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Put the Voodoo Dolls Away

"The Quad: For a first-year, no words could be more dreadful." Almost exactly one year ago--the day before first-year housing results were announced--I drafted that grim generalization into the lede of a front-page Crimson news article. As a fledgling reporter, I wasn't sure if it was a completely accurate portrayal of student sentiment. But as an overly anxious first-year who cringed at the very sight of a shuttle bus, I knew it was pretty darn close.

At the time, most of the class of 2001--myself included--viewed the Quad with nothing less than neurotic paranoia. And so, like any good Harvard students, we took matters into our own hands. Hoping to manipulate the randomization deans, some of us shrank our blocking groups and fabricated medical conditions. Others, hoping to appease the randomization deities, sacrificed f rozen poultry, chanted ritualistic verses and burned voodoo dolls. Indeed, by the time housing results were actually announced, anti-Quad sentiment had reached a passionate fervor.

How did this quaint quadrangular green, situated near such serenely-labeled streets like Garden and Shepard, ever become the target of such violent condemnation by Harvard's first-years?

The obvious answer is that the Quad is far away. The prevalent view among first-years is that a House should combine four important characteristics: spacious rooms, location, location and location. In this sense, it's easy to see why the Quad gets such a bad rap. As a first-year, I imagined living in the Quad would force me to wake up at 5 a.m. so that I would have enough time to make the three-mile trek to class. I recoiled at the thought of constantly waiting for dilapidated shuttles driven by maniacal drivers. I worried about missing parties by the River and late-night runs to Tommy's. In short, I didn't want to become disconnected from the rest of the campus.

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As fate would have it, I found out last March that I had been randomized into Pforzheimer House. Devastated and dejected, I prepared myself for the worst. Now, one year later, I can't imagine living anywhere else.

But it's not the house's spacious rooms, contemporary dining hall or prominent position on the Quad's grassy lawn that have captured my heart. Rather it is the intangibles of house life--the feeling of knowing your housemates on a first-name basis, the humorous anecdotes that regularly appear on the open e-mail list and the adrenaline-pumping thrill of chasing your roommate during a house-wide game of Assassin. While its residents are diverse, there is a remarkable sense of solidarity. PfoHo--as it is affectionately referred to by its residents--by virtue of its masters, tutors and residents, fosters an incredible sense of belonging. But you wouldn't know that unless you've lived there.

Understandably, the average first-year will more readily identify with physical, tangible characteristics than with vague terms like "community" and "spirit." Indeed, viewing houses merely in terms of room size and location is so prevalent among first-years that often all 12 houses are sorted into a simplistic Quad-River dichotomy. Those who defend the Quad say the extra living space "justifies" the removed location.

But this dichotomy is false and potentially harmful. Boiling houses down to the sum of their tangible parts trivializes the more important intangible characteristics. Despite being situated further from the river, dedicated Quad intramural athletes still head down in droves to compete. Rooms in the Quad might be larger, but that doesn't mean residents won't make it out to the lawn on a spring day to picnic or play ball. Each hous, Quad or otherwise, has a unique character that transcends its mere physical constructs. A house's architecture might be grand, but a house's true grandeur comes from its residents.

We all love to mock the Quad. Indeed, the light-hearted River-Quad banter which colors the annual housing lottery is usually amusing and benign. The danger arises, however, when we mislead others into believing house life can be reduced to such simple terms as location and room size. In the wake of randomization, it becomes all the more important for each class to enter their house with an enthusiasm not just to live there, but to belong there. Only then can house spirit survive and flourish.

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