With its dining hall already the most notorious on campus for turning away hungry outsiders because of its draconian interhouse restrictions, Adams House introduced its most stringent prohibitions to date last Sunday: No first-years are allowed for lunch or dinner anytime, unless accompanied by a House resident. The ban is wrong, and Adams House should repeal it.
In defense of the ban, Adams House Committee co-chair Joshua A. Barro ’05 fumed that the dining hall was becoming “a satellite Annenberg,” adding that residents suffered such grave indignities as being unable to eat with their blockmates on occasion. Mealtime crowds, however, are a small price to pay for the privilege of luxurious accommodations in the most centrally located residential house on campus. Indeed, the “house community” miasma usually deployed to justify interhouse restrictions disregards that, alas, at Harvard all house communities are not created equal. Adams’ proximity to Harvard Yard makes it the most convenient venue on campus, while its superior kitchen facilities serve up delicious feasts and its posh lobby and sumptuous dining hall flatter the native savoir faire.
This is in contradistinction to Quincy House, less than a block away, with its obscenely ugly brick façade and food which The Unofficial Guide to Life at Harvard describes as “pretty wretched” and “among the worst on campus.” Thus it is perfectly logical that first-years stranded far away from Annenberg would prefer Adams House to its neighbors like Quincy—their eschewing an icy winter trek to Annenberg being reasonable as well.
Interhouse restrictions such as those enforced at Adams House function merely as a temporary band-aid in redressing the lopsided demand for particular dining halls, attributable to superior geography and quality of cuisine. As one Dunster House resident explained last night, on her way out of dinner at Adams: “It seems kind of silly to walk all the way down [to Dunster] when the food sucks.” If Harvard University Dining Services is serious about permanent and effective crowd control at mealtimes, it will work harder to ensure greater equality among Harvard’s dining halls—making sure that those dining halls particularly distant and inconvenient like Dunster serve decent food.
Continuing to impede equal access to dining halls through interhouse restrictions, on the other hand, is unjust as long as each student pays the same board. Tuition and fees shelled out by hungry first-years shut out of Adams pay in part for that house’s resplendence. Thus talk of “house community” neglects consideration of the larger community to which Adams House must ultimately answer: Harvard College. Students pay for access to all of its resources—dining resources included. The Harvard community should tolerate inequality only if the arrangement privileges the least advantaged persons—in the case of Harvard, Quadlings or the hardy first-years of Hurlbut Hall. Indulged Adamsians would appear to be the very last candidates for such a distinction.
But the Adams House Committee is loath to give up elite privilege: According to one Adams House resident, HoCo members posted to Adams Schmooze that interlopers sneaking in at meals would be ferreted out and would have their Harvard ID cards confiscated. “I got an e-mail that said it was going to be official policy,” the resident said. These antics must stop at once. A poor, tired and hungry student—once turned away on account of housing-lottery accident—might in a fairer arrangement be suffered to have his desire and, having it, be satisfied.
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