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CHL Mulls Role of Specialty Advisors

By Abby D. Phillip, Crimson Staff Writer

The Committee on House Life (CHL) mulled over the future of specialty advisors in the Houses and freshmen dorms during their second meeting of the year yesterday.

Specialty advisors—a term that refers to both House tutors and freshman proctors—serve as liaisons to students on a variety of issues such as race relations, sexual assault and sexual harassment, and public service.

Much of the discussion surrounded the current state of the program in the upperclass Houses, which was characterized as ambiguous and inconsistent. While House Masters assign tutors to these roles, many do not receive training or are unclear as to their responsibilities.

Suzy M. Nelson, the associate dean of residential life, said tutors are hired, in part, based on their expertise in areas such as law, writing, or medicine, but House masters often struggle to fill other positions.

“You might not have someone who is really interested in job number 10, but you might have to appoint someone to each of those [specialty] areas—and that’s a struggle for the masters,” Nelson said.

While the College is still reluctant to tamper with Harvard’s decentralized residential House system, the committee recognized that a lack of coordination from the central administration has added to the problem.

Tutors are responsible for receiving training from and coordinating activities with corresponding College-wide liaison offices but have not done so effectively in the past. In some cases, these liaison offices are unaware of who the specialty tutors in each of the houses are.

“We need to make sure that we have minimum standards so that students are getting the support that they need,” said Benjamin P. Schwartz ’10, vice-chair of the student activities committee, who sits on the CHL.

But Nelson said that House masters, not liaison offices, should have precedence in hiring decisions.

“The person to whom [specialty tutors] report is their House master. It’s their job to chose their tutors just as it’s my responsibility to hire and train my staff,” she said.

Some committee members said that the communication problems may be exacerbated among the freshmen proctors, at least in part because they lack the structure of the House system. But Nelson said that the Office of Residential Life is committed to consistency in both the House system and in the freshman dorms. There are currently no first-year students appointed as standing members of CHL, but Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67 is a guest on the committee.

Nelson suggested that the Houses take advantage of students’ willingness to assist tutors—especially those who are part of student groups such as the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Alliance.

“I don’t think we’re making the natural link to students who are in the House community and are very interested in doing the same type of work,” Nelson said. “I actually think it would be a much more dynamic, robust program.”

—Staff writer Abby D. Phillip can be reached at adphill@fas.harvard.edu.

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