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Only at Harvard would drunken revelry and boat burning constitute the highlights of the night preceding one of the most important days of freshman year. River Run is one of many traditions that, although popular and widely practiced, constitute an affront to the College’s policies and philosophy. Recent attempts at cracking down on this activity have involved more than just the administrative board; multiple levels of law enforcement have been called in to prevent students from burning their boats in the Charles River, with threats of detainment and arrest abounding.
Incontestably, drinking in an unfamiliar setting can be dangerous, and burning objects in public can rarely be safe. Beyond the philosophical scope of this issue, Harvard College is legally obligated to prevent underage drinking and boat burning. Nonetheless, these events constitute a valued tradition; Harvard College would do its students a disservice in abolishing them. The administration should cease its efforts to combat River Run activities directly and instead work to retool current rituals so that they are safer but still engaging.
Two weeks ago, more than a few freshmen entered Houses that they had never stepped foot in before. Beyond partying, River Run provides a singular opportunity to become familiar with one’s potential residence for the next three years. The tradition also represents a key bonding experience for blocking groups that are often composed of people from different social circuits. Neither purpose is served within the existing framework of official pre-Housing day events. The benefits to the Houses themselves are not only external; River Run is a community-building event that brings the often-distant members of a House together. As we have said time and time again, the Houses must work to cultivate a stronger sense of spirit and identity. Only through events such as River Run can this end be accomplished.
Thus, the College should eschew its tack of opposing River Run in its entirety, and should instead allow, encourage, or create alternative traditions that preserve the spirit of current River Run rituals, without the illegality. Fresh Fest, the popular alternative recently introduced, marks an important first step in this direction. However, Fresh Fest ran from only from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., while River Run is essentially an all-night event; numerous freshmen simply attended both. In that sense, the administration should do more to deal more directly with the aspects of the night that students focus on the most—drinking and boat burning. In lieu of these illegal activities, the administration should offer alternatives, such as a special Stein Club or mini-carnival throughout the night, to provide viable options for students who would otherwise drink.
Going forward, we understand the very real need for the College to protect its students and preserve order. However, we do not merely hope for transparency and honesty in this dialogue—we expect it. We would like to remind the administration that, regardless of its opinion on student conduct, it is dealing with adults, not children. Whatever future the administration envisions for River Run, the needs of the student body must remain relevant, and its input considered.
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