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Toward a Shared College Experience

The new Dean of Students Office is auspicious but must prioritize first-year life

Earlier this month, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced in an email to students that the Freshman Dean’s Office and the Office of Student Life will merge into one office—called the Dean of Students Office—beginning July 1. With Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67 stepping down at the end of the year, the two offices will combine staff under the leadership of current Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair.

We believe the creation of the DSO is a critical step in the ongoing process of integrating freshmen into upperclassmen life. While there are numerous benefits to keeping freshman life separate from House life with regards to building a cohesive freshman class, there also too often exists a large divide between first-year students and the remainder of the student body. By centralizing all four years of student life and programming, the DSO offers a chance for freshmen to better understand House life and to more frequently interact with upperclassmen than they have in the past.

The move comes as administrators continue efforts to smooth the transition between freshman and upperclassmen campus life, giving rise to increased marketing of events in Houses to freshmen and even the consideration of a switch to a Yale-style housing system in which freshmen would be assigned houses before arriving on campus.

Nevertheless, the DSO should continue to give special attention to the freshman experience, which poses unique challenges. Given that Houses already provide significant administrative and social support to upperclassmen, the only students who stand to lose in this transition are freshmen. Thus, their needs and concerns should be especially considered as the offices merge.

Since 2004, Dingman and the FDO have demonstrated that first-year students require unique programming, and have done so with actions such as carefully selecting diverse freshman entryways, offering First-Year Experience workshops, and coordinating dinners and other social events. At a time when use of mental health services among college freshmen across the country is on the rise, this focus is critical in making sure that freshmen have the personal support and social outlets needed to combat the stress and loneliness that are unfortunately part of any first year experience.

That said, our appreciation for the positive changes Dingman has brought to campus as both an administrative coordinator and a friendly face in Harvard Yard primes us to worry about him having no successor. We hope that the administration’s decision to dedicate an administrator specifically to first-year residential life will help alleviate this loss, and we encourage that person to look closely to Dingman’s legacy as a model for their work and campus presence.

Crafting a shared Harvard College identity is important work—work a united DSO will do better than the separated OSL and FDO. As long as the DSO continues the important work of the FDO under Dingman, we wholeheartedly support the creation of this new office and urge further efforts toward the betterment of Harvard’s undergraduate campus life.

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 these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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