Life in the Real World

Unless you’ve starred in a slew of major motion pictures, it’s difficult to imagine passing up the chance of living

Unless you’ve starred in a slew of major motion pictures, it’s difficult to imagine passing up the chance of living in JFK’s old dorm or a large party suite in the Pfoho belltower. Despite the fact that a whopping 98 percent of Harvard students live on campus, a small portion of daring and driven individuals venture off into Cambridge and beyond each year to live outside Harvard housing. In many cases, regardless of University attempts, students “just don’t like the housing system,” explains Orquidea Martinez, the undergraduate coordinator for Dudley House. Off-campus residents “are just regular students,” according to Martinez. “We have students who are in the Veritones and other choirs, students who are government and psychology concentrators,” she says. This diverse group has myriad reasons for making the move: a few want to live with their families, others find themselves less than enthused about returning to House life after time away from Harvard, still others get hitched, and the bright lights of Boston lure would-be House dwellers. Other students, meanwhile, are coerced to leave campus because of circumstances contributing to uncomfortable and often hostile living environments.

Off-campus hub Dudley House, however, remains an under-utilized resource. Although it offers a range of services and support staff to off-campus students, only 35 of the eligible 155 undergraduates choose to change their House affiliation to Dudley, according to the University Housing Office. Despite these small numbers, Martinez maintains that Dudley meets its aim of creating a community space for off-campus students. Martinez, a graduate of Boston University, commented that she would have loved to have had an institution like Dudley House during her college years off-campus.

In addition to providing an intellectual and social space for off-campus students, the University’s Undergraduate Housing Office lists hundreds of properties in Cambridge and the surrounding areas that balance both cost concerns and spatial needs. Prices in Cambridge are often very expensive, and it’s often difficult to find an affordable equivalent to that gorgeous senior suite in Eliot. Despite the inevitable footwork involved, however, students who live off-campus have at least the decided luxury of not being at the mercy of the dreaded Housing lottery. Jenny Davis ’06 and Robert W. Frashure ’05 chatted with FM about living outside the House.

Jenny Davis ’06

A stones throw from the boutiques and bookstores of Harvard Square, Jenny Davis ’06 lives in a quiet apartment just off Brattle Street. Davis decided mid-way through last year in Wigglesworth that she wanted to be in the Dudley Co-op. Unfortunately, the Co-op didn’t have space for Davis and she ended up being assigned as a floater to Lowell House. “I had never expected to move into Lowell,” says Davis. Fortunately, a friend, Celeste R. LeCompte ’04, told her about an opening in the apartment. In August, the Dudley Co-op contacted her about an opening, but by then it was too late and she decided to stay in her new-found apartment.

Davis cites the principles of “responsible and cooperative living” as the main reason for wanting to move off-campus. As a result of moving off-campus, she has garnered an experience most Harvard students will have to wait four years to encounter. “Two of my roommates don’t go to Harvard. That’s kind of cool,” says Davis. One of her roommates is a student at Emerson College and the other is already in the workforce. Davis enjoys the idea of drawing on a unique variety of perspectives outside the so-called Harvard bubble. “I know things that I wouldn’t know about, especially concerts,” says Davis. She goes into Boston and Cambridge frequently and regards herself not as the hated Harvard student infringing on a residential neighborhood but instead a member of the local community. Like others in the real world, Davis goes grocery shopping and cooks her own food. She and LeCompte work for two hours each week at the Harvest Co-op in order to get a 20 percent discount on groceries. “There is so much craziness and stress in the dorms sometimes, especially during exam times. Here, you can take half an hour, cook dinner, eat dinner, and talk a walk to the grocery store,” says Davis.

Despite not having tutor-sponsored study breaks, Davis and her roommates have established a fun weekly social ritual. Every Monday is Pie Night, where all of the roommates get together, bake a pie, and talk. Davis occasionally invites her on-campus friends to join in the ritual just as she still goes to parties in the Houses to remain connected to House social atmosphere. There are drawbacks to the off-campus lifestyle, however: Davis does concede that she does not run into some of her friends as much as she used to. Another slight hassle of living outside the housing system is that Davis doesn’t have the same level of Harvard maintenance. When she arrived, her bedroom was in a less than livable state and there was wall-painting to be done. “Having Dorm Crew is a big plus,” says Davis. Despite the fact that living in the dorm is a neatly packaged deal, Davis believes it is cheaper to live off-campus, arguing that while the rent in the dorms is well subsidized by the University, the cost of board far exceeds what it costs to buy and make food off-campus. The reason to move off campus extends beyond the simple logistics of grocery shopping and cooking; for Davis, it is a reflection of a different lifestyle ethos. “[Living off-campus] gives you a little space from Harvard. A little space to think about what you are doing,” she says.

Robert W. Frashure ’05

Ensconced between The Wrap and Claverly Hall, it would seem counter-intuitive to say that Robert W. Frashure ’05 lives off-campus. Across the street from his front door is Lowell House and he lives closer to all of his classes than he ever did when he lived in Cabot House. “I don’t know whether this off-campus space exists. Where the hell is the campus?” says Frashure, who decided after his sophomore year in Cabot that he no longer wanted to live in the Quad. Over the summer he attempted to transfer to a River House with the help of one of his visual and environmental studies tutors. When his transfer request fell through, Frashure ended up being placed in a double with a floater who had transferred into his blocking group at the last minute. “He [the floater] didn’t want to live in the same room with me because I was gay,” says Frashure. As a result, he got shuffled around from House masters to senior tutors in an attempt to rectify a horrific living situation. “Apparently, my only option to get out and transfer to another House at that point was to claim that being gay was a disability,” says Frashure.

Placed in this difficult situation, Frashure felt as if he had no other option but to move off campus. “I think it is difficult to know who you should be talking to,” says Frashure. The issue of sexuality in housing policies is one that is largely ignored. Luckily with the current state of the economy, Frashure found a good market for apartments. The hardest part for Frashure was convincing his parents. Because of the dearth of students who live off-campus, Frashure’s parents had concerns that he would not be integrated with campus life. Despite the rough beginnings of his off-campus experience, however, Frashure praises the perks of life outside the Houses. “I feel more free. I like having my own bathroom. I like the privacy,” says Frashure. Like many off-campus students, Frashure says he feels more connected to the city of Cambridge. Frashure’s only real complaint is that he wishes more students lived off-campus in order to share the experience. Despite the benefits, Frashure is uncertain about whether or not he will attempt to transfer into a River House for his junior year. And the highlight of his off-campus experience? “I can go to The Wrap anytime I want: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.”