Upperclassmen, think back to your first fall at Harvard. Were you excited, nervous, eager to make friends, and willing to chat with all kinds of people? Maybe those of you who are sometimes shy made an extra effort to be friendly. Your entryway was a built-in community, a microcosm of the diverse range of backgrounds and interests in your freshman class. Through study breaks and shared newness, you got to know each other. You weren’t expected to be best friends with your entryway-mates (though some of you were), but you were expected to be friendly neighbors (and most of you were). Then the blocking process happened. For many of you, this was one of your toughest times at Harvard, and you couldn’t wait to move into your house and have it be over.
Now think about sophomore fall. Despite all of the house events—the Sophomore Outing, the Sophomore Dinner—did you approach your classmates in your house with the same open excitement? Perhaps some of you managed to, but for most of you, that “freshman moment” had passed. You were part of a blocking group, you were busy with activities, and it just wasn’t the same. Now, every class in every house is diverse, but when you walk into the dining hall, you likely see blockmates sitting with blockmates. By Commencement, if you have had a conversation with 85 percent of your classmates in your house, you will likely be an exception.
Residential life at Harvard is great. But it could be even better. How? Incoming Harvard freshmen should be assigned to their houses the summer before freshman year. Freshman should still live together in the Yard, eat in Annenberg, and participate in special, freshman-only events, so that they could bond as a class. However, the students assigned to a house—say, Adams—would be Adams freshmen and all live together in one dorm, or one section of a dorm. Adams freshman would play intramurals for Adams, attend Adams events, and have Peer Advising Fellows from Adams. Sophomore year, everyone would move into Adams together. You’d get to room with whomever you liked, but there would be no such thing as blocking.
Why make this change? I’ve spent several years loving house life as a resident tutor here at Harvard. I was also an undergraduate at Yale, where students are members of their colleges when they arrive as freshmen. Having lived in both systems, I want Harvard to make this change because I think it would make Harvard students happier. If you’ve ever brought your laptop to a meal because all of your blockmates were busy, think how nice it would be to walk into dinner and know you’d find a big, long table of classmates you already know. Wouldn’t you be more likely to show up to IMs, study breaks, and house events if you knew you were going to see your old friends from freshman year? Your class spirit would lead to more house spirit. Your house would feel even more like a home.
I’ve been talking to Harvard students about this idea. Of course, not everyone is convinced.
“I like how freshman year was special, and I got to know all the freshmen.” Freshman year would still be special; it’s freshman year! You’d all live in the Yard together, participate in tons of freshman-only events, and eat in Annenberg as a class.
“It’s nice to have a special thing to look forward to sophomore year.” You still would. Moving from the Yard into your house is totally special; you’d just have more friends when you got there.
“But then we wouldn’t get to have Housing Day!” Housing Day is fun—at least for upperclassmen and students who get assigned to a house they wanted to be in. But think how great it would be if, upon driving up to your freshman dorm, you were met by a dozen upperclassmen in Adams t-shirts, ready to haul every box and bag from your parents’ car up to your fifth-floor suite. Being welcomed into a house community from your first moment on campus is worth a dozen Housing Days.
“If you had only to choose roommates from your house, you might not get to live with your best friends.” True. Think, however, about all the different kinds of people in your freshman dorm. If you knew, from the beginning of the year, that you were all in Adams together, don’t you think you could have found a few people you wouldn’t mind living with? Many of you blocked with freshman dorm-mates as it is. Also, there would still be the option to transfer houses.
“Blocking is a tradition!” Traditions change. Remember: Harvard didn’t use to have houses at all, and the system has evolved from bidding, to ordered choice, to randomization. This change would be an enhancement to Harvard’s already wonderful house system, making students’ 4 years here more comfortable, more connected—and, ultimately, happier.
Meghan Lockwood is a resident tutor in Adams House and a doctoral student at the Graduate School of Education.