Ever heard of a JCR? For upperclassmen, the acronym calls to mind parties in the Junior Common Room. For freshmen, it might be the first quiz they fail.
For some first-year students, the transition to House life is difficult. The Houses are larger than most freshman dorms, and further from the Yard. Most importantly, they can be intimidating.
Many freshmen do not feel comfortable even entering upperclassmen houses before they are sorted at the end of their freshman year.
Those issues have inspired some debate: Earlier this year, the College considered completely restructuring the housing system to mirror that in place at Yale. According to this proposal, freshmen would be affiliated with a House before arriving on campus. The proposal was voted down in March after some Faculty Deans expressed concern.
Though there is currently no plan to change the housing system, recent semesters have seen new effort to familiarize freshmen with the Houses. Both the Advising Programs Office (APO) and the Freshman Dean’s Office (FDO) are implementing new initiatives to facilitate this freshmen integration.
The APO runs the Peer Advising Fellows (PAF) program, which consists of upperclassmen selected to guide freshmen through their first year. This year, PAFs are working under new guidelines geared specifically towards helping freshmen become more comfortable with House life.
This year, PAFs coordinated “PAF Group Meetings” with their freshmen advisees during Opening Days. During these two-hour long sessions, PAFs gave tours of their own houses, including visits to dining halls and dorm rooms. PAFs have been encouraged to continue these efforts throughout the rest of the year.
Yosi Fetahi ’21 and his PAF frequently have meals together in different house dining halls. “It definitely makes me feel more included, because while we’re there she introduces me to some of her friends,” Fetahi says.
Brooks Lambert-Sluder ’05, director of the PAF program, hopes that these new guidelines will enable freshmen to feel more comfortable navigating Harvard earlier on. “It’s a problem for a first-year student if you can’t go to a house and feel like you belong there,” he says.
The FDO is also experimenting with new initiatives to help freshmen integrate into house life. For the first time this year, the FDO is coordinating events that are located in upperclassmen houses but heavily marketed to freshmen. Events like the recent “Down the Rabbit Hole” party in the Leverett House Dining Hall are intended to bring the community together.
As incremental changes are made, progress clearly results—lasting change, though, may take more than a few trips from the Yard.