College Struggles With Social Space

Lamont Cafe
Sharon Kim

Administrators point to Lamont Cafe as an example of a positive recent development in College social space, but some students say that the semi-social location fails to live up to their definitions of a social space.

Clusters of frantic undergraduates study in the Lamont Library Cafe, while their peers dance to Lady Gaga in cramped dorm rooms and still others chat over cereal in House dining halls.

To work, socialize, and party, Harvard students must physically disperse, moving from one social space to another.

While undergraduates at other colleges flock to one student center, no such central space exists at Harvard.

Students and administrators acknowledge that the issue of social space is central to the Harvard undergraduate experience. Many agree that the campus’s current social space offerings are lacking, and with the recent efforts of groups like the Harvard Students for Safe Space, Harvard’s social space has again come under scrutiny as students repeatedly raise complaints about the issue.

But each Harvard undergraduate has an individual definition of social space—some want to socialize with friends in smaller casual areas while others focus on the weekend evening party scene.

As students continue to complain and administrators respond with solutions of varying success, the question becomes—what exactly is missing from on-campus social space at Harvard?

WHAT IS SOCIAL SPACE?

The definition of social space varies from person to person, both among students and among administrators, who acknowledge students’ varied needs but sometimes fail to provide spaces that undergraduates find useful.

Administrators recognize that students have a broad range of needs in terms of social space, and over the past decade Harvard has allocated a significant amount of money and resources to making additional social space available to undergraduates.

But the spaces that the school has chosen to develop in the recent past—like the Student Organization Center at Hilles and Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub—often fall short of student needs, many students say.

For example, administrators point to Lamont Cafe as an example of a recent success, but some students say that the semi-social study space fails to live up to their definitions of a social space.

“I don’t know many people that are like, ‘Oh, I’m going to go chill in Lamont Cafe,” says Molly E. Dektar ’12.

Andy Balbuena ’12 says that for him, the Eliot House dining hall—a place to talk and see his friends—is enough.

“It’s where I go to hang out. Where people go to talk and socialize,” Balbuena says of social space.

House Masters say that there are many House spaces that allow for casual conversation among students.

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