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PBH: A Tradition of Change

By Peter M. Shane

(This is the first of a two-part series on PBH. On Friday, Ben Sendor will examine PBH's relationship to the University, Its financial prospects, plans for educational programs, and the reorientation of PBH away from traditional institutions.)

PHILLIPS BROOKS HOUSE NO LONGER amuses itself with beauty contests for Radcliffe freshmen. No longer do Thank a giving "turkeys," as volunteers were called 20 years ago, deliver holiday baskets to poor families in a spirit of noblesse oblige. No longer does PBH retain the sectarian thrust of the organization as founded in 1900 to "nurture undergraduate spiritual improvement by enhancing the charity, compassion and public spirit of these leaders." PBH is still engaged in a 72-year-old struggle to define a satisfactory role for volunteer work in terms of society's needs and demands. What has evolved is an ambitious coalition of volunteers--working in programs aimed, in varying proportions, toward both individual service and social change--trying hard and with mixed success to understand their own contribution and the motivations behind effective volunteer work in the 1970s.

Generalizing about success and failure in the progress of PBH poses difficulties. While evidence exists of both tremendous achievements and outright impotence, "success" is always viewed in terms of how much remains to be done, and "failure" in constantly mitigated by the sense of lessons learned and experience gained. Members of the Harvard community have caricatured PBH as a self indulgent haven for mindless do-gooders, an image that has taken its psychological toll on PBH's leadership as well as threatening PHB's support within the University. The sophistication of the House's understanding of its problems and the intensity of its overall commitment belie the caricature, but only a clearer assessment of the limitations and potential House programs can give Harvard and PBH the confidence to transcend such allegations.

Almost all of the work at PBH is done through its 14 committees. Some problems exist for at least the larger of these. Each, for example, must reduce the volunteer turnover rate. Some members graduate; others move on to social work on a larger scale. More leave because of a lack of commitment, personal frustration, or changing demands on their day-to-day schedules. The decentralization of PBH contributes to a certain anomie among volunteers which probably contributes to the Tran science of PBH membership; few can envision PBH's operation in its entirety, and, according to Barry Gordon '70, PBH's graduate secretary. "A lot of people haven't thought all that much about why they're here."

To reduce this atomization will be difficult because PBH seeks volunteers who are primarily committed to individual projects. The committees are now trying to give prospective volunteers a better estimate of the time and effort that will eventually be required of them. Meanwhile, programs of lectures, films, and discussions add cohesiveness to House projects giving the volunteer a stronger sense of a supporting organization, and enabling him to see his motivations and the problems to be comforts more clearly.

A lack of continuity impedes the success of House leadership, as well. Student officers acknowledge that at least a semester is needed t master as executive position. Leaving only another five months to push effective reform. Some committees, which originate with the efforts of a single dedicated individual or an initially committees group, dissolve as soon as the funding leadership departs.

Some chairmen claim a further problem in the declining interest of freshmen in PBH. A poor freshmen turnout at PBH open houses and frustrating attempts to canvass freshmen dorms this year have convinced people of a changed attitude toward the kind of work PBH does. Membership figures (ace table at right) do not yet exist for this Fall, but a review of the last four years contradicts this assertion with a picture of uncanny stability. Only during the semester following the Cambodia strike did freshmen join in unusually large numbers. Other political activities probably account for the drop in senior membership that year. Otherwise, there has been remarkable consistency in the proportions of PBH represented by each class, although the attitudes of each year's volunteers may change.

A final problem, with roots outside the organization, lies in the nature of the bureaucracies with which PBH must deal. In some cases, professionals have been unabashedly hostile to PBH volunteers. Some volunteers have been frustrated not merely by other institutions' red tape and inefficiency but by their seeming unconcern.

The direction of PBH's overall activity planning reflects the effort to resolve these problems. One trend points to the expansion of educational activities within the House, both in terms of small group programs in each project area and larger study programs relating to social problems and social service in general. Another trend exists in the development of activities oriented toward specific problems rather than toward an entire group of institutions. Not only does this development offer intrinsic advantages for committee planning and evaluation, but it helps to see past institutional bureaucracies and the prospect of co-optation, to areas where volunteers can offer concrete assistance in the lives of individuals.

A third trend, and the most significant for changing the character of PBH, is the redirection of programs toward community involvement as opposed to work within institutions. These new efforts frustrate any attempt to arbitrarily distinguish "social action" from "social service" because of the programs' relative independence of some of society's more odious establishments. By entering the community, volunteers may gain a greater sense of the uniqueness--and the limits--of their contribution.

II

THROUGHOUT THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS, discussions--even among House executives--have bogged down on the relationship between volunteer service and institutional change. PBH has not yet succeeded in fully throwing off its image as a brings holiday baskets; it is still associated with what Harley called short-term head-aid solutions" to essentially long-term problems.

The most convincing argument on the relationship between social action and social service maintains that well convincing social service automatically argues for social changes. According to Gerdon, "Talking about the delivery of social service should be talking about human right." David Cohen '74, chairman of the one-to-one program for juvenile offenders, observed, "I'm not convinced that people talking about institutional change in theoretical terms understand the lives of the people being affected by those institutions."

The emphasis of at least two other programs is unmistakably on social change. The Harvard Africa Volunteers Project (HAVP) provides personnel for programs designed by African governments and organizations "engaged in furthering self-determination on the part of African peoples in the liberation and development of the African continent." Tunbridge in Boston, which, like HAVP, uses PBH essentially as a clearinghouse, is establishing a community network of nonprofessional adult teachers. These people will teach their businesses, skills, or crafts to students working in an alternative educational structure. Tunbridge, set to open in July 1973, will have no scheduled classes, but will serve to bring together students and the resources at its disposal.

Brighton Educational Opportunity and the Easy Reader Program fall most readily into the traditional social service, category. Both provide tutoring for high school students in the first case, and for second and third graders in the second. One can still argue, however, that even these plant the seeds of social change by extending community resources to people who would otherwise be denied. Adelante, which teachers English as a second language to Spanish and Portuguese immigrants and helps provide translators for hospitals and airports, affects people's lives so directly that dismissing the project as a "Band-Aid solution" would be to overlook the immediate and the potential importance of its work.

The trend in PBH planning is toward programs for service in the community which, by serving groups and individuals, directly address the issue of "human rights" about which Gordon speaks. The South End Low Cost Housing Committee renovates abandoned South End buildings for low and middle-income families. The Columbia Point Program provides recreational activities and educational enrichment for disadvantaged children. None of these explicitly aim toward the overthrow of existing social structures, but all seek to improve the quality of people's lives and extend to them the tools necessary for individual survival and community participation.

III

THE ISSUE OF "SOCIAL ACTION" vs. "social service" pertains most directly to PBH's oldest projects, the Mental Health Committee and the Prisons Committee, both founded in 1954. In these cases, not only does institutional work appear to support highly oppressive establishments, but the benefits of volunteer work to the people within these institutions is unclear.

The Mental Health Committee (MHC) has found the dilemma relatively easy to solve, since the trend in mental health work is already pointing toward treatment in the community rather than institutionalized rehabilitation. Originally constituted as the Mental Hospitals Committee, MHC changed the meaning of its "H" last fall. The committee began its work in the back wards of Metropolitan State Hospital combining these efforts with some one-to-one case aid work throughout the fifties. This year, MHC remains in only one Metropolitan State ward and in one children's unit, primarily because students on MHC are still interested in that type of work. Most volunteers seeking to work in hospital wards are referred to Boston City Hospital's Case Aid Department.

It cannot be said that the ward work was fruitless or that it exhausted all MHC's energy in its first 17 years. Jonathan Koaol '58, now known for his work on free schools, ought English to a supposedly outside girl he discovered who had simply not been tonight to speak.

This year's projects underscore the trend at PBH toward community-based social work. Programs in after-care, cooperative apartments, family aid, alcoholism treatment, and assistance to the mentally retarded take volunteers out of traditional institutions.

Several factors explain the ongoing success of the present MHC--its working along with the movement to reduce the population in mental hospitals, its relatively low level of contact with those professionals sometimes hostile to MHC in the fifties, the clear definition of its projects, the extensive commitment it requires (which discourages transient membership), its back-up program of seminars and films, and its willingness to deal with frustrating local bureaucracies.

The Prisons Committee, whose direction is equally clear, seems more troubled in its evolution than MHC. Prison Committee chairman Liz Cherish '73 has led the committee away from teaching in prison classrooms toward projects in court-watching legislative research, prisoner group assistance, and parolee assistance. The committee's efforts have expanded enormously. The budget has grown from $267 to $5000 in seven years. The originally small committee first admitted women in the late sixties, growing quickly to the present membership of well over 100.

Cheresh believes that the direction of the committee reveals a decline in popular interest in a social service image, despite a fascination with the institution of prisons that developed after Attica. She believes--as many chairmen do--that political radicalization follows almost inevitably from exposure to the social institutions with which she deals. As PBH has gotten away from liberal notions of altruism. Cherish thinks, people have increasingly questioned whether work in prison classrooms benefits anyone other than the volunteer. Many committee members, however, feel a responsibility to provide a contact for prisoners with the outside world, and the rate of returning volunteers is unusually high.

One-to-One, a program-pairing student, volunteers with juveniles recruited through the Cambridge court system, has been exceptionally successfully since its inception last year in an area related to the Prison Committee's work. Though it has expanded somewhat, its chairman, Cohen, still oversees the entire operation personally. A small cohesive group, meeting frequently to discuss its problems, one-to-one plans its activities thoroughly, understands and respects its commitment, offers intimate contact with people off-campus, and cooperates with an obliging and appreciative group of professionals.

Two programs--Challenge and Boston Education Program (BEP)--showed all the opposite characteristics. Through an over extension of effort, terrible planning, and personal conflicts. Challenge evolved from success to catastrophe. An educational enrichment program for seventh and eighth graders in the early sixties, it eventually became a disastrously bad reading program which folded this summer.

BEP has had its ups and downs since its founding in the early sixties. Last year's attempt to assign volunteers to offer special activities in schools throughout the Boston system failed miserably. Completely uncooperative officials, a lack of communication among committee members, and generally lax volunteer commitment precipitated BEP's dermis. Fortunately, its leadership re-formed the group this year as the Cambridge Education Program (CEP), tying volunteers PBH Membership Figures listed give fetal PBM membership including New Harvard and Radcliffe undergraduates. Members in parentheses indicate the percentage of PBH membership in each of the categories. YEAR  FRESH  SOPH  JRS  SRS  OTHER+ 1968-1969  77(20)  93(24)  78(21)  76(20)  58(15) 1969-1970  110(20)  101(20)  77(21)  46(12)  24(9) 1970-1971  93(21)  95(24)  79(20)  60(16)  74(19) 1971-1972  119(22)  133(24)  102(19)  80(15)  110(20) +"Other" includes graduate students and volunteer's from other schools and agencies.

into better-defined activities and backing up the project with seminars on education and on life in Cambridge.

In the final analysis, it is not simply a debate over proper aims that emasculates a committee's efforts, rather it in a lack of planning, a lack of commitment, a lack of understanding is to the needs being fulfilled, a lacks of cohesiveness, and a lack of cooperation from social agencies--in short, a failure of the volunteer to understand his commitment and the nature of the problems at hand.

Rumors circulated last spring that an attempt would be made to merge PBH with Education for Action (E4A), a policy unequivocally opposed by both organizations. As a result, some members of E4A were overhasty in juxtaposing PBH, supposedly a "social service" organization, with E4A, an organization dedicated to "social action."

PBH and E4A do not differ in their goals as much as they do in their style of operation. Their actual differences point up the unique contribution of each organization while emphasizing their common concerns.

PBH, unlike E4A, sponsors group efforts. Volunteers may approach PBH to work in an already-established group. While E4A does provide a central information clearinghouse, If only funds more intense individual projects: people seeking more facilities than E4A offers are referred to PBH. In the same way, people interested in joining off-campus efforts or in developing programs for individual effort only are sent to E4A.

Finally, the two organizations rely on different traditions of organization which have shaped the character of their administrations. PBH has been constituted as a Harvard organization and has the resources and history of a House 72 years old. E4A is a six-year-old Radcliffe organization striving to establish an independent identity. Both serve the University and Cambridge, but their approaches are complementary, not overlapping.

In the character of PBH, it is easy to see its strength. The physical and human resources on which it can depend are considerable, Well-established group activities promise more permanent progress than undergraduates working four years at most could achieve alone; at the same time, its readiness to accept new ideas and projects as well as redefinition's of its older committees give it the flexibility to ensure and to grow, PBH may not change the world dramatically. It is learning to make more relish claims both for its programs and for its volunteers; that sort of caution is the best hope of success. The ors of "Band-Aid solutions" may not be quite over; neither is the tradition of change at PBH

into better-defined activities and backing up the project with seminars on education and on life in Cambridge.

In the final analysis, it is not simply a debate over proper aims that emasculates a committee's efforts, rather it in a lack of planning, a lack of commitment, a lack of understanding is to the needs being fulfilled, a lacks of cohesiveness, and a lack of cooperation from social agencies--in short, a failure of the volunteer to understand his commitment and the nature of the problems at hand.

Rumors circulated last spring that an attempt would be made to merge PBH with Education for Action (E4A), a policy unequivocally opposed by both organizations. As a result, some members of E4A were overhasty in juxtaposing PBH, supposedly a "social service" organization, with E4A, an organization dedicated to "social action."

PBH and E4A do not differ in their goals as much as they do in their style of operation. Their actual differences point up the unique contribution of each organization while emphasizing their common concerns.

PBH, unlike E4A, sponsors group efforts. Volunteers may approach PBH to work in an already-established group. While E4A does provide a central information clearinghouse, If only funds more intense individual projects: people seeking more facilities than E4A offers are referred to PBH. In the same way, people interested in joining off-campus efforts or in developing programs for individual effort only are sent to E4A.

Finally, the two organizations rely on different traditions of organization which have shaped the character of their administrations. PBH has been constituted as a Harvard organization and has the resources and history of a House 72 years old. E4A is a six-year-old Radcliffe organization striving to establish an independent identity. Both serve the University and Cambridge, but their approaches are complementary, not overlapping.

In the character of PBH, it is easy to see its strength. The physical and human resources on which it can depend are considerable, Well-established group activities promise more permanent progress than undergraduates working four years at most could achieve alone; at the same time, its readiness to accept new ideas and projects as well as redefinition's of its older committees give it the flexibility to ensure and to grow, PBH may not change the world dramatically. It is learning to make more relish claims both for its programs and for its volunteers; that sort of caution is the best hope of success. The ors of "Band-Aid solutions" may not be quite over; neither is the tradition of change at PBH

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