Survey of Freshmen Reveals Criticism of Social Space

Freshmen criticized the lack of social space and limited alternatives to drinking on campus in responses to a survey conducted in December, touching on two themes that have permeated the broader discussion of social life on campus.

The lack of social space can make weekends stressful, as does the scarcity of free events sponsored by the College, freshmen said.

The survey, which is conducted annually by the Freshman Dean’s Office, allows the office to evaluate the performance of proctors, academic advisers, and peer advising fellows. It received a 90 percent response rate.

In an interview, Dean of Freshman Thomas A. Dingman ’67 said he would like to see more spaces made available to freshmen.

“The interest in social life is not to turn Harvard College into ‘Camp Harvard,’” Dingman said. “But I feel that there are a lot of hard workers in this class who will be more effective with their primary pursuits, which are academics, if they get a break from time to time.”

But Dingman said that the College would be less willing to accommodate complaints that the complete ban of alcohol from all dorms in the Yard was too strict.

“We can’t relax our approach to alcohol,” he said.

“We can’t be a refuge from the laws of the Commonwealth,” he continued.

These responses come at a time when students and administrators alike are debating the merits and faults of the Harvard social scene.

Discussions on social space on campus, including a movement that is critical of the role of final clubs, have gained momentum on campus, and the Undergraduate Council surveyed the student body on social space.

Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds called social space one of her top priorities last summer, and one of the College’s assistant deans of student life is leading an exploratory committee investigating the status of freshman social spaces.

The study also showed that pre-orientation programs, which provide activities for freshmen before they arrive at the College, received highly favorable reviews among freshmen.

Fifty-one percent of students surveyed said that they had participated in a pre-orientation program. Of those students, 69 percent reported feeling nervous about entering the College prior to their program. Only 34 percent said the same afterwards.

According to the results of the survey, 93 percent of freshmen that participated in a program said that the experience helped them feel a part of the Harvard community. Almost three-quarters said that the friendships they developed during pre-orientation were still an essential part of their Harvard experience.

Dingman said that the survey reaffirmed the FDO’s belief that the programs help students feel more at home at Harvard.

“We’re open to the possibility of either adding more slots or possibly considering another program,” Dingman said.

—Monika L.S. Robbins contributed to the reporting of this article.

—Staff writer Hana N. Rouse can be reached at hrouse@college.harvard.edu.

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