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"Welcome to SUNY Cambridge," reads the sign that might as well greet Harvard students at the entrance to the new, glossy Loker Commons.
In Loker, Harvard has sought the answer to a whole range of every student's most urgent dilemmas: Where to get that late-night low-fat fro-yo on the eve of that big mid-term in po-mo fopo? Where to go when you crave that cool Seattle style but don't want to walk the two blocks to Starbucks? Or--and this is the clincher--where to find a nice friendly place in otherwise unfriendly Cambridge to relax and share some good times with other friendly Harvard students? Welcome to SUNY Cambridge!
Loker Commons was not designed for actual Harvard students but for imaginary twentysomethings, conjured in the minds of fiftysomething university administrators. "We ought to add something bright and digital," one can almost hear the anonymous Harvard technocrat announcing, with considerable pride, to a hip Cambridge architect. "Kids these days are so technologically oriented."
Loker's is an aesthetic of the cool--or rather, the painfully cool. The Loker look, inspired by that peculiarly Pacific Northwestern fascination with the spare and the electronic, is less a reflection of our tastes than it is an attempt by aging baby-boomers to construct a new-age playground in which to act out their juvenile fantasies and satisfy their inner cravings for Italianate coffees.
Somewhere along the way, someone realized that, without a significant draw, students would not come to a campus-wide student center--that on the most basic level Harvard undergraduates neither need nor want Loker. That, and not a sudden inexplicable outpouring of munificence, explains the evolution of Crimson Cash. Not only would Harvard build a student center cum food court, it would pay its students to come and visit.
Which begs a certain practical question: What to do with our new financially invigorated IDs. I believe I have stumbled across a solution to this problem that will profit both Harvard students and the community at large.
I propose that every Harvard undergraduate invite a homeless person to Loker Commons sometime during the present semester. It might be for a snack or a soda or a three-course dinner. In the end result, each student should have tithed his Crimson Cash--that is, spent roughly $10 on the indigent.
I see numerous advantages to my proposal. To begin with, Harvard students will have helped to feed 6,400 hungry bellies. What better way to make the best of Crimson Cash, Harvard's inane response to Visa and American Express.
Second, this program will help guarantee that all the money that Katherine Bogdonovich Loker has so generously donated to Harvard undergraduates will get spent. We might look at this aspect of the proposal as "making Loker broker"--only phase one, we could hope, of a larger economic process whereby this obnoxious food court is driven out of Harvard once and for all.
The third reason to institute my proposed initiative is that by inviting homeless people into Loker Commons--and not just bringing Loker food to them--we can introduce a measure of reality into this otherwise unreal world of chrome, frappes and turnip chips. Harvard students do not need a student center, but as long as we have one, every student shoulders a moral responsibility to make sure it looks as little like a set for "Friends" as humanly possible.
One is tempted to conclude that Loker was built in anticipation of the "houses into dorms" transformation that will kick in once randomization is instituted. This is another reason to lament our new student center. It comes at the expense of a Harvard tradition that was good in principle as well as in fact.
Harvard is a funny place. So many smart people walking around and so little common sense. Buildings razed and rebuilt, houses re-shuffled, lawns re-sodded, as though Harvard were something more than a collection of bricks and books, as though Harvard itself might die and be born again.
This is Samuel J. Rascoff's last column.
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