About a month after an undergraduate died in a car crash while returning to campus from an out-of-state mock trial competition, College administrators will convene a working group to examine the challenges surrounding student group transportation.
According to Associate Dean of Student Life David R. Friedrich, the Office of Student Life is in the process of soliciting participation in the working group, looking to involve voices from club sports teams and other student organizations whose members travel domestically.
Friedrich said he hopes that the group will begin its work “quite quickly,” likely meeting in late March and early April with the goal of bringing the results of its work to the Committee on Student Life before the end of the semester. The student group transportation issue came up at the committee’s most recent meeting on Feb. 20. At that meeting, committee members expressed support for putting together a working group to address the issue.
The move to begin formal discussion on student group transportation comes after several members of the Harvard Mock Trial Association were injured while driving back from a competition in Virginia early in the morning of Feb. 10. Angela R. Mathew ’15, a Leverett House resident, died in the crash.
“The accident was a terrible tragedy and has deeply affected our community,” Friedrich said. “This is an opportunity for us to really understand more about the challenges that student groups face when they travel and to see what more we can do to help support those student organizations as they travel, with education and best practices.”
According to Friedrich, there are about 100 student organizations at the College, not including club sports teams, whose members travel. He said that student organizations face several challenges while arranging for travel, funding among them. Friedrich said he is “quite certain” that funding will be a part of the conversation.
Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde said that administrators hope to learn about how peer institutions approach the student transportation issue, both with regard to guidelines or restrictions and to funding.
Undergraduate student leaders have pushed to make student group funding more generally a topic of debate at the College this semester. The Undergraduate Council, which is also involved in the discussion about the transportation working group, just last month began a social media campaign calling for administrators to increase its budget—the majority of which is allocated to recognized student groups—by $250,000.
Though the UC’s grant program does not directly fund transportation costs incurred by non-athletic student groups, the UC does partially support club sports teams’ travel costs through grant funding. However, due to its stagnant budget and an increase in the number of groups applying for funding, the Council could not fully meet the grant request of any club sports team last fall.
“I think the College does have some responsibility towards making sure that students are able to travel to the events that they want to go to for their extracurricular activities, and that the College should help secure transportation that enables students to both have great experiences but also to be safe,” said UC President Gus A. Mayopoulos '15, who has made student group funding a signature issue of his presidency.
Lassonde said it is unlikely that it would be feasible for the College to undertake funding student group travel “very extensively,” saying that funding the travel expenses of every student group would be “astronomical.”
“None of us really has the budget to sponsor all student travel, so we have to figure out what we can do to support them without going that far,” Lassonde said.
Currently, student groups can apply for the College to fund domestic travel to one-time conferences and competitions through the Dean of Harvard College's Student Life Fund.
“[Travel grant funding] is intended for one‐time unique opportunities afforded through special invitation, qualification, or similar circumstance, and it should not be relied upon as an annual funding source for the same event,” according to a description of the Fund’s travel grant guidelines posted on the OSL’s website. The Student Life Fund, which had $50,000 available this academic year, also funds special events hosted by House Committees, such as House formals.
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