Nightmare on Garden St.

When it comes to student advocacy, Quad residents’ complaints are trivial distractions

Last week, for the first time in a quarter of a century, Harvard undergraduates elected a resident of the Radcliffe Quadrangle president of the Undergraduate Council (UC). Some three weeks earlier, this newspaper, too, selected its next leader from the Quadling masses. After decades of neglect, it seems that Quad-dwellers are finally getting their due—positions of leadership atop some of Harvard’s major student organizations. The student body, it seems, has elected to Pfcuk the River.

And to be perfectly honest, I’m terrified. After a year-and-a-half at Harvard, I’ve just about had it with Quad residents’ constant complaints about their quality-of-life. With their newfound prominence high atop major campus organizations secure, Quadlings are now in an ideal position to hijack advocacy agendas, focusing on issues that privilege the 20 percent of Harvardians who live within spitting distance of Somerville.

At the heart of Quadlings’ perennial complaints is the apparently insurmountable distance that separates the three-house fortress-of-solitude from the rest of the Harvard campus. Shuttles, Quad residents complain, rarely run when they should and are frequently overcrowded. Even if we ignore the fact that this criticism applies to just about every transportation system on earth—Boston’s subway doesn’t run on time, neither do major airlines—it still oughtn’t carry much weight. For one thing, it’s not true; while shuttles do occasionally run off-schedule, they always run regularly. What delays there are can usually be attributed to a handful of phenomena commonly observed in the Harvard Square area, traffic and snow chief among them. Still, I’m actually rather surprised that Quadlings, eager to spare themselves the ten-minute-long wait outdoors, haven’t proposed a complete overhaul of the system. A monorail, for instance, could surely shuttle Quad residents to and from the Yard area in speed and comfort. (Are you taking notes, President Haddock?)

And as for the walk between the two areas, there are worse things to imagine than making it more difficult for Harvard students to avoid getting some fresh air and a bit of exercise. It’s not actually that far, you know, and with the exception of the worst of winter days, it’s quite bearable.

A further complaint frequently heard emanating from Harvard’s north-western annex is that of event deprivation. This particular qualm is not without foundation—most things that happen at Harvard happen in the Yard or by the river. But there’s a rather simple explanation: the vast majority of Harvard students happen to live in the Yard or by the river, and it really only makes sense to hold events where most people live. What’s more, when attempts are made to shift certain facets of student life to the Quad, the result is often contrived and poorly thought-out.

Take, for instance, the College’s current plans to transform Hilles Library into a viable student space, with offices and meeting space for student groups to boot. All seemed well, and then the College had to go and rain on everyone’s parade by revealing just how they envisioned redesigning the space. To make a long story short, organizations—including those to whom secrecy is paramount, like The Harvard Salient—would have to content themselves with cubicles partitioned by curtains, instead of the office space of their dreams (think walls and doors). In an effort to Quad-ify Harvard students’ activities, University Hall has created a serious problem for a number of student groups which serve a large number of the undergraduate community. I love (most) Quadlings as people, believe me, but collectively they just aren’t worth that kind of sacrifice.

Besides, all this fuss about bringing more campus events to the Quad ignores the fact that the Quad has great events to begin with. As an example, consider my enduring bitterness at being turned away from last year’s Pfoho 90s dance because of a crowd that exceeded capacity. Backstreet was back, and I was stuck outside. It was positively (heaven and) Hell.

Perhaps the most frustrating expression of Quadling angst in recent memory came this October, when Quad United Against Library Discrimination (QUAD; the “Library” is cunningly omitted) staged a protest outside of the “Party in Lamont”. Having Lamont open 24 hours while Hilles’ hours are shortened, QUAD claimed, constituted unfair treatment of Quad residents.

While I have little doubt that extending Hilles’ hours would serve some Quadlings well, the fuss made by the would-be library revolutionaries was totally gratuitous and, let’s face it, pretty annoying. Between House libraries and an all-night Lamont, there should be no shortage of places for Quad residents to study, to say nothing of the Quad’s remarkable horde of common rooms. The issue is, apparently, one of discrimination: getting to Lamont takes 20 minutes for a Quadling and fewer than 10 for a River-dweller—never mind that those extra minutes probably won’t keep the average Quadling out of law school. I will nevertheless voluntarily sacrifice 14 minutes of my study time every time I visit Lamont, to level the playing field faced by my Quad-dwelling brethren. Come see for yourself—I’ll be the one sitting in the reading room, absentmindedly checking my email.

When it comes to devoting energy to improving student life, spending time on non-issues pertaining to “the Quad experience” is a colossal waste. Not only are these concerns trivial, they also affect less than a third of the student population. What I suggest here is not a tyranny of the majority, but rather the common sense realization that it is irresponsible to spend time on Quad-exclusive issues when there are more significant matters at stake, ones whose impacts extend across the undergraduate population. Let’s talk about online transcript requests. Let’s talk about improving training for Teaching Fellows. Let’s talk about better publicity for UC-funded parties. The concerns raised so vociferously and so often by Quad residents don’t affect the undergraduate population broadly enough to justify their triviality (like extended dining hall hours) nor are they as pressing as a host of other issues that pertain only to a small number of Harvard students (improved accessibility in campus buildings, for example). Objectively examined, life in the Quad is just fine for those who live there, and indulging Quadlings’ flowering victim-hood complex serves no one’s interests.

Adam Goldenberg ’08 is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.