YOU'D THINK students transferring from other schools would prefer readjusting to a new environment to staying at the colleges they were anxious to leave.
Rationally, transfer students and first-years should take roughly the same amount of time adjusting to life here at Harvard. If anything, transfer students, who have already spent at least one semester away from home in a university setting, should be able to adapt even more quickly than those just out of the high school. Then why do transfers arriving at Harvard overwhelmingly feel isolated from the rest of the undergraduate community?
The source of this problem lies in the system presented to them upon their arrival here. There are fundamental reforms that the University could institute.
The first step in the right direction was taken recently: the announcement that transfer students will not be confined to Dudley House, but will automatically receive affiliation with one of the undergraduate residence halls upon arrival.
But even this policy will not sufficiently answer the calls by transfer students against being forced to live off campus. Affiliation does not mean a room number. What kind of sense of belonging to a house bythe river is there when your desk and bed are half an hour away--past the Quad?
The housing issue is just the tip of the iceberg. Now, while the Committee on House Life is still discussing the fate of Lehman Hall, reform on issues facing transfer students must be addressed.
1. Housing. Right now, transfer students are put at the very bottom of the housing list. Living at Peabody Terrace, 29 Garden St., the Botanical Gardens and other locations scattered at the periphery of Harvard's piece of Cambridge, they meet few other students. In the course of a semester they aren't given the chance to develop the feeling of community that first-years achieve by the end of Orientation Week.
Starting next semester, transfer students should either be integrated into the houses of the rest of the College or consolidated in a single building, such as the new dorm on DeWolfe St.
2. Transferring credits. The current system is highly arbitrary. True, consistency is the rule when transfers petition to apply a class taken elsewhere towards the Core requirement. Forget it, no chance. But policy is very different when they try to fulfill concentration credit: actually, there is no policy. Whether departments accept courses taken in students' previous schools seems to depend primarily on chance. The College should establish clear guidelines that apply to every concentration.
3. QRR. There is no good reason to punish transfer students by making them satisfy the Quantitative Reasoning Requirement by the end of their first semester. All that does is create unnecessary pressure and, as one student put it, "makes me feel like I'm taking an extra course." Let them have a full year, as the first-years do, as long as they pass the test by graduation.
4. Expository Writing. The current practice of placing transfer students, some of whom are now juniors and have been taking college-level writing courses for two years, with first-years just out of high school is ridiculous and benefits nobody. Harvard's aloofness reaches new heights when it equates other colleges' curricula with those of secondary schools.
Not only is there a vast gulf in writing skills between transfers and first-years, but their psyches are also quite far apart. Expos, dubbed by one transfer student as "the freshman experience of being away from home for the first time," is like a support group for first-years. If transfer students must relearn writing a la Harvard, at least they could have their own classes.
5. Academic advising. Many seem to think that the Dudley House student advisors leave much to be desired. Frequently, these advisors admit to knowing little or nothing about a particular concentration or the entire undergraduate course system in general. Transfer students need advising geared specifically towards issues of transferring credits, adjusting their plans of study, etc. Each department should have one advisor equipped to assist transfer students.
6. General attitude. Why is it that Orientation Week doesn't also welcome the other newcomers to the school? Transfer students should at least be notified of the information sessions and formal get-togethers run by the University during that time. In the few Orientation Week activities that do exist for transfer students, College administrators repeatedly greet them with the message: Keep quiet and just be thankful you're here. Indeed, one transfer student, when inquiring about credits during her first week here, was met with the response, "Harvard is the best university in the world. You shouldn't even expect us to accept credits from another institution."
Certainly, Harvard hasn't done its best in dealing with transfer students. For a university that prides itself so greatly on the house system and the sense of community it fosters, excluding a sizeable segment of the student body is hypocritical. Transfer students go to great lengths to get to Harvard, but many feel locked out from the academic resources the rest of us take for granted.
Now that transfer students are leaving the confines of Dudley House, they should be given full membership in the rest of the College.