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Inter-house with a Human Face

Let’s find a better way to promote house life

By Ellen C. Bryson

Harvard’s house system is often cited as one of the best parts of our social life, enabling students to get to know a small cross-section of the large undergraduate population. The dining hall is a central place in any house’s life, especially at meal times, so conveniently located river houses have been trying for years to keep outsiders out, resorting to gongs, no-pants dinners, and the more conventional inter-house dining restrictions. However, if dining restrictions were made with the realities of the lives of Harvard students in mind, they could be a lot more efficient, preventing overcrowding in the nearest houses while allowing residents of the others to eat without having to trek back to their own houses or resort to greasy pizza from Noch’s.

With seven of the nine river houses now imposing restrictions of some kind, when you don’t have time to make the 30-minute round trip back to the Quad for a meal, finding a place to eat in a dining hall that doesn’t treat non-residents like criminals can prove difficult. Although HUDS does a great job of making quick meals for students who don’t have time to eat at their dining halls as palatable as possible, no one can argue that Fly-By and bag lunches are an acceptable substitute for a hot meal in a dining hall, in terms of either taste or nutritional value. Since we all pay the same amount for room and board, some of us should not be relegated to cold turkey sandwiches and limp iceberg lettuce simply because we live too far away to go home for lunch.

Restrictions also make dining with residents of other houses more difficult. The one resident, one guest policy can cause problems for groups of diners that include residents of multiple houses. For example, since I live in the Quad, when I want to eat dinner with friends who live in, say, Winthrop and Lowell, the three of us have no choice but to join the crowds in one of the view houses without restrictions.

While I have never had to fight for a seat in my house’s dining hall, I understand the space crunch in other dining halls that encourages the more conveniently located houses to institute dining restrictions. The restrictions don’t need to make finding a place to eat more difficult for everyone else, however. There are a few simple things that could be done right now to help ease some of the congestion.

Weekly community dinners, for one thing, are a great idea in principle, as a way to encourage house community without excluding non-residents the rest of the time. However, three of the most popular river houses (Quincy, Leverett and Kirkland) all hold community dinners on Thursdays, so all non-residents who would normally go to these dining halls, as well as residents who want to eat with friends who aren’t residents, must find somewhere else to eat. Spreading these community dinners out over different nights would reduce stress on the remaining dining halls, while still fostering house community.

More fundamentally, it may be time for other river houses to follow the example of Adams and Pforzheimer Houses and make exceptions that will allow residents of each of the more inconveniently located houses to dine at a closer one. Welcoming the residents of one other house, especially in the more spacious dining halls, will give residents of farther houses a place to eat without making it impossible for residents to eat in their own dining halls.

The administration needs to recognize that inter-house dining is a reality of campus life. It needs to stop ignoring the problems that the current restrictions are creating, and consider stepping in to mandate more reasonable restrictions, if necessary. Harvard’s house system is a great part of campus social life, but we need to make sure that promoting house life in the river houses doesn’t end up leaving others out in the cold.

Ellen C. Bryson ’11, a Crimson editorial writer, is a history concentrator in Cabot House.

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