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Off-Campus Undergraduates Find Community Through Dudley House

By George T. Hill, CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Nobody actually lives in Dudley House, but about 70 undergraduates have some right to call it home.

About 33 students live in the Dudley Co-op, an off-beat community housed in two buildings on Sacramento Street.

An additional 35 off-campus students affiliate with Dudley House, out of the only 217 undergraduates (3% of the student body) living off campus, said Mac J. Broderick, acting housing officer for the College.

The majority of off-campus undergraduates affiliate with their original residential houses, although some are first-year or visiting students.

For off-campus Dudley students, the reasons for joining the most unique of Harvard's houses range from happenstance to a desire to be part of house that specializes in off-campus concerns.

More Than Cafe Gato Rojo

Dudley House, one of Harvard's 13 Houses, is located in Lehman Hall in the southwest corner of Harvard Yard.

All students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) are affiliated with Dudley and can use it for administrative, advising, social and cultural services.

Undergraduates affiliate with it either by joining the Dudley Coop or by choosing to affiliate with Dudley House after moving off-campus.

Undergraduates are invited to all House social and cultural events, and they can also use it for advising through a tutor system like that in the residential Houses.

Dudley events have included themed movie nights (back to back "Cyrano de Bergerac" and "Roxanne," for instance), piano concerts, ballroom dance classes and Pub Rojo--a night of music and beer at Cafe Gato Rojo, located in the basement of Lehman Hall.

Moving Off Campus

The decision to leave Harvard's grounds for the apartments of Cambridge and Somerville has several causes.

"It's not like a thing with the '70s, where everyone's off to live with their significant other," said Margaret Handy, assistant to the senior tutor a Dudley House.

She said some students move off-campus to have more independence or to raise a child. In addition, older students often are unaccustomed to dormitory life.

(One such Dudley student was a 65-year-old business person. "He came in as a freshman, lived at Martha's Vineyard, and traveled up to classes," Handy said.)

Off-campus students also cited economic factors.

"It's way cheaper than living on-campus," said Diana L. Adair '98, who co-chairs the Dudley House Undergraduate Committee, chairs the Undergraduate Council's Student Affairs Committee and is a founder of GirlSpot. She said that living off-campus costs her as much as or less than at the Dudley Co-op, where she lived her sophomore and junior years.

Housing at the Dudley Co-op costs $2,600 per semester, while on-campus housing costs $3,808 per semester.

Joan J. Ryoo '97-'98 said she is spending a lot on rent, but added: "I know I'm spending a lot less on food than I was on the meal plan."

Other students appreciated the distance, despite the time it takes getting to classes.

"I can expose myself to the Harvard environment as much as I want, but I can also go home and forget about it," said Michael Cohen '98, who moved off campus the spring of his sophomore year.

Some want kitchens.

"I just wasn't into the way eating went to campus," said Mike S. Esposito '97-'98, who prefers to cook and eat on his own schedule, "rather than wait for a meal, and then cram as much mass-produced food into [his] body [as possible]."

Some had no reason to stay.

"A lot of my friends have already gone, so house life wasn't a big draw," said Ryoo, a concentrator in anthropology and the history of art. "I had my fill of the House experience."

Ryoo took a semester off last fall to do thesis research in London. She is now living off-campus while she finishes her the second semester of her senior year.

Off-campus students reported few dissatisfactions.

"At times you may feel a little isolated from your House community," said Gregory M. Tears '98.

"[In a residential house] you have everything taken care of and you just have to worry about your academic life," Esposito said.

Choosing Dudley

Esposito ended up an off-campus Dudley affiliate almost by accident. He said he was planning on living in the Dudley Co-op, but an unexpected shortage of spaces led him to take a semester off. He lived in Cambridge, worked at Harvard, and got used to life outside of a house.

When he started his next semester as an off-campus student, he already had a Dudley affiliation from his aborted move to the Co-op, he said.

Many others specifically sought Dudley out.

"As soon as I left Lowell House, I found out that Dudley House was specially geared to off-campus undergraduates," Cohen said. "I thought that living in a house where everyone was in a similar situation to mine was more of a natural environment."

"I had concerns about being affiliated with a house that was made primarily for resident students," he said.

Not Choosing Dudley

Tears, who was lotteried into Mather House, took his sophomore fall semester off, then lived that spring at Mather. He moved off campus starting the following fall, and now lives at the Sigma Chi fraternity house at 30 Bow St. with nine other fraternity members. He has kept his Mather affiliation rather than choosing Dudley House.

"I knew the people in Mather House pretty well, and so I didn't want to change," he said. "It was easier for me to stay with Mather House."

He says he meets with the Mather pre-law tutor about once a week. For convenience, he uses the five-meal-a-week board plan at Mather, he said.

Julie I. Thwing '97-'98 also kept her Lowell House affiliation.

"I'm pre-med, I'm applying to medical school this year, and I love the [Lowell] pre-med committee," she said. "I wanted to keep those relationships."

Thwing also praised Lowell House masters William H. Bossert '59 and Mary Lee Bossert, who last week announced that they will retire at the end of the academic year. "I love the Bosserts," she said, repeatedly.

Cohen suggested that the demographics of non-Dudley affiliated students might show that most of them moved off-campus late in their college years, when it would not make sense to change affiliation.

Tight Rental Market

The vacancy rate for Cambridge market-rate rental units this spring was .56 percent, according to an industry survey.

"You have almost a completely filled rental market in the city of Cambridge," said James J. O'Reilly, a spokesperson for the Greater Boston Real Estate Board.

A survey conducted three times a year by the Rental Housing Association--a part of the board that consists of owners and managers of Massachusetts rental housing--has shown a sharp drop in market-rate rental housing availability in the past two years.

There was no corresponding fall in the percentage of Harvard undergraduates choosing to live off-campus, which has varied between 3.28 percent and 3.82 percent over the past five years, according to Broderick.

The average rent for a Cambridge market-rate unit this spring was $1,024, according to the survey. The average market-rate rent for greater Boston was $967.

Monthly rents for a student usually cost $350 to $400 in the Harvard area, and $650 for a one-bedroom studio apartment.

"The way you save is by living with as many people as you can," Esposito said.

Christine J. Cynn '96-'98 said that her two-bedroom apartment in Somerville costs $800 per month; with two other roommates, it costs each roommate $267 per month. She said that utilities during the summer totaled $40 to $50 all together.

An Individual Feel

Both off-campus Dudley affiliates and Co-op residents praised the House for what they described as its diverse and intimate character.

"When Harvard has a tendency to make students feel like a number, I think Dudley House can make students feel like individuals," Adair said.

"It's a small enough House that when we have House-wide activities, there's a sense of community and people are eager to attend them," Adair said.

Like other Houses, Dudley offers undergraduates advising services through its senior tutor, premed tutor, pre-law tutor and fellowships adviser. One of the Dudley Co-op's two resident tutors also serves as an adjunct adviser on sexual harassment, and the House fellowships adviser also addresses sexual-orientation issues.

Graduate students serve as fellows, earning stipends in exchange for organizing events open to all Dudley graduate and undergraduate students.

Dudley has fellows for art, outings, athletics and social events. The House also features an orchestra, literary events, a jazz band, a chorus and public-service opportunities.

Handy's 25 years with Dudley House show in students' opinions of her.

"I come in there with questions all the time," Cohen said. "Margaret Handy...she's the greatest resource."

"She's one of the most helpful people on this campus," Cohen said. "She usually has the answer to most questions, and if she doesn't have an answer, she tells you where to go.

Use of the House staff in general varies.

"I've used my fellowship tutor frequently," Adair said. She said she visits Lehman Hall about three times a week.

Esposito said he uses House resources less frequently.

"What do you use a House for? If it's not the place you live in, it serves as an intermediary between you and the registrar," he said.

"The way I feel about it is I haven't found a way to get what I needed out of the House advising sytsem but I've figure out how to get through basically on my own," he said. "So what that leaves for what I'd need from a House is the technical details."

By the beginning of November, Cynn said, she had gone to Dudley House about 3 or 4 times that year.

Cohen said he goes to Dudley House about four or five times a week; he uses its dining hall, computer lab and game room--which is stocked with two pool tables, two foosball tables, a ping-pong table, a TV and a VCR. He also uses the "body-sized locker" in the basement to store books, clothes and a towel.

Randomization's Impact

Students predicted that Harvard's randomized housing policy, implemented in 1996, may bode well for Dudley. Some expected that, with students lotteried apart from their friends and into undesired Houses, the decision to move off-campus or into the Dudley Co-op will become more popular.

Adair suggested another reason to expect an increase.

"Harvard house life is not particularly ideal for non-typical Harvard students," she said. "With randomization, there's a tendency for minority students to move off-campus to find a community that's completely supportive."

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