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Reinventing the Harvard Party

By Eugenia B. Schraa, Crimson Staff Writer

“You’ll find I may not be quite the Jon Belushi character you imagine,” claims Zachary A. Corker ’04, the notorious party impresario of Mather Lather fame.

Along with his associates Paul A. Hersh ’04 and Darren S. Morris ’05, Corker threw last spring’s foam-filled Mather House dance, which earned a spot in Harvard lore when a few hundred uninvited guests caused it to go out with a bang.

The trio also started Hahvahdparties.com, the party-listings website that has made it considerably more difficult for the hard-studying to blame their lack of hard-partying on a hostile Harvard social scene.

But despite this fun-filled resume, Corker’s self-assessment is on target.

He is not the stereotypical frat boy trying to recreate his natural environment at frigid Harvard. Rather, it turns out that Corker’s attempts to improve the College’s social scene are motivated by a scholar-like devotion to the subject of “The Harvard Party.”

Corker, a History concentrator, says that his interest in Harvard’s past greatly influenced the philosophy behind what he does.

“Randomization killed House spirit,” disgustedly explains Corker, referring to the blocking group system instituted in 1996. Before that policy change, students were allowed more choice in the upperclass housing assignment process and the Houses were each known for having a particular character.

Corker wrote his junior tutorial paper about House dining halls pre-randomization.

“I understand why [the administration] did it, but they did nothing to replace it,” he says. “People used to leave here having so much love for the school, which isn’t true anymore.”

Finding himself in search of a new activity his junior year, after having quit the football team, Corker set out to revive House spirit in Mather by applying lessons from the House’s own past: as co-head of Mather House Council (HoCo) in 2003, his mantra was to make Mather regain its bygone reputation as the Party House, or, as Corker likes to put it, “the House that beer built.”

Corker’s effect was dramatic, according to Mather House Master Sandra Naddaff.

“Zac, under his leadership, [HoCo] really inspired the House with their enthusiasm,” she says. “In practical terms there were simply many more House events, more study breaks. Stein Club became a much more regular event…And, though the Mather Lather was less successful, it really did bring the House together in a startling way.”

Since Corker’s intervention, Mather House has gone from the place where “freshmen would cry when they found out they were placed in Mather,” to a coveted lottery pick that left them “so excited,” according to House tutor and 2003 HoCo liaison Nava Ashraf.

“It’s just a tighter House now,” says Hersh. “For me, it makes it worth all the time that I put in [on HoCo].”

Even after their term with HoCo expired this winter, improving House spirit remained paramount for Corker and his friends. Leaving the world of study break preparation behind, they upped the stakes, throwing themselves in the line of fire for the sake of good old-fashioned House enthusiasm.

Corker, Hersh and Morris joined up with man-about-Harvard and proud Matherite Hunter A. Maats ’04 to form Mather’s Department of War. The enemy: Kirkland. The cause: Maats, in his official capacity as minister of war, cited mean e-mails by a blocking group of Mather House defectors to Kirkland and a tip that Kirklandites had stolen the Adams House gong—both grievances that needed to be avenged.

But Corker, as minister of propaganda, admitted that in large part, the war was started because “it was fun, and a way of bringing back that old traditional Harvard spirit.”

The historic subtext of the Mather Department of War’s actions did not always elicit the proper responses, however. When Kirkland falsely blamed Mather for filling Cabot door boxes with dead fish, Corker and Maats submitted to The Crimson a copy of a letter that seemed to be signed by three Cabot residentsclaiming to be members of the club International Nature and Conservancy for Really Endangered Animals that are Seemingly Expendable (INCREASE). The letter placed the blame on Kirkland.

To Corker’s disappointment, no one (not even The Crimson) got it.

The acronym refers to Harvard’s most staunchly Puritan president, Increase Mather—who presided over Harvard from 1685 to 1701—after whom Mather House is named. The letter might have been used as an important clue regarding the true origins of the Spring 2004 Interhouse wars.

Though these historic subtleties may not have hit their mark, Maats asserts that, in combat, Corker was a powerful asset to the war team.

“There are elements of Caesar, elements of Napoleon,” he says of Corker. “Well, obviously, he has more of a physical presence than Napoleon. I guess, maybe the brain of Napoleon, and the body of Alexander.”

Despite his numerous valiant efforts on behalf of the Harvard social scene, Corker will not quite be able to say “Veni, Vidi, Vici” upon graduation. He says that the number of improvements he would have liked to impose upon the social scene here are simply too numerous and ambitious to have been possible during his four short years here.

“One of my tutors once put it well: ‘This place is good for the mind, but bad for the soul,’” declared Corker, who says he is close to a number of professors and has been “very happy” with his academic career at Harvard. (It culminated in a thesis on Cuban athletes, inspired by many visits to Cuba over his college years, trips which allowed him to befriend a number of professional boxers there.)

Corker, a proud member of the Delphic since his junior year, has a radical proposal regarding final clubs: “I’d like to see Harvard be more like Yale, where you can only join in your senior year.” Corker explained his radical conclusion, saying that the final clubs “suck up about 14 percent of the guys who are the ones who like to party the most. If they couldn’t join until they were seniors, they would devote that energy to making the social scene better in their Houses.”

Though he sees final clubs as distracting from a more universally vibrant social scene, Corker blames the administration more than the actual clubs for Harvard’s social problems.

Although Corker admitted it might be difficult for the administration to buy up final clubs and transform them into places available to a greater part of the student body, he likes the idea. Failing that, however, he said he still believes that “the administration is really slipping on student life. Even if it isn’t involved directly, it can assist and aid those who do try to change it.”

Nevertheless, Corker asserts that his relationship with the administration has generally been positive—even if they did make HarvardParties.com change its r’s to h’s.

“We’ve dealt with the dean’s office so much. But even Summers has told me, ‘[HahvahdParties.com] is an OK idea,’” Corker says, assuming a superior, Summers-esque voice for the last bit.

Corker says he hopes that he will have made the most difference for first-year students.

“Freshmen are overwhelmed as it is, and there is not enough there for them,” he says. “It’s a lot easier when you’re older, because people join organizations and find their groups that way. But that fractures the social scene so much.”

He laments that HahvahdPahties.com hasn’t had a more widespread impact in its first year.

“We target freshmen,” Corker says, explaining that older students had less use for its services.

Luckily, in Master Naddaff’s words, “We should judge the success of a group as much by what they’ve done as by what they’ve lead to.”

Corker, she asserts, has left a “great legacy.” And since Hahvahdparties.com has groomed about 20 “pledges” over the last year, chances are good that the social scene will become even more state-schoolesque next year.

—Staff writer Eugenia B. Schraa can be reached at schraa@fas.harvard.edu.

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