Undergraduate Council leaders are following through on a campaign promise to create the equivalent of a Q Guide, the widely used course rating website, for comps, the means for joining many student organizations on campus. UC President Yasmin Z. Sachee ’18 and Vice President Cameron K. Khansarinia ’18 envision the guide as a forum through which students will share feedback about different comps, including information about the often substantial time commitments involved. While there is a strong need for reforming the Harvard extracurricular experience, the proposed Q Guide for comps faces serious obstacles that prevent us from supporting it in its current form.
Many students struggle to find interesting extracurricular commitments in the absence of a centralized source of information on student organizations. This is especially true for freshmen, who must embark on a lengthy exploration of Harvard’s over 400 student organizations before settling into fulfilling roles. Given the general lack of transparency in comp requirements and the culture surrounding them, students may find that comps turn out to drastically differ from expectations. Because this process is at the center of non-academic student life, there is a clear need for reform. To this end, there is merit in any idea that aims to address these issues and lower barriers to inclusion in extracurricular experiences. We commend the UC for their proactive work.
It is still unclear, though, how the UC leadership intends to incentivize students to participate in the survey that would populate the Q Guide for comps. The potential for sampling bias, where only individuals with strong views contribute, is too high. In the absence of a fair incentive, the proposed guide may simply show a disproportionate sample subset representing the most opinionated compers. The result would overestimate comp difficulty and potentially discourage students from joining organizations where they may actually have felt at home.
On the other hand, making the survey a comp requirement late in the comp may positively select for those who are already committed to the organization. Additionally, while the Q Guide for classes incentivizes students by offering the opportunity to view grades early, there is no clear analogue for comp processes. The UC leadership should place less of an emphasis on translating the course Q Guide into one for organizations and should focus instead on building the most helpful tool for students.
Furthermore, avoiding sampling biases is possible only if the proposed tool verifies the identities of compers who give feedback. This would also be necessary to prevent false allegations, especially of serious offenses, from online trolls or members of rival organizations. Sachee and Khansarinia plan to partner with Harvard University Information Technology in administering the guide, presumably for this reason.
Yet in overcoming one obstacle, verification creates a problem of privacy. By having to verify that a student did indeed comp an organization, student leaders inevitably have to disclose the names of individuals involved in their organizations. Even in the absence of a breach in the ethical behavior of administrators and organization leaders, students may desire to keep their extracurricular involvements private from the UC.
Given that the Q Guide for comps was a major campaign promise from Sachee and Khansarinia, it is disheartening that we have yet to hear of the basic details for this proposal. This includes the timeline for incentivizing survey participation as well as the process for verifying compers’ identities while protecting their privacy from school administrators and student organization leaders. UC leadership should instead consider other ways of connecting students, especially freshmen, to fulfilling organizations, including in ways that look beyond the comp.
That said, the desire for something like a Q Guide for comps should serve as a wake-up call for the community. Extracurriculars are conducive to forging new friends and new experiences. Yet in them we have created a complicated, exclusionary, and stressful process. It is right to work to make involvement in student organizations a break from academic work, not a continuation of it.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at this meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.