Report Suggests Changes for Optional Winter Activities Week

Amid complaints about the lack of appealing programming and poor communication of available opportunities, Optional Winter Activities Week failed to attract the participation of the large majority of the student body, according to a report presented by Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds at yesterday’s Faculty meeting.

Among students who responded to the College’s survey about winter break, 37 percent attended the inaugural week of programming held in January. The majority of students indicated that they “had other plans.”

The report presented by Hammonds offers recommendations for addressing students’ concerns about OWAW and the earlier weeks of winter break, but also cautions against spending undue funds and staff time on the scarcely populated weeks.

“It is important for the College to determine whether and how to grow the program and to allocate staffing and other resources accordingly,” the report reads.

“The College should determine whether it wants OWAW to be one of the hallmarks of the undergraduate experience and to plan accordingly, not only in terms of staffing and resources, but also in managing people’s expectations about the week’s goals,” the report adds.


Despite the oftentimes dismal complaints reported in the poll, Hammonds projected a rosy image of OWAW in yesterday’s Faculty meeting, praising the long break as a time when students could “decompress from the high-stress lives they lead on campus.”

Many of the 924 students who responded to the survey lauded the time they spent relaxing at home during break and the opportunity to enjoy a week at Harvard without schoolwork. Others said they participated in activities as diverse as applying for a patent, seeking treatment for an eating disorder, and getting engaged.

Upon studying these responses, which ranged from thrilled to embittered, College administrators agreed that the College’s approach to winter break, which has not been clearly articulated since calendar reform created the lengthy gap between semesters two years ago, still needs further review.


The report presented yesterday includes numerous recommendations, which Hammonds and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith are currently considering.

For instance, the report recommends opening House dining halls as social spaces, although only Annenberg Hall serves meals during winter break, and potentially offering nighttime snacks in the dining halls to alleviate the “severe loneliness” that some students who remained on campus for the duration of winter break described.

The report also tentatively suggests opening one River and one Quad dining hall to address one of the most virulent and frequent complaints on the survey: that walking through the brutal January weather to Annenberg was a hassle during break.

Just two-thirds of respondents who lived on campus over the break said they ate meals in Annenberg.

“Having to travel from the Quad to Annenberg often meant I didn’t eat,” one respondent wrote.

Others who did not eat in Annenberg said it was due to the scheduled mealtimes, not the distance. Those performing research in labs off-campus said they spent lunch and dinner hours away from the Yard, but they would have eaten breakfast in Annenberg if it had been served.