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Khurana Pushes for Wintersession To Focus on Reflection

By Noah J. Delwiche and Ivan B. K. Levingston, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: January 20, 2015, at 1:42 p.m.

The College’s fifth year of optional winter break programming includes an increased number of organized seminars and discussions geared toward students’ self-reflection after a push from Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana.

New programs for this year’s Wintersession, a week during which the College offers programs to students who come back to campus before the start of the spring semester, include a three-day retreat in Vermont for freshmen and a workshop on “public narratives.” According to Khurana, who has repeatedly and publicly espoused his belief that attending the College should be a “transformative experience” for its students, the programs hope to prompt students to reflect on their experiences at Harvard.

The Wintersession program’s website lists more than 80 activities that will be offered this year. The Undergraduate Council received the same amount of money—$20,000—as it has in the past to fund club-sponsored events throughout the week, according to Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde. Despite that similarity, Lassonde said this year’s Wintersession will feature a shift in focus that is the “brainchild” of Khurana.

“[Khurana’s] idea is to use Wintersession as an incubating space for giving students a chance to reflect on their experience here,” Lassonde said.

“There are many programs that already do that, but we were intentional about choosing some specific ones that we thought would be important introductions,” Khurana said.

Khurana designated Director for Freshman Programming Katherine W. Steele and former Currier House Dean Laura K. Johnson to develop such events, according to Steele.

“The programming in the past was much more focused on either skill development or things that might be fun,” Steele said.

The week’s programs include a retreat in Vermont for 40 freshmen led by eight upperclassmen this week. A program on creative writing, meanwhile, will include discussions about race and socioeconomic status. Another program—a seminar on “public narratives” led by a senior lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government—attracted about 30 undergraduates last weekend, according to Steele, who has helped develop Wintersession events since the week’s inception.

Meanwhile, the First-Year Enrichment program, which is entering its third year, will run under the “aegis of Dean Khurana’s sponsorship as part of the personally transformative programming,” Brooks Lambert-Sluder, assistant director of the Advising Programs Office and a First-Year Enrichment program facilitator, wrote in an email.

The program’s itinerary will include a session led by Khurana, visits to the Harvard Libraries and Harvard Art Museums, guided reflection, and an introduction to resources such as the Bureau of Study Counsel, according to Lambert-Sluder.

Khurana said the change in Wintersession’s focus was not motivated by a desire to attract more students back to campus before the semester starts. Undergraduate interest in Wintersession has remained relatively steady since programming for all students was first introduced in January 2011, according to Lassonde.

Jennifer H. Chapman, the director of Wintersession, was not available for comment.

—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at noah.delwiche@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.

—Staff writer Ivan B. K. Levingston can be reached at Ivan.Levingston@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @IvanLevingston.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: January 20, 2015

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that a Wintersession retreat in Vermont would include discussions about race and socioeconomic status. In fact, a distinct Wintersession program on creative writing will feature such a discussion, but the retreat in Vermont will focus on other topics.

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