securing a room to hold their group’s meeting will also be encouraged by the report, which found a need for more social spaces on campus. The limited availability of common spaces for meetings, events, or just relaxing is truly detrimental to social life on campus. We agree with the suggestions of more grilles, theaters, and gyms and hope that these types of spaces are given serious consideration in renovation plans.
However, the committee should look beyond just adding a few grilles and consider even more ways to encourage social life. One important change we hope will be made is horizontal floors in place of vertical entryways. A horizontal floor could better facilitate socializing and floor bonding than a dark stairway, and could even become an additional social space. Also, though house-wide common spaces are essential, there can also be improvements made to common rooms within suites.
While we are glad that the report has recognized some of the current problems of house life, we hope that the university does not wait until the renovations are complete to address some of these issues. Though some problems cannot be avoided given the current physical configuration of the houses, others can be alleviated for students immediately. Dining-hall hours, for example, or at least the quality and hours of brain break, could be improved long before the renovations. And, though the amount of available common social space cannot be changed, lesser-used social spaces can be made more welcoming.
The CHL report is a step in the right direction and correctly identifies many of the key problems with house and social life. We hope that the committee’s suggestions are incorporated into the renovation plans and that the new houses go even further towards encouraging socializing through changes like horizontal entryways. But it is also important that current students are not forgotten—as late-night burrito connoisseurs can attest, some changes should be made now.
The Mar. 16 editorial “Change We Can Believe In” may have incorrectly attributed suggestions for a possible change in dining-hall hours to the Report on Harvard House Renewal. In fact, the suggestion for 24-hour dining hall seating access was discussed by Associate Dean for Residential Life Suzy M. Nelson in a debriefing of the report, which has not yet been released. Also, the editorial incorrectly referred to the report as the Committee on House Life report.