Give Me More

Yardfest shows that Harvard can get its social scene right

Yesterday confirmed what I have always known: Yardfest really is the best day of the year. The event represents the potential for administration-sponsored and funded programming to unify an often fractured student body and to provide a much-needed diversion from the stresses of academic and extracurricular life. Every year I ask why there are not more events like Yardfest, events that are free, inclusive, accessible, and fun. And every year I come to the conclusion that Yardfest and similar events are rare not because there is no demand for them, but because student groups like the Undergraduate Council and College Events Board lack the resources to plan them consistently and efficiently. While the administration rightfully relies on these organizations to power campus social life, it chronically underfunds them and their programs. Student life would benefit from more events like Yardfest and this requires the University to match its rhetoric with its resources. If student organizations should form the foundation of social life on campus, the administration must give them the means to do so.

On a campus that lacks a central social space, Yardfest transforms Tercentenary Theater into a student center for an evening. It is one of the few days of the year when you can run into, interact, and reconnect with almost everyone you know. The event reaffirms Harvard as a unified community instead of a fractured student body split into Houses, teams, final clubs, and extracurricular organizations. Whereas other schools charge exorbitantly for tickets to their spring concerts, the administration has laudably kept Yardfest free. As a member of the CEB, I sometimes criticized this approach for denying us the additional funds that could help us afford better artists. But let’s be real. No one goes to Yardfest because they want to hear awesome music. They go to be outside, to see friends, and to participate in a community event. Keeping Yardfest free allows every student to attend without worrying about the financial ramifications of paying for a ticket. We need more events like this, not necessarily huge outdoor concerts, but events that echo Yardfest’s commitment to accessibility and inclusivity.

Events like Yardfest are also critical because only these large, free events can effectively compete with final club and room parties that draw students into less safe, less inclusive spaces. Faced with the prospect of spending nearly $10 to attend a dining hall dance (or as much as $30 to go to a House Formal!), few can be blamed for turning to clubs that offer free admission and alcohol. This is not in the best interest of the administration, which loses the ability to monitor the health and behavior of its students. But neither is this in the interest of the final clubs and other societies that host parties. With limited space, capacity quickly becomes an issue that leads to (recently reported-on) fights and overcrowding. Everyone stands to benefit from increasing administration emphasis on funding large, free, and inclusive events.

Yet hosting events like this at Harvard is an immensely difficult undertaking. Harvard lacks spaces on campus that are designed to accommodate large parties. Therefore, groups are forced to search for privately owned venues that are often incredibly expensive. This is why the UC’s Large Venue Grant Pilot Program, which provides $10,000 grants for organizations to host Yardfest-like programs off campus, is such a welcome addition to the social scene. It demonstrates the UC’s understanding that creating attractive and inclusive social options is incredibly resource intensive. The administration should do everything it can to expand, support, and promote this new initiative.

Without additional administration funding, the UC is necessarily limited by its own budgetary limitations and inefficiencies. They have too many mouths to feed, which forces them to split their student group allocations into laughably small grants—they have traditionally been capped at around $200. Meanwhile the CEB, which excels at event planning, quickly burns through its annual allocation of $200,000 based on the costs of Yardfest and the Harvard Carnival.


So what should the administration do? They must boost UC funding significantly so that the Council can provide larger grants to student organizations and can continue and expand their Large Venue pilot program. They must also increase CEB funding so that the organization can do more of what it does best—large-scale, free, inclusive programming. Money is tight and has been for as long as I’ve been at Harvard, but the appeal and success of Yardfest demonstrates the importance of funding sufficient programming for the entire College. And I’m not just saying all of this because Yardfest is my favorite day of the year. This type of events represents the best way to provide alternatives to exclusive and gendered social space, to build a unified community at Harvard, and, most importantly, to make student life at Harvard more fun, varied, and accessible.

Tobias S. Stein ’11 is an urban studies concentrator in Quincy House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.