The Pub Problem

Harvard can’t bring the party to us, so let’s bring the party to Harvard

While we were leaving the Yard last weekend, my friend and I were stopped by three tourists in search of insider’s advice. One of them, a young man, good-naturedly asked us where the biggest student hang-out spot is. “We’ve been to the library,” he told us, “and all of the must-see attractions. We’re looking for the spot where the students hang out, not the stuff on the map.”

My friend and I looked at each other uncomfortably while we fumbled for explanations. “Maybe Loker Commons,” she advised, but we were careful to point out that no, we actually never hang out there.

The man pressed on, convinced that there must be some sort of central area that was just for students, where they could unwind and be with friends. We persisted that no such place existed. After several uncomfortable moments, I recommended that they just go into the dorms and knock on doors.

I tried to explain to him, “It’s not that we’re antisocial…”

“We go to Harvard,” my friend interrupted. “We don’t have lives.”

Although we parted on friendly terms (“Don’t touch John Harvard’s foot!” we insisted), the interaction continued to make me feel uneasy. Sure, we have Loker Commons if we want it, and we have lofty plans to build a Harvard pub, but no one in the Yard can legally drink, and no one who can legally drink wants to spend time at a pub in the Yard. Will we ever have an effective student hangout, or will our best bet continue to be crossing our fingers and knocking on doors?

As I asked myself these questions, I wondered at the necessity of even having an organized student gathering spot.

It’s true: the College does plan structured events that are vaguely social in nature. But these—ice cream socials, Pre-Frosh Weekend, Freshmen Week—tend to be lame and uncomfortable.

The remedy for these negative social events is simply to stop having them. Indeed, most students here generally still make close friends and have a good time, regardless of whether or not they went to the Hoe-Down.

Perhaps the College needs to stop trying to mediate the nature of students’ social interactions altogether. There’s no better way to have a miserable time than to be forced to have a good time.

Most students, however, would disagree with that solution. Editorials on this page have routinely called for and finally hailed the plan for a pub at Loker. And according to a survey leaked to the Boston Globe last spring, undergrads ranked the College in the bottom five of 31 other schools for social life and sense of community. The major complaint was the lack of place for students to socialize.

For all this criticism, there is a jarring disconnect between grievances and student turn-out at school-sponsored events. Our existing social spaces—like Loker Commons or the many cafes that speckle the Yard—are rarely utilized.

Ultimately, the problem is not with the College administration but with the College’s students. It is not a lack of student space, but a lack of student initiative that prevents us from being satisfied with social interaction at Harvard. To illustrate: we complain about final club domination of social space on campus, but often hesitate to throw our own parties and create our own social spaces.

The administration has misdiagnosed the problem, and so the solution—the Loker Pub—is flawed. Look forward to an unsuccessful, empty shell far north of student life. A Harvard pub cannot fix us; we have to.

Sarah C. McKetta ’09, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Grays Hall.