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Blocking With the Young and the Restless

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By Hana R. Alberts and Luke Smith

Playground bullies make great blockmates, at least if you ask “Jim,” the jock who guaranteed his place in a blocking group by slamming a “spindly boy scout lawyer-to-be” up against a wall. This blocking melodrama comes from an anonymous source in Fifteen Minutes’ (FM) “Blocking Confessions!” Astute enough to align with the Neanderthal in this petty scuffle, the unnamed confessor demonstrates the social savvy of a fifth-grader still bowing down to the class bully—and actually wanting to live with him, in this case.

While we would hope that this and the other blocking sagas that FM recounts are pure fiction, the annual intrigue surrounding blocking season makes it clear that social posturing is the rule, not the exception, at fair Harvard. In another juicy confessional, “Dana” gets put on “The Waiting List” because “Manny” and “Tasha” are still currying favor with “the basketball players.” Saga number three features the “lame roommate Amanda” (also a “ho-bag”), who stealthily turns in the rooming form, foiling the confessor’s plot to drop the ho-bag’s friends from their group at the eleventh hour.

These confessions are just a few examples of the appalling charade that ensues when Harvard College asks its students to prove they have seven friends. It should be easy to identify friends we want to live with. But our utopia-seeking, social-climbing search for the perfect blocking group leads us to overlook friendship in favor of cultivating useful connections. Negotiating one’s way into blocking with the token first-year celebrities justifies any amount of back-stabbing and cheap flattery. After all, FM says that blocking is “a time of dastardly intrigue, two-faced treachery and endless manipulation.”

Those cynical about Harvard might just throw up their hands and claim that this is the way Harvard students are. The annual soap opera is inevitable. The ambition that got us here affects the way students look for social relationships. Last year, Crimson columnist Ross G. Douthat ’02 wrote about the social landscape here: “We are a Darwinist’s delight, superbly adapted to vanquish every competitor. In the Harvardian universe, the advantage often goes—at least in the short term—to the manipulative and dishonest and cutthroat, the people willing to backstab and lie and cheat their way upwards.”

But in the long run, it’s the blocking groups that come together in friendship that will survive. Blocking groups that are alliances of convenience, while they may teeter at the pinnacle of Harvard’s social hierarchy, have the farthest to fall.

The folly of this latter type of blocking group lies in student perceptions of competition. Yes, we have to “vanquish every competitor” to get here, but once on a campus full of the most interesting and brilliant students in the country, it’s time to put aside our Darwinian impulses. Blocking should be based on friendship, and nothing else. Those unfortunate enough to find themselves in a blocking group that more closely resembles a political coalition will need to take advantage of House communities and extracurricular interests next year to find more genuine, trustworthy friends.

The Undergraduate Housing Office also has a role in making blocking less harrowing. Expanding group size to 16 would leave room for both friends and political connections; there would be fewer “waiting lists,” fewer scuffles and fewer crushed hopes. Also, the incentives for politicking fundamentally change. Smooth-talking seven potential allies is manageable. It’s more difficult to kiss 15 butts without running out of Blistex.

Today, first-years have their housing assignments. But only some can celebrate over Adams or cry over Currier with their closest friends.

—Hana R. Alberts and Luke Smith are a news editor and an editorial editor, respectively.

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