Whatever Happened to Events?

As I was waiting for Third Eye Blind to come on stage at Yardfest, I thought with relish about the beautiful day on which Yardfest 2006 had taken place. The weather this past Saturday had dampened my spirits (and, after a stint on the two story slide, my pants were rather damp too). I wasn’t the only one turned off by the weather: Unlike Yardfest 2006, which packed Tercentenary Theatre all the way back to the Widener steps, this year Tercentenary was less than half full when Third Eye Blind walked on stage. Ironically, Yardfest 2006 had a rain plan—Ben Folds would have played in the Lavietes Pavilion across the river. No such plan existed for Yardfest 2007.

The lack of a rain plan would be somewhat understandable if this were the first campus-wide event of the year to be affected by Boston weather, but that is not the case. (Harvard-Yale pep rally, anyone?) These kinds of logistical failures have plagued the College Events Board (CEB) all year long. Despite their good intentions, the CEB has simply not done an acceptable job of executing campus-wide events for Harvard College during the past year. At the expense of large scale programming, the CEB has focused far too much of its energy on small-scale events that fail to fulfill its mission of fostering undergraduate identity.

Neglecting its promise of two to three campus-wide events per semester, the CEB decided against replacing the rained-out pep rally with another major event. Instead, the CEB devoted its attention to small-scale events—the “Freshmen Costume Catwalk” and a “Lion King Sing-Along.” By the end of the fall semester, the CEB had only executed one successful campus wide event—the Harvard Carnival, which, due to long lines and a lack of atmosphere, was not as well received as last year’s Harvard State Fair.

Only a few months old, the CEB had already abandoned its stated goal—namely, to create campus-wide events with broad appeal that would help foster Harvard identity. This trend continued through the spring semester, as the CEB choose to forgo campus-wide events in favor of a series of small events with limited appeal. “Campus-Wide Risk” may be an excellent procrastination tool, but a web-based game is not a “campus-wide” event; Sing-Along nights, though creative, do not have the broad appeal Undergraduate Council (UC) Movie Nights once did; and while “Pimp Yo’ Stein Club” was fun, the CEB was not created to supplant House Committees. Using the CEB’s money to hold small scale or House-based events does nothing to further the creation of Harvard undergraduate identity.

The lack of an undergraduate identity ranks as one of the biggest problems that Harvard College faces today, and campus-wide events directly help combat this problem. At Harvard-Yale, the year’s biggest campus-wide event, we students bring out our Harvard sweatshirts and Crimson face paint, willing to defend Crimson football to the death. But that one weekend in November is the only time we unite under the banner of Harvard.

While we do not and may never have the kind of unity that state schools build from huge sporting events or frat parties, Harvard students do want a greater sense of connection with their college. Think about Harvard-Yale or Yardfest 2006: Though it may be taboo to admit it, we like celebrating and cheering on Harvard, especially if we have a common enemy (such as Yale, or Eliot House). Both exemplify the manner in which campus-wide events can create campus-wide identity: These shared experiences create a common bond. By giving students something to joke about in their dining halls for weeks afterward, shared experiences shape institutional memories of Harvard; they allow students to remember their college experience not just as a series of classes, meetings, papers, and deadlines, but as a community.

The CEB, by devoting its attention to small-scale events, has bypassed a major opportunity to mold a Harvard undergraduate identity. The CEB’s failures can be at least partially explained by the group’s lack of accountability. Only eight percent of the student body voted in the CEB’s underpublicized December elections, and the CEB’s application process only holds applicants accountable to the elected members who review their applications. There is no journalistic check on the board; unlike the UC meetings, The Crimson does not attend and report on CEB meetings. Thus, nothing ensures that the board’s events actually appeal to the student body.

It is time for students to demand more from the CEB. First, the CEB should recommit itself to broadly appealing, campus-wide programming; second CEB members should plan major events far enough in advance to ensure that all potential logistical failures can be dealt with in a way that still ensures maximum participation in the event. The CEB has enormous potential to create unity and identity among Harvard’s undergraduates; it is a shame to see that potential expended on the rather small population of students who happen to know the lyrics to Moulin Rouge.

Michael J. Robin ’08 is a English and American literature and language concentrator in Winthrop House. He was co-chair of the Winthrop HoCo in 2006, co-director of the Summer School Activities Office in 2006, and is a current member of the Committee on House Life.