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Whining About Dining

Critics of Adams House's interhouse policies should find something else to complain about

By Jenifer L. Steinhardt and Stephen W. Stromberg, JENIFER L. STEINHARDT AND STEPHEN W. STROMBERGs

Now that Adams has banned first-years from its dining hall, many of the College’s most outspoken critics have mercilessly attacked the House and its residents. Blowing a matter of relatively small concern way out of proportion, even the Crimson Staff has insisted that Adams’ dining hall policies are an issue of basic fairness—that everyone who pays board should be able to eat close to the Yard. What the critics’ arguments ignore is that life isn’t always fair—and, sometimes, there’s a good reason.

In this case, serving a huge number of first-years from Wigglesworth and the Union Dorms is extremely inimical to House community. We have Houses at Harvard to make the College experience more personal—so that undergraduates won’t get lost in the mix of the world’s foremost research institution. The person-to-person interaction in the dining hall, most students would agree, is a key part of building this smaller community of undergraduates which the House system is supposed to afford every student—not just those who live far away from the Yard. Quite simply, Adams residents are robbed of this central component of College life when they can’t find room to sit with people who look even remotely familiar.

Of course, opponents of the ban will remain unconvinced. They cite the Adams House of pre-randomization lore—including its past penchant for exclusivity—as evidence that the House is just indulging in decadence when residents complain about not feeling welcome in their own dining hall. This cheap shot usually resonates with undergraduates still bitter about their housing assignments, but it ignores the data that inspired the new restrictions. A full one-third of meals served at Adams the week before the ban went to first-years. That adds up to 1,100 extra meals served in addition to the 1,800 that went to residents. We’re not complaining about just a few strange faces; we’re complaining about hundreds of strange faces burdening our kitchen staff and filling our dining hall beyond capacity.

But as long as Adams is the closest House to the Yard, many undergraduates will continue to take aim at interhouse policies. First-years in the Union Dorms will complain about the long, cold walk to Annenberg; disgruntled Quincy residents will harp on the perception that Adams has better food than its neighbors; and Dunsterites will point out that their dining hall hasn’t been renovated so far. Here’s a hint for all you professional whiners out there: get over it. Play the cards you’re dealt. Instead of attacking Adams for trying to preserve some semblance of House community, first-years should walk the quarter of a mile to Annenberg or explore what else the Harvard community has to offer in other Houses—you might even be lotteried into one of them at the end of this month. And upset upperclassmen should concentrate their vitriol on making their own House experiences better, rather than hindering Adams’ efforts to make ours tolerable.

We don’t expect Adams’ most strident critics to have a change of heart. But for the rest of you, try to keep things in perspective. If Mather House had to serve a third of its meals to first-years, you can bet that Hunter A. Maats ’04 would be declaring war on the Yard. What it comes down to is this—sure, Adams residents were really lucky in the housing lottery, but that does not mean that they are any less deserving of a functioning House community.

Jenifer L. Steinhardt ’05, The Crimson’s associate managing editor, is an economics concentrator in Adams House. Stephen W. Stromberg ’05, The Crimson’s editorial chair, is a Russian studies concentrator in Adams House.

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