Keeping Students In-House

As House life develops, the solution to social space becomes clear

Students have finally come to terms with the perennial issue presented by the lack of social space on campus this year. New initiatives have developed on campus and tangible changes are being made, offering solutions to the problems of social disunity within the student body. In early fall, a student group with goals to make Harvard’s social scene safer and more inclusive met to discuss the social role of final clubs and to urge them to be more accessible for all, a significant departure from their current role as exclusive organizations with heavy barriers to entry. The initiative was the first to open the door to greater dialogue on the issue of social space and was a worthwhile endeavor because it reiterated the necessity of having social options other than final clubs for students. It set the tone for further soul-searching on the part of individual students to think of alternatives, given available resources. It is heartening to know that the student body is starting to take the initiative to improve its social experience. The number of social options exist that are slowly but surely increasing, and many of them promise to help build a more cohesive community.

Among the most ostensible concerns of Harvard’s current social scene is that the all-male final clubs—which dominate the social life for many a Harvard student—discriminate against women and that even though more women have joined social organizations of their own, their doing so automatically feeds into and perpetuates established gender divisions. In the 2010-2011 school year, for example, the largest number of female freshmen in University history rushed sororities. But rather than fostering a sense of community among those who rush, for many, membership in a sorority serves as a gateway into the final clubs. The clubs’ independence from the University enables them to flout Harvard rules, making them ever more attractive for students to spend their weekend evenings. The social dependence on the final clubs and the idea that one needs a certain ticket to entry—such as membership in a sorority or other organization whose better intentions include female empowerment—needs to change in order to create a more inclusive and integrated social scene.

Our most effective weapon to combat this dependence is one that is already a part of our arsenal: a push toward greater House solidarity. Harvard’s 12 residential Houses stand not only as arbitrary student groupings but as academic and social communities. Beginning in 2012 with the renovation of Old Quincy House, there seems to be a lot in store to capitalize on the potential for tight-knit House life. Drawing inspiration from Yale’s 12-year renewal of its residential colleges, Harvard will look to emphasize an atmosphere that is conducive to social cohesion in its own House renewal, which looks set to remain the top priority for the University’s multi-billion dollar capital campaign. In particular, the architectural changes Quincy House will face are emblematic of a trend that will carry much weight for students. Entryways will be made horizontal rather than vertical “to increase student circulation,” and new multi-purpose rooms will be added in order to address the student need for social space. We laud the University’s efforts in this vein, as this kind of renovation is a necessary step in ridding students of a reliance on organizations outside of its purview for social satisfaction, and in shifting their focus inward toward a House community that can cater to their needs.

We hope that students can recognize these University’s efforts toward developing House life and can thus capitalize on the opportunity to form a closer and better-integrated community. The Houses, after all, provide spaces that are inclusive to everyone and that bar none; they welcome all students with open arms and do not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, or sexual orientation. Students would do well to recognize that the inherent inclusiveness and diversity that Houses provide has immense potential for vibrant and successful social communities. In keeping with this, student cooperation is necessary in order to bring the University’s efforts to fruition. For example, although College alcohol policy is presently in a state of flux, defying alcohol-related regulations would be a waste of an asset like the House community. College rules such as these are enforced in the best interest of student safety, and to disregard them would ultimately hurt students and the safe environment that Harvard is trying to foster.

At the same time, we ask that the College administration bear in mind the fact that a needlessly strict enforcement of its alcohol policy can push students back toward the gender-segregated quagmire that is the current social scene outside of the Houses. At final clubs or other off-campus organizations that lie outside of the scope of University regulations, students have free reign to use or abuse alcohol as they please, as they are in places that are not subject to the restrictions that Harvard goes to lengths to enforce.  As much as Harvard strives to provide space that is inclusive and safe for all, an unnecessarily inflexible adherence to its stringent rules on alcohol consumption will only drive students to spaces where they will be able to flout the rules without facing any ramifications. Furthermore, such strict enforcement will dampen House spirit and take away from the goal of building a stronger community. Instead, the University ought to understand the limits of regulation and, while ensuring safety, should not be so imposing as to force students to search for unsafe alternatives.

Students themselves are beginning to institute social change on campus, and we applaud their efforts to do so. For example, in May students in Cabot House created a social space for all known as Cabot Café, an enormously successful endeavor that proved that initiatives like these are just what the College needs. A coffee shop located in a previously unused common space, Cabot Café provides a safe, friendly, and open environment that all can enjoy, and it cultivates a sense of unity that is inspirational and gratifying. With student- and College-driven enterprises like these, we are optimistic for the future of Harvard’s social space and House life. A little innovation can go a long way, and it seems that we are seeing the winds of change with every effort.

Tags

Recommended Articles