A University subcommittee recently floated a proposal to change the College’s current housing model, opening up the discussion to opinions from student Peer Advising Fellows at two recent town halls. The proposed model would potentially imitate the system at Yale: Instead of waiting until the spring of their freshman year to learn their residential college, a dorm analogous to a Harvard House, freshmen in New Haven are assigned to one before they even arrive on campus.
Though we commend the University’s continued brainstorming and efforts to shift social life toward the Houses, we do not support this proposed wholesale revamp of the residential system. The freshman experience is integral to the Harvard experience as a whole, and instrumental to that is the distinction between freshman and upperclassmen years. Freshmen should not have so large a component of their identity preordained before they set foot in the Yard. Moreover, while the new system may strengthen student ties to their Houses, it would worsen a student’s transition from high school to freshman year—a critical time to adjust to college life.
That said, the College continues to face a dearth of House social life, and the University should continue to seek means to fix and fortify House communities. These prospective improvements, however, do not necessitate an overhaul of our current housing model. Rather, efforts to strengthen existing House infrastructure and social activities can produce the same desired effects and help revitalize House culture on campus.
Efforts to streamline the party-registration process and revamp existing social spaces on campus are good first steps. Additionally, tutors in the Houses can do more to facilitate a sense of belonging in their respective Houses by organizing more community-building events, akin to how first-year Proctors and Peer Advising Fellows organize weekly study breaks for their freshman entryways.
The Yale housing model would also mean the loss of many freshman year traditions that we have grown to cherish as a community. Freshmen will no longer be able to experience the excitement of Housing Day, for example, with the tantalizing mystery of where their blocking groups will end up for the next three years.
Connections between members of the freshmen class may weaken, as students begin to develop stronger ties to their Houses rather than their class at the start of the year. Without a House affiliation, first-years are currently encouraged to branch out and interact with a larger pool of their year in freshmen-only spaces such as the Annenberg Dining Hall. A predetermined Housing assignment may therefore shift freshmen towards spending more time in their respective Houses rather than in these inclusive first-year spaces.
Harvard should continue to enliven residential social experiences for its students, but the College should explore existing avenues. We've opined on many of these before, including increased funding for social events, expediting party registration, creating more community-building events within Houses, opening up social spaces, and considering student feedback in future House renovations.
But Harvard is not Yale, and the model from New Haven fails to take into account the experiences that are central to the Harvard first-year experience. We're proud of our traditions, and undoubtedly many first-years have come to know and cherish them. We can do better without throwing those all away.
A Step in the Right DirectionWe applaud the Houses for taking an important step toward bringing students back to on-campus spaces for parties and social events while also fostering greater House community.
Dear Dartmouth, Here’s Some Advice
On Housing DayBy the end of our years at Harvard, we will be able to look back on this day as the beginning of our membership in one of 12 sub-communities at Harvard that become a home to each of its student members.
Beyond Money for Social SpacesIf Harvard aspires to continue creating more inclusive social spaces in the future, administrators must consider providing resources other than money to support such endeavors.
New Policy Allows Freshmen to Reserve Common Rooms for Private Events