UC Launches Social Spaces Initiative

Though University President Drew G. Faust has named a campus-wide student center as a priority in the University’s upcoming capital campaign, a recently launched $10,000 Undergraduate Council initiative hopes to offer students a shorter term solution for social space on campus.

This Saturday, the UC began soliciting submissions for student design proposals to revamp existing, underutilized spaces on campus.

“It’s a very short term, high impact project,” UC Vice President Pratyusha Yalamanchi ’13 said. “This is $10,000. The money’s there.”

The project, first announced in April, is a collaboration between the UC, the Harvard College Dean’s Office, and the Happiness Project—a student group that has previously organized the transformation of the third floor of the Student Organization Center at Hilles into a wellness center called the “HappyNest.”

The Council has contributed $7,500 to the competition’s funding, while the Dean’s Office will provide $2,500, according to UC President Danny P. Bicknell ’13.

Students can submit their ideas online until Nov. 21, after which a committee comprised of members of the UC and the Happiness Project will judge the submissions.

The top two ideas will be put to a student-wide vote on Dec. 3. The prize of $10,000 will go to making the winning design—or designs, depending on cost—a reality, Bicknell said.

UC Student Life Committee Chair Michael C. George ’14, the project’s leader, said he hopes the competition will help improve the on-campus social scene at Harvard.

“I think Harvard has a very fractured social scene, and I think social spaces are something Harvard students care about a lot,” George, who is also a Crimson news editor, said. “My hope is that this competition and renovating a new space will open up more on-campus opportunities to students who don’t have access to off-campus spaces.”

Plans for the Social Space Competition began last spring when Happiness Project founder Leslie R. Rith-Najarian ’12 first approached members of the Council about creating an interactive space on campus dedicated to stress relief.

Together, the groups recognized that, instead of creating a new social space from scratch, they could use already existing spaces that had been previously underutilized.

Bicknell said the Social Space Competition in a sense seeks to “inspire the next Cabot Cafe”—a student-operated coffeehouse in Cabot’s E entryway that opened in 2011.

Happiness Project member Jordan L. C. Ashwood ’13 said the group sees the competition as a way to encourage students to improve their mental and physical health as well as create social spaces on campus.

“This competition is really focused on the need for social spaces that incorporate this element of well-being,” Ashwood said.

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