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The cross-section plan for the Houses has been tried and proved--a failure. Stubborn facts are jutting out of an atmosphere long wrapped in mystery. Many men leave their Houses voluntarily because they find them no more attractive than boarding-houses, and equally devoid of friends. Despite heroic efforts, the Committee which governs the placing of Freshmen has found it impossible to dam up entirely a natural and preferable course of events. A few of the Houses are emerging with definite personalities. They collect scholars, or athletes, they give characteristic plays and have their own distinctive inner societies. These are the trimmings which make the House. Without them a House is just a place where a student hangs his hat, a dormitory of brick and mortar, characterless and colorless, where no tradition or sentiment can linger long.
We have heard that Harvard is a democratic institution, that it looks with stern disfavor on Fascist ideology. Yet there is little student choice --a Freshman feels that the deities were on his side if he is admitted into a House of his second or third preference, and discovers a small sprinkling of his friends there. The arbitrary limitation of eight friends that may be admitted as a group only increases his sense of frustration and feeling of being a misfit.
Probably the basic theory behind the cross-section plan has been the fear that one or two of the Houses will play the role of step-sisters and collect only cast-offs from other Houses. To a degree this may well work out, but it is a greatly exaggerated idea. When mechanical facilities are much on a par as they are at Harvard, new college generations will constantly change the comparative status and general character of the Houses, as experiences at Cambridge, England and at other colleges have shown. The other chief support of the cross-section plan has been another fear--that Houses will become absolutely specialized. On this score the college authorities would find it very instructive if they examined the differing fields of concentration of present-day roommates in any House.
Harvard was one of the first American colleges to experiment with the House Plan. The mechanical difficulties have been largely solved, although a waiting-list running into three figures indicates the need for another House.
It is now high time that Harvard students give the House Plan some meaning, and allow each House to become a center of friendship and activity, in short, to assume a personality.
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