When President John F. Kennedy received his housing assignment, there was nobody in a lion suit to greet him at his Weld dorm room.
But this morning, new residents of Winthrop, along with the other 11 Harvard Houses, were met by cheers from House residents eager to welcome their new members.
Although House life has come to be seen as a defining part of the Harvard experience, the actual traditions of Housing Day, when all freshmen are placed in their future homes, are less than a decade old.
THE CREATION OF A HOLIDAY
When Judith S. Palfrey ’67 and John “Sean” G. Palfrey ’67 took the helm of Adams in 1999, Housing Day Eve was the more popular event, but only for a group of renegade House residents who participated in an unsanctioned race, called a “glorious competition,” to be the first to snatch the list of new freshmen assigned to their House.
Once upperclassmen got ahold of the information, they awoke their future housemates in the early morning, beating by hours the official letters from the administration, Sean Palfrey recalls.
But soon after, the College began to crack down on these late night adventures, promising to punish residents caught possessing the list or waking up freshmen. “The college wanted to regiment the way things were done,” Palfrey says.
Over the next five years, Palfrey says, Housing Day would become “progressively less and less interesting.”
In 2008, Associate Dean of Student Life Joshua G. McIntosh worked with House Committees to make Housing Day more fun for students.
Since then, House Committee members and upperclassmen have been responsible for “dorm storming”—delivering the letters that tell blocking groups where they will live for the next three years. At lunch, Houses commandeer tables in Annenberg to pass out t-shirts and swag to their newest members. The festivities continue well into the evening, with House-sponsored dinners, ice cream socials, and happy hours.
Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67 says that new traditions like Housing Day dinners and welcome events are meant to encourage enthusiasm among even the most disappointed freshmen.
“Over time we said, ‘Let’s get a real welcome,’” Dingman says. “The welcome has developed into something that I think makes people that are assigned to a place they didn’t think they would enjoy feel, ‘It’s going to work out.’”
AN OFFICIAL WELCOME
On Thursday evening, new Meese, crowned in gifts of antler headbands, will enjoy a bonfire and s’mores in the Dunster House courtyard. Down the river, future Winthropians can gather at a special Stein Club with a performance by Harvard’s own Motown and Soul band, The Nostalgics. And at the other end of campus, students assigned to Cabot will partake in a special community dinner.
Over the past few years, the efforts of House Masters and House Committees to reach out to new members of the community have become increasingly institutionalized.