To those lamenting the lack of social space on campus: the end of your wait may be in sight. Last week, the administration made its first commitment to the establishment of a student center. Heeding the recommendations of the Common Spaces Initiative, President Drew G. Faust said she has strongly considered including a student center as part of the upcoming capital campaign, and once a donor is found, the administration would move forward on the project. We have previously opined on the dearth of dedicated student space at Harvard. On a campus in which property is as scarce as it is valuable, a student center will be a welcome addition to the Harvard Square landscape, giving the student body some much needed social space. Crucially, a student center will also help dispel the notion that the only available social spaces are those owned by organizations unaffiliated with and unaccountable to the university.
It is readily apparent that there is a glaring lack of dedicated student space that is both accessible and spacious. Locations like Lamont library and the Greenhouse Café have partially filled the void, while many students have grown accustomed to spending their spare time in individual House facilities and dining halls. However, this dynamic has only contributed to the fragmented nature of social life at Harvard. With the exception of Annenberg, there is no single location on campus capable of holding a large swath of one class at any one time. For this reason alone, a prospective student center is all the more encouraging.
Although Faust has offered few details and fewer formal commitments, one of the most promising aspects of the student center is that it will be likely located in what is currently Holyoke Center. The Student Organization Center at Hilles, Harvard’s prior attempt at a student center, never made it big because of its location; its primary failing was a lack of proximity to Harvard Yard, the geographic center of campus. Although well furnished and convenient for both quadlings and student organizations, the SOCH is too distant to accommodate much of the student body. Placing a student center in the middle of Harvard Square makes likely its success as a popular location; students can look forward to a dedicated space just close enough to everything that it will serve a myriad of uses.
Most importantly, by building this student center, Harvard will move closer to creating a social environment not dominated by the same few players—final clubs, fraternities, and property-owning organizations. Hopefully, this will help break the culture of exclusivity and lack of safety that have come to define much of Harvard’s social experience. Although not be the last word on the issue of social space, a student center will hopefully provide additional venues in which students can hold events and parties, enriching a social scene crippled by a lack of diverse weekend options. Of course, as with all projects of this nature, the devil is in the details; we hope the administration will make these spaces readily available to student organizations, without the bureaucratic hassle that prevents groups from using other campus spaces.
It remains unclear exactly what the student center will look like, but Faust’s commitment to expanding student space is a critical first step. We only hope that her stated goal and reality will match up.