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Teams of Harvard students have triumphed in the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical competition 12 times in the last 14 years, but when it comes to leading a healthy social life, Harvard students may have to bow to their peers at other schools.
A Crimson Poll conducted in January found that close to 40 percent of Harvard students have never dated someone for more than one week. Even some members of the faculty are concerned.
"You guys are extremely bright. That is often, right into adolescence and even adulthood, related to social retardation," said Secretary of the Faculty John B. Fox '59 in an interview with The Crimson earlier this year.
Harvard is not a school known for its social events and parties--which are often forced to end at the early hour of 1 a.m., when parties at other schools are reportedly just getting started.
"I think that the student body is a little too driven and doesn't take enough time to enjoy the finer points in life," says William A. Sokol '00.
A year that has seen the hopes for a campus student center dashed and several final clubs close to guests would seem to promise a bleak social scene. But due to student innovation, and in some cases predilection for facts and figures, social opportunities at Harvard this year have expanded into new arenas.
"Someone likes you!" begins a missive now familiar on the FAS network.
Before Datesite.com, the only way that love-struck Harvard students could find out if their love had a mutual attraction was to ask--and risk humiliation and rejection.
Datesite circumvents those awkward moments. Users go to www.datesite.com, and type in the names and e-mail addresses of up to seven crushes. Datesite then sends those seven people an anonymous e-mail urging them to register the names of the people who they like. If two people match up, Datesite notifies the lucky couple. If they don't, no one is the wiser.
"It's good because you can find out if someone likes you without fear of being rejected or ruining a friendship," says Datesite co-creator Edward S. Baker '01.
The affably named "Datesite Docs," Baker, Arthur E. Koski-Karell '01, Jacob E. Fleming '01, and Joshua J. Wilske '01, are Winthrop House roommates who now spend much of their time maintaining and expanding Datesite. The Docs say they came up with their idea in early November.
"We were all sitting around having dinner, trying to think of a Web page to make, and we thought this would be kind of fun," Baker says.
Datesite mania spread around Harvard soon after the site was launched in time for Valentine's Day. Twelve hundred Harvard students--almost a quarter of the College--registered to use Datesite during its first two weeks of operation, and the site quickly produced 175 matches. Baker also said that his site has seen "significant growth" among MIT students.
Baker thinks Harvard is just the right type of school for a Web site like Datesite.
"A lot of Harvard students tend to be a little shy, at other schools they probably don't worry about [asking someone out] as much," he said.
The site has since expanded to include purity tests, weekly advice columns, and even a section where students can purchase flowers, chocolates and other romantic accoutrements.
Users logging into the site are greeted with a dating tip, which can range from the basic (Tip: Don't forget her birthday!) to the useful (Tip: How to mix a good drink).
Baker says he plans to work on the site this summer and create revenue by selling advertising space to Cambridge merchants.
The system is not fool-proof, however, and clever users can often manipulate the system to find out who likes them.
Rehana E. Gubin '02 says she and her roommate Laura D. Babkes '02 got several e-mails from Datesite early in the second semester. In order to figure out who had sent them, they each tried entering in the names of all their friends to see if produced a match.
"We ended up entering about 20 names each," Gubin says. "But we didn't realize that each person we entered in got an e-mail from Datesite, so all these people suddenly thought that lots of people liked them."
Babkes says they eventually stumbled upon a match, but refused to name the lucky guy.
She adds that she and Gubin later explained what they had done, and apologized to people who received the fictitious e-mails.
Not Quite Final
It's still too early to tell, but final clubs soon may not sit astride the Harvard social scene like the Goliaths they once were. But in response to their increasingly exclusive guest policies, undergraduates are slowly beginning to establish other social clubs.
Until recently, the only fraternity on campus was the all-male Sigma Chi.
But the newly formed Seneca, an all-female social organization that says it is neither final club nor sorority, met for the first time last month.
The national fraternity Delta Upsilon also opened a chapter at Harvard late this year.
Justin E. Porter '99, who spearheaded the effort to bring Delta Upsilon to Harvard, says the group initially claimed only six members but has now ballooned to 35.
"We've been having sort of personalized rushes, interviewing guys and bringing them in one at a time," says Jeremiah B. Mann '01, a student involved in the planning.
The new Delta Upsilon chapter, despite its tender age, is already looking into acquiring the seal of established fraternities everywhere: a chapter house.
"The national people that we've spoken to have told us that [getting a house] would be one of their number one priorities for us. And there are a couple of houses in the Square that we've been looking at," says J. Alejandro Longoria '01, who is also a Crimson executive.
The new fraternity members agree that Harvard needs more social groups, citing their own popularity and the success of Sigma Chi, currently the only fraternity at Harvard with a chapter house.
"Sigma Chi has been fairly successful, so that shows that people are needing this. There's a want out there," Longoria says.
"There's a void on campus," adds Michael A. Tringe '01, who will lead Delta Upsilon next year.
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