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Allston Students Face Two Worlds

By Nathalie R. Miraval, Crimson Staff Writer

For Amanda N. Holm ’05, the soccer field that served as her backyard growing up was more than a playing field.

It was the location of various camp activities over the summer, home to her first business—where she would sell kool-aid to the athletes playing and practicing—and where some of her fondest memories had been formed.

That the soccer field was home to Ivy-League games and that her customers and counselors were Harvard students made no difference to her. She felt Harvard was another world she could not access—until she attended the University herself.

“I really was torn for awhile, it felt like I had to be two different people,” says Holm, who grew up in The Charlesview Apartments, a concrete cluster of low-income housing units located near Harvard Business School.

Raised in Lower Allston and attending Harvard, an institution that has long had a tense relationship with the community, Holm says there has developed a dissonance between loving her school and having a deep personal knowledge of the impact it has had on her neighborhood.

“I wasn’t aware of any tension of where I was—I loved it there,” says Holm. “It’s just coming now that maybe I should have felt differently about these things.”

FEW IN NUMBER

Over the past four years, nine Allston students have been admitted to the Classes of 2011-2014 with eight matriculating to Harvard, according to Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67. There are two members of the freshman class who grew up in Allston: Ada D. Lin ’14 and Samuel M. Wallis ’14, though neither they nor Holm attended high school in Allston.

Holm and Lin went to the Boston Latin School, while Wallis attended Buckingham, Browne, and Nichols, a private day school in Cambridge.

Although the neighborhood is located between Boston University and Harvard, and—according to Fitzsimmons—students in Cambridge and Boston are given geographic preference, Lower Allston has low college attendance rates.

Wallis says that one reason for the low numbers may be that high schools in Allston do not provide students with the same academic preparation as other competing high schools.

“It’s made me wonder: Was I admitted for academic caliber or am I a diversity number?” says Wallis.

TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS

Attending Harvard, Holm says she has begun to relate with those students to whom she had once sold kool-aid at the edge of the University’s soccer field.

But Holm says that growing up in the Charlesview exposed her to situations completely foreign to those of most of her current peers.

“I’ve seen a lot of things and lived through a lot of things that others had not lived through,” she says.

Holm says she disliked growing up in Charlesview, a set of buildings that has been involved in a tenuous relationship with the University for several years. In 2007 a land swap agreement made between the University and the Charlesview board of directors was drawn up to allow Harvard to consolidate its land holdings in the neighborhood while providing residents with new housing and amenities.

“It was very self-contained and I had a lot of great friends but I saw a lot of things you don’t see normally when you’re that young,” says Holm. As a result of attempting to distance herself from the past, Holm says she views herself more as a “Boston kid” than an Allston resident.

But not all the Allston natives attending Harvard grew up personally experiencing the tensions between the neighborhood and their future alma mater.

Both Lin and Willis say they spent more time playing with kids in other neighborhoods.

Though both students had family members who attended community meetings, voicing opinions on the University’s expansion into the neighborhood, neither developed a strong, emotional attachment to what Lin calls “Allston culture.”

Lin says she identifies more as a Harvard student than an Allston resident.

Wallis and Lin say that attending schools in different neighborhoods presented them with a different set of circumstances, limiting their cultural connection to Allston.

“I feel guilty because I was going to private school in Cambridge, hanging with kids from the suburbs,” Wallis says.

A NEIGHBORHOOD IN FLUX

Lin and Wallis say they are worried about the University’s impact on the neighborhood, which they say has both many longtime residents and immigrant families.

“It’s a historic neighborhood. My worry is that they’re going to keep on expanding so that my side of the river ... won’t be as much of a neighborhood as it is a campus,” Lin says.

They recall when the full extent of Harvard’s expected presence in the neighborhood was revealed in 1997. It was then that Allston residents discovered that the University had secretly bought land in the neighborhood under a subsidiary of a different name, leading to community outrage.

Growing up, Lin and Wallis remember seeing the physical changes along Western Ave.—the Star Market turning into a Kmart, the warehouses becoming vacant—but they did not attribute these changes to Harvard specifically. To them, it was just the way things were.

Although admittedly unaware of the specific details of Harvard’s present proceedings with Allston, Lin and Wallis were aware of some of the community projects the University has engaged in over the past few years—such as building a miniature golf course, having a farmers’ market, and more recently developing plans to build an Innovation Lab and Library Park.

But the 2009 halt in construction on the $1 billion Science Complex—slated to be the first in a number of University building projects in the neighborhood—marked a change in relations between Harvard and Allston for Lin.

“You can’t promise a whole neighborhood of people an increase in jobs and living spaces if you’re not going to follow through,” Lin says of the University’s decision to stop construction due to financial constraints.

For Holm, reconciliation between her identity as a Harvard student and an Allston native came with distance and time.

“It wasn’t until after I graduated until I could put the two together,” Holm says. “I feel very positive about both parts of my identity.”

—Staff writer Nathalie R. Miraval can be reached at nmiraval@college.harvard.edu.

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