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For far too long, the College’s Prefect Program has underwhelmed. While admittedly well-intentioned, the program has suffered mainly from a combination of insufficient funds—next to nothing—and an insufficient mission—planning study breaks. In the face of a college culture adverse to change, we are glad that Associate Dean of Advising Monique Rinere has taken the first steps toward revolutionizing the way upperclassmen advisors interact with freshmen.
Far too many prefects find themselves in the precarious situation of dispensing “social” advice to freshmen, while being unable to—in fact, prohibited from—socializing with their prefectees in standard College social contexts or answering their academic questions. Ill-attended weekly chips and salsa sessions ensue; the conversation is often dull, and prefects themselves sometimes fail to attend.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the prefects themselves. They are, sadly, constrained by an institution confused in its purpose. Asked to do little, it does little in return.
When the College marshals the manpower of several hundred upperclassmen, it should set a level of expectation commensurate with their desire to help freshmen. We hope that the Student Advisory Board that meets to decide the fate of freshmen advising will buck this Staff’s position and ask for a greater commitment from the body of individuals eager to interact with and aid freshmen. Doing this means combining the functions of social and academic advising into one comprehensive program.
Dividing the academic and social realms of advising will confuse freshmen and duplicate the shortcomings of the Prefect Program in what will inevitably become a second underutilized and ill-defined institution. Harvard freshmen deserve better. They deserve empowered peer advisors, charged with the mission of providing direction to freshmen who seek it out for all aspects of the complex, interweaving demands of exploring Harvard for the first time.
Those who argue that freshmen advising is too complex or too large a task to saddle upon those currently involved in planning study breaks, either underestimate the capabilities of eager Harvard students or overestimate the difficulty of providing basic directional advice—explaining the difference between Ec1010 and Ec1011, where to find departmental advising—to freshmen who currently lack it.
The training for such a position is expected to be rigorous; it needs to be if the program is to succeed. But upperclassmen have proven themselves receptive to instruction in order to make themselves better mentors to first years in Harvard’s other programs—the Freshmen Outdoor Program (FOP), for instance. That the College is set to put a substantial amount of money behind the initiative, potentially even providing stipends to the upperclassmen who volunteer, only makes the case more compelling.
For far too long, prefects have been an incomplete resource for freshmen. They have either been unable or insufficiently trained to dispense academic advice to freshmen in desperate need of it. Our criticisms are not meant to overshadow or diminish the excellent work done by some individual prefects working against a system almost deliberately setup to thwart their efforts. However, merely because some prefects do good work does not mean the system is not in need of serious change, the kind of change announced this week by the College. We hope that the revamped program will offer a dual social-academic advising service to freshman, raising the level of expectations for upperclassmen egging to rise to the challenge.
Mark A. Adomanis ’07, a Crimson editorial editor, is a government concentrator in Eliot House. Michael B. Broukhim ’07, a Crimson editorial chair, is a social studies concentrator in Dunster House.
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