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It’s Friday, and the sun has set. You assess the options: Head to a sweaty rager in your blockmate’s teammate’s best friend’s sister’s suite, sneak into a party at the Advocate (of which you are not a member), go straight to the Kong, or cuddle up in bed with your Ec 10 textbook. No matter what you choose, you’ll likely remain close to home. Come to think of it, when was the last time you left Cambridge on a weekend night? In my case, at least, I can’t even remember.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is partly responsible for our insular tendencies. We live in a metropolitan area that’s home to over 80 private colleges and universities—not to mention the public ones. With teeming students on every street corner (360,000 at private institutions alone), it seems like common sense for the city to cater to this younger crowd. And often it does. But when it comes to public transportation, the T’s operational hours serve as an added obstacle to inter-collegiate activities and friendships. At the mere suggestion of heading downtown, someone always mentions the cab fare back—and after that, it’s usually a moot point.
In New York City, where 24 subway lines create a complex web across the boroughs, riders can hop aboard the F train at 4:10 a.m.—every weekday. Anyone stuck on Canal Street at sunrise could likewise catch the Q and subterraneously shoot across the city toward bed. But find yourself at Park St. in downtown Boston on a Sunday morning post-12:47 a.m., and there’s no boarding the Red Line back to Harvard Square. Unless you want to wait until 6:18 a.m.
In a state still subject to “blue laws”—legislative relics of the colonial era—it isn’t surprising that the Puritan vibe carries over to the subway system. Boston and Cambridge bars close by 2 a.m., which leaves seemingly little reason to stay out late. That is, unless you’re 20, and your night doesn’t start until 11:30 p.m. at the earliest. With college campuses smattered from Davis Square to Chestnut Hill to Waltham, there’s ample opportunity for a vibrant, energetic student scene: riveting discussions in smoky Berklee dorm rooms, raging techno raves at BU. Instead, young people brimming with intellectual curiosity and social energy collect in the same city, only to remain separate on their own college grounds. Of course, there’s a good chance campus-hopping does occur—maybe BC students trek to Northeastern every weekend—but those of us across the Charles simply don’t know about it.
And therein lies the crux of the issue. Extending the T’s weekend operating hours will do nothing unless there’s a demand for the service. The real question, then: If Harvard students aren’t making the effort, are we actually interested in talking or watching a movie or drinking or dancing with our peers on other campuses? As we all know, the Harvard bubble isn’t easy to pop. It’s possible that remaining in this slice of Cambridge seems simpler, where the perceived prestige of our institution doesn’t lead to uncomfortable conversations or awkward moments after someone drops the H-bomb. An alternative, less flattering explanation: Maybe Harvard people simply don’t have much interest in the rest of the population.
Whether the Square’s insular nature stems from arrogance or mere laziness doesn’t change the fact that we always have a choice. If the mere thought of walking from the River to the Quad deters many from making the trip, then it’s no wonder that traveling across town is an anomaly. It’s time to get off our futons and find out what this city has to offer. Maybe if we take to the cobblestoned streets, the MBTA will notice the change and act accordingly.
Molly M. Strauss ’11, a Crimson associate editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House.
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