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Prefrosh E-group Connected Class of ’03

By Elizabeth S. Widdicombe, Crimson Staff Writer

Emily E. Wilcox ’03 and Jared M. Greene ’03 can’t decide when their relationship began.

They met in person at the beginning of this year when they lived on adjacent floors in Leverett House, but Wilcox says she felt a flicker of recognition when Greene told her his name.

“I remembered him from e-group,” she says, “And I was definitely attracted to him [back then].”

Back in their prefrosh days, Wilcox and Greene both joined an e-mail list to keep in touch with future classmates over the summer.

Wilcox says she remembers Greene’s postings—sexy and philosophical. Greene insists she’s confusing him with someone else.

“We are definitely not an e-group couple,” he says.

Such couples, however, do exist.

Back in December 1998, when the first members of the Class of 2003 were receiving news of their early admission, Adam M. Grant ’03 and Scott A. Golder ’03 found each other by doing a search for “Harvard 2003” in America Online profiles.

After making contact, they started an e-mail list with their future classmates, and began sharing questions, ideas and anxieties about their upcoming first year at Harvard.

The list of names grew as future classmates found each other over AOL Instant Messenger and the Internet.

During prefrosh weekend, more people joined the list.

“By the time we came to school in September,” Golder says, “we had about 200 members, or about one eighth of the class.”

The e-group created a memorable—if limited—social bond between members of the Class of 2003.

“We all came here with about 30 friends,” Grant says, “and about 30 people who hated us.”

In their online discussions, e-group members tackled sensitive topics like race and religion.

They kindled friendships, ignited fierce debates and even found romance.

The only problem was that few e-group members had actually met in person.

“If you met someone freshman week, you’d say ‘Oh, were you on the e-group?’ or ‘What was your screen-name?’” says M. Kate Richey ’03.

Richey says many e-group members stopped subscribing to the list a few weeks into their first year, when real-life relationships became a more reliable network for support.

But this May, during one of the seniors’ last weeks at Harvard, Grant organized the e-group’s first-ever reunion, giving many people a chance to match faces with screen names like “Italianstallion” and “Harvardboy03.”

On the appointed day, about 15 people congregate in the Dunster House Junior Common Room.

“Now I get to find out who all these essentially anonymous people are,” says Greene, who came to the reunion with Wilcox to solve the riddle of their meeting.

Golder, the e-group’s founder, brings a great deal of insight to the reunion.

As a linguistics concentrator, he wrote his senior thesis on “social roles and how they emerge in online communities.”

Next year, as graduate student at MIT, Golder will continue to research online social interaction.

Looking around the room, he says it’s easy to apply his newfound knowledge to the dynamics of the Class of 2003 e-group.

“Every group seems dominated by a few very prolific people,” he says. “I call them ‘central figures.’ They tie the community together.”

The reunion erupts in applause when one such figure arrives.

Jeffery D. Kazen ’03 is greeted with cheers of “Blazin’ Kazen!” and “Physics Guy!”—the tagline he used to sign many of his e-group postings.

He sits quietly on the couch at the end of the room, looking quite the opposite of his agressive online personality.

“A lot of people really wanted to kill him,” says Andrew S. Obus ’03. “But in real life, he’s actually pretty shy.”

Kazen says that most e-group members react with surprise when they meet him in person.

“Everyone expects me to be the 4-foot-5 kid with glasses,” he says.

Kazen is neither.

As the e-group’s most prolific member, Kazen even made efforts to bring members together outside of cyberspace.

During his first year, he tried holding up a sign that said “e-group” in Annenberg.

When dining hall checker Domna Antoniou reprimanded Kazen for illegal advertising, he explained that without the sign, no one would know who he was.

The dining hall manager eventually gave him permission to keep it up.

Kazen’s efforts may have helped to make the 2003 e-group something of a lasting unit within their class.

In September 1999 when The Crimson published an article about prefrosh social groups that were falling apart, Golder wrote a letter to the editor insisting that the e-group friendships would “transcend the Internet and...become real bonds.”

For some members it did.

Oliver B. Libby ’03 says many of the people who formed the “core group” ended up blocking together.

He says he met his roommate Howard A. Levine ’03 and one-time girlfriend Sarah C. Hull ’03 through e-group postings.

“There are definitely several e-group couples,” Libby says.

But the group was mostly useful, Libby and others say, for sharing information and creating a sense of community at the beginning of the first year.

As the reunion approached its end, Wilcox asks the room what “the other Jared’s” last name was to see if Greene was really her old online crush.

“Miller!” someone replies.

The doubt cleared, Wilcox smiles in Greene’s direction.

“So it was you,” she says.

Green just shakes his head in disbelief.

—Staff writer Elizabeth S. Widdicombe can be reached at widdicom@fas.harvard.edu.

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