Pusey Library: A Question of Priorities

The Undergraduate Council will submit the following referendum question to the UC presidential ballot: Should the Pusey Library "be transformed into a freshmen-oriented social space"?

While the UC-backed referendum question has been negatively received by many on campus, this proposal, and the project it represents, is a critical step in the direction of discussing Harvard’s problematic social climate and lack of inclusivity.

The Pusey Library project aims to achieve three goals. The first is the creation of an alternative social space to combat Harvard’s one-dimensional social scene. Students’ social lives are often limited to the same kinds of alcohol-centered, late-night parties in frats, final clubs, or upperclassmen houses every weekend, but Harvard’s student body is incredibly diverse. Many students have desires for alternative social gatherings, and we must give those students a space. The Pusey Library could become a daytime and evening gathering space, where students in the Yard could go to relax, enjoy each other’s company, and connect with the larger student community. Harvard’s social life must be opened up to a larger variety of students, and the Pusey Library proposal will enable us to do that.

Our second goal is to create a centralized location for freshmen to congregate and connect. Such a place simply doesn’t exist right now. Dorm common rooms are small and limit interaction to students who live nearby; they (obviously) cannot accommodate the entire freshmen student body. The Pusey Library, on the other hand, is centrally located and equally accessible to the entire freshmen class. Even the Union Dorms would be as connected to the social scene as the other dorms. Class community is critical to students’ well-being, and as of now, the lack of social spaces severely limits that.

Our last goal is arguably the most important. We want to create a venue for safe, inclusive, large-scale events oriented towards freshmen, with an emphasis on safe and inclusive, because our current social climate is neither. The upsetting results of the sexual assault survey are proof enough. As we now stand, freshmen are being driven to dorm parties, frats, and final clubs. These are the places where dangerous drinking happens, sexual assault happens, exclusion happens. This is unacceptable. Members of the student government have a mandate to ensure that students feel safe, welcome, and wanted. We aim to create a space where freshmen, who are at a special risk in this dangerous social climate, feel at ease and out of danger, and can still have a good time. Pusey Library is that space.

Our opposition has numerous issues with our project. One complaint is that the project is unfeasible. We disagree. We've spoken about this with members of the administration and the UC who support this initiative. We are not alone. We are equipped with the resources and allies to make this possible. We are equipped with the resources and allies to make this possible.

Another criticism is that the Pusey Library is an important academic space, and should not be dismantled. The argument is that, as a school, Harvard should seek to protect and foster its students’ academic resources, rather than expand social spaces. While it is true that academic enrichment is important, we argue that as a liberal arts college, Harvard also has an obligation to foster its students’ personal and communal growth beyond academics. Cultivating our enrichment as social and communal creatures is a critical part of a holistic education.

A third criticism is that the alcohol-free policy of the Yard would detract from student support of a social space located there. In response, we point to the success of events like the [Blank] Party, Camp Harvard, and, most recently, the Haunted Hall, all alcohol free and located in the Yard. As mentioned before, there is a large portion of the student body that does not require or want alcohol to enjoy itself. We want to cater to them, rather than ignore them.

A final criticism is that this referendum somehow trivializes and detracts from the serious issue of inclusiveness and social spaces on campus. While we recognize the merit of other criticisms, we fail to see how our attempt to create a freshman-focused space in which safe, inclusive, and enjoyable social events can be held in any way trivializes and detracts from the larger problem.

When students submit their vote for UC president, they will see this referendum question. We urge each and every student to vote in favor. It is time to take action, to take real strides in fixing Harvard’s broken social climate. While converting the Pusey Library may not be the end of the problem, it is certainly the beginning of the solution.

Nicholas P. Whittaker ’19 lives in Wigglesworth Hall.

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