Toward a Solution to Social Space

Late-night activity subsidies are a good first step in improving social spaces

In an effort to increase the availability of alcohol-free social activities to undergraduates, the College has allotted a supplementary $3500 of funding to each residential House for non-alcoholic, nighttime weekend events. We applaud the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for implementing a measure that will undoubtedly have a positive impact on undergraduate life—not only will the funding combat widespread alcohol consumption, often in unsafe spaces, by Harvard undergraduates, but it will also address the problem of social space by, as we have suggested in the past, putting Harvard’s abundance of underused social spaces to good use. Nonetheless, we encourage the College to look to other, more effective means of addressing unsafe alcohol consumption in unsafe social space, such as reforming its alcohol policy, if it truly wishes to impact the lives of undergraduates.

The late-night budgetary supplement is very much in keeping with the College’s recent efforts to enhance the availability and popularity of on-campus social spaces. Pforzheimer House recently announced that it its Junior Common Room will undergo significant renovations this year, and Cabot Cafe, opened earlier this year, has since become tremendously popular among Quad residents. It is clear that there is demand for on-campus social venues and activities, and the College’s late-night activity supplement is a natural and much-welcomed component in its revival of on-campus spaces. The popularity of new on-campus social spaces also means that there is an enormous demographic of Harvard students that prefer activities that do not involve alcohol, and we are pleased that the College is expanding social options for these students. On-campus weekend events are also an important step in reestablishing Harvard’s House system as a central component of undergraduate life and as a source of undergraduate unity.

Additionally, the current state of Harvard’s social scene is such that students seeking social events on weekends often find that their only options are parties at off-campus organizations, such as final clubs, which are not accountable to Harvard and from which students do not have immediate access to proctors or tutors. The events funded by the late-night activity supplement are bound to steer many students away from such unsafe spaces, and in this regard, it is a laudable step toward a safer and more egalitarian social atmosphere at Harvard.

Subsidies for alcohol-free weekend events are a positive and necessary measure, but it is crucial to note that expanding these types of social activities alone will not address the problem of dangerous drinking and social space at Harvard. While it is true that many Harvard students enjoy alcohol-free activities, it is equally true that an even greater portion of undergraduates actively seek events that are not institutionally sponsored and at which alcohol is served. The College is correct in targeting unsafe drinking, but it should do so primarily by removing unnecessary obstructions (those that go beyond the scope of Massachusetts law) to drinking in on-campus spaces. To this end, we continue to urge FAS to consider reforming its overbearing alcohol policies, which inadvertently siphon students to off-campus party venues and exacerbate the very problem that they strive to address. Ultimately, a meaningful solution to the twin forces of exclusive social spaces and unsafe drinking must strike at the root of the College’s alcohol policy rather than obscure it with tangential victories.