There are many people working to improve the quality of life in Harvard’s residential dorms, from House Council members hosting fun-themed Stein Clubs to University administrators planning for a massive renovation of the River Houses. This is how it should be; a strong House system is vital to ensuring that the undergraduate experience is socially meaningful as well as academically fulfilling. Through spending time in their Houses, students get to know world-class professors who serve as House Masters, enterprising and talented graduate students who serve as tutors, and a good cross-section of their own peers. On the other hand, if, for whatever reason, the Houses are not appealing social options, students tend to become more heavily involved in organizations that are more homogenous and miss out on the best opportunities the College offers to learn about parts of Harvard and society that are totally foreign to them.
In this light, the newly created Cabot Café is a tremendously valuable project that students and administrators should support as much as possible
The Café, which was started by Laura S. Hinton ’13, Jesse J. Kaplan ’13, Chandan G. Lodha ’13, and Crimson photo editor Daniel M. Lynch ’13, is located in a common space down the hall from Cabot Dining Hall. It offers coffee (better than the dining hall), pastries, and sandwiches as well as ample seating for talking and studying. During its trial period from Tuesday to Friday last week, 100-160 customers came each day, with the café hosting around 30 people at any given time. The numbers themselves are a clear indication of success. Students like the café and want to see it continue. This is unsurprising, given that this concept mimics that of the most successful social space on our campus—Lamont Café.
However, beyond popular opinion, the Café is good idea to support. For one, it is a nice place to hang out in the Quad, which, frankly, deserves such a thing, being so far from the geographic center of undergraduate life. It offers a site for conversation and debate, making it different from the House Grilles, which are often a place to order curly fries in pajamas and go back to studying or to get quick mozz sticks when drunk—services that are very necessary but perhaps not as formative.
Additionally, the way in which the Cafe came to be is a model for future social space projects at Harvard. Hinton, Kaplan, Lodha, and Lynch worked with Cabot House tutor Stephen J. Vider and Cabot House Masters Rakesh and Stephanie Khurana on its conception, so the Cafe represents the work of key interest groups that need to get along for a House project to work. It started out small, so the organizers could make sure that students liked the idea. In the fall, the organizers say there will be paid barristas and possibly morning hours, in response to feedback from the trial period.
True, Cabot Café is not a grand, multi-level student center, the return of the Party Fund, or a memorable House formal, but perhaps it is something better. A House Café costs not more than a few thousand dollars to start up—all that is needed are coffee machines, furniture, and a good location. It is a cost-effective way to improve student social life in a substantive and healthy way. College administrators, House Council members, and all with an interest in vibrant House life should take note.