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College Space, Policies Fail Student Groups

By Joyce K. Mcintyre, Kevin E. Meyers, and Robert K. Silverman, Crimson Staff Writerss

It's no secret that there's a shortage of space for student offices on campus.

The University only has enough office space--whether in the Yard, in river Houses, Vanserg or the Quad--for one out of every four student groups, according to Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III.

An explosion of groups scramble to be slotted into the basements of Holworthy and Thayer Halls. Many of them assume they are on a waiting list and expect to be given an office as soon as the next space opens up.

There is no such list.

Organizations that seek space often find themselves at the mercy of an idiosyncratic assigning process overseen by Epps' office. Administrators simply do not have enough space to go around and instead weigh the value of individual student groups, leaving many organizations homeless--forced to operate out of student dorm rooms or other organizations' offices. Those who have offices say their space is often inadequate.

Even Epps agrees: students deserve better.

Winners and Losers

Epps and Coordinator of Student Activities Susan T. Cooke file each space request as it comes in. As soon as a group clears out of its office or an alternate space opens up, Epps and Cooke go to work to assign space to groups that they deem deserving.

When filling offices, Epps says he considers a group's consistency, its productivity and the quality of its contribution to the campus as factors in his decision.

"It doesn't go solely by size, and it doesn't go solely by when they got their request in," Cooke says.

That was not the impression the staff of the Harvard Book Review got when they approached Cooke for space this September.

"She said there was a waiting list, and she'd put our name on it," says John F. Coyle '00, the Review's editor-in-chief. Coyle, who is also a Crimson editor, says he assumed his publication would move up the list as spaces became available--"first come, first served."

Because he assumed there was a waiting list, Coyle never thought to ask what the selection process was.

"The Dean's office never explained to us exactly what the criteria are for determining office space," Coyle says.

The process of acquiring space in the Yard begins when an organization writes a letter to Epps requesting an office from the College.

According to Cooke, the letter should outline the purpose of the group and how office space will benefit its activities.

"That's really what starts our thought process," she says.

According to Cooke, the question then is, "Can we work creatively within what's available to open up space?"

When administrators of several campus choirs vacated a small office in Thayer, Cooke did some reshuffling. She moved the International Students Council (ISC), which plans an annual business conference in Switzerland, from its spacious Holworthy office to Thayer. Diversity & Distinction magazine then moved into the ISC's former Holworthy haunt.

Sharing is Caring

With Holworthy and Thayer nearly bursting at the seams, such office reshuffling is rare. Resourceful students have, however, found alternative solutions.

A few groups have taken to sharing their unused office space with others. For instance, Demon magazine, Digitas and the Harvard Salient all share an office in Thayer, as do the Asian American Association (AAA) and South Asian Association (SAA).

While the Dean's office never forces groups to share space, Epps and Cooke both acknowledge that groups that rarely use their space have been asked to share with another group.

"It's sort of shoehorning, asking groups to share [space]," Epps says. "We would never force people to share."

Placing multiple groups in the same office, however, can actually reduce the utility of the space.

Jenny I. Shen '01, AAA vice president, says the group's shared office space is too small to be very effective.

"We have talked about trying to find more office space because it's very cramped," she says. "There's a desk, a bookcase, some chairs and a table, and there's no room to walk."

A Political Process?

With no official waiting list and the power to grant office space resting in the hands of Epps and Cooke, a few student groups have told The Crimson they believe that the two administrators play favorites. These groups have declined to speak publicly about their suspicions for fear of jeopardizing their own chances of obtaining space.

Meanwhile, Epps says he gives preference to racial groups.

"I tried to provide for groups of color in Holworthy and Thayer," he says.

Several groups devoted to minority issues and constituencies--including the Black Students Association (BSA), the Minority Students Alliance and the Harvard Foundation--all have offices in Yard basements.

Members of the Harvard Computer Society (HCS), whose organization provides e-mail and Web space for student organizations, believe that Epps gave them space because of their usefulness to the campus.

"We provide important services for the University like e-mail and Web-page access for student groups," says HCS member David B. Alpert '00. "[The administration] thought we were important enough to have space. It's very political."

Unused Space

Epps' decision earlier this year to protect space for the Harvard Philosophy Review, which hasn't published in two years, came amid grumbling that the Review did not use its office enough to warrant space. Epps says students and faculty have assured him that the Review will reemerge soon, and he views its publication as a "priority."

But when offices are at such a premium, many groups are quick to point fingers at each other for not using their precious space.

Kamil E. Redmond '00, vice-president of the Undergraduate Council, says there are some groups with offices in Holworthy that she rarely sees. Redmond holds weekly office hours in the council headquarters and says she frequents the offices of the Black Students Association (BSA), which are both in Holworthy.

And Christopher E. Holloway '01, a co-coordinator of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters' Alliance resource room in Holworthy, says he "rarely" sees some of his neighbors entering the oft-closed doors in Holworthy basement.

When questioned by The Crimson, however, every group with an office in Holworthy maintained that it uses its offices nearly every day.

The disagreement over who uses what when may be due to fear.

Cooke says that frequency of a group's office use is a factor in the space assigning process, because groups that rarely use space are sometimes asked to share.

"That's a valuable question to ask," she says. "If there's a schedule that is clearly defined, could another organization's schedule work within that office?"

Uninvited Neighbors

Even when office schedules are conducive to sharing, however, groups say the dank Yard basements are far from palatial.

Not only does AAA share an office with SAA, but as of last year there were some unwelcome inhabitants as well.

"There used to be cockroaches running around there, too, which was pretty gross," Shen says. "We're sharing the space with another group and cockroaches, so it's not ideal."

As a result, the offices quickly become nearly uninhabitable.

"It is a place to store stuff," says Caroline T. Nguyen '00, ex-president of AAA.

Nguyen also says that the office is without either a phone line or an Internet connection.

Although it is the group's responsibility to pay for the installation of a phone line and Internet connection, both Cooke and Epps say their office is willing to provide financial aid for such efforts.

"If they need assistance, they should ask for it," Epps says. "They should ask for funding."

And although paying phone bills and emptying the trash are among the group's responsibilities, keeping the roaches out is not.

"In terms of cockroaches, they should talk to Yard [Operations] because that's not acceptable," Cooke says.

Walk-in Closets

With cramped offices too small to hold group meetings or serve as an effective headquarters, many organizations use their offices as closets to store supplies or records--a practice deemed unacceptable by Epps and Cooke.

"The College doesn't want to have the Yard being used for storage," Cooke says.

To combat this problem, Epps created 36 lockers in Loker Commons for groups to use as storage space.

"There should be a net increase in office space [from them]," he says.

The Harvard-Radcliffe Ballroom Dance Club has been using a Loker locker to store their $2,000 ballroom dresses after losing its Harvard Hall office due to renovations.

While Samantha L. Chaifetz '00 appreciates Cooke's efforts to find space for the group, the lockers, which are located in classrooms, do have their drawbacks.

"We can only get in when someone's there to let us in," she says.

The Harvard Chess Club (HCC) also has a locker in Loker, and HCC President Shearwood "Woody" McClelland '00 says it is "not enough."

"We have a lot of memorabilia that we would love to show the student body," he wrote in an e-mail message.

And unless the HCC can commandeer an office sometime soon, the prized Wolfe Cup won by defeating Yale will remain under lock and key in Loker.

If I Had a Million Dollars...

With every available space in Thayer and Holworthy booked solid, the many groups that have requested space may have to pursue other options.

When the Harvard-Radcliffe Opportunes went to Cooke to request an office earlier this year after losing their space in Currier House, she suggested that they look to the Houses instead. "[Epps and Cooke] couldn't really do anything because there were so many groups [looking for space]," says Marcy E. Beller '00, president of the a cappella group.

Some groups--like Harvard-Radcliffe Television--have made the Houses their homes.

Epps, meanwhile, suggests that students consider purchasing private space.

"I recommend, if at all possible, for people to buy their own space and not rely on the University because its commitment to student activities over the years has been so inconsistent," Epps says.

A Land of their Own

The largest amount of student office space on campus is, in fact, privately owned, accounting for 65 percent of Harvard's student office resources. Groups that own their own space include Harvard Student Agencies, the Catholic Student Association and The Crimson.

The International Relations Council (IRC) is trying to join those ranks. With readership booming, the International Review, a quarterly magazine under the auspices of IRC, requires more and more space.

"When they put out the magazine...they basically take over the rest of the office," says Ali J.Q. Satvat, IRC president. "[Their own area] is not enough space to fit their needs."

As a result, the IRC has begun exploring other space options, including purchasing a private office and petitioning for space in the proposed Knafel Center, which will house the Center for International Studies.

While cost is the primary impediment, the group is also weighing the benefits of staying in the Yard.

"One thing that we love about Thayer is that it's right in the middle of

everything, and it's so secure," Satvat says. "It's on campus, so we don't have to deal with a lot of hassle."

But with the International Review continuing to expand, the IRC may be forced to relinquish their coveted Yard space.

"We're not at that point now, but I can certainly see us getting there in the near future," Satvat says.

Still, more fledgling student groups are formed every year--almost a tripling of organizations since 1980--and few have the means to finance their own buildings.

With little new space to dole out, the Dean of Students Office is in a no-win situation.

Epps has dreams for a new building, College Hall, where student groups could work, practice and perform under one roof.

Such a project would require space and funding of its own--both of which have yet to materialize.

"I have run out of options," says Epps. "We need a scope change--a new building."

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