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Khurana, Students Debate Influence of Extracurriculars

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana fielded responses from students and replied to arguments concerning the state of extracurriculars at the College at a town hall event Wednesday.

The event, attended by about 40 undergraduates, featured extended discussion on the interplay between clubs, social life, and personal development. In the recent past, administrators have raised concerns about the tension resulting from students dedicating increasing amounts of time to extracurriculars rather than academics.

“Many people had talked about the changing role of extracurriculars on campus, and the impact that it was having, in many cases positive, and in some cases concerns, around Harvard College culture and Harvard College experience,” Khurana said.

Extracurriculars and Academics Town Hall
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana leads a discussion with students about balancing academics and extracurriculars at a town hall in the Phillips Brooks House Parlor on Wednesday evening.

Last September, Khurana wrote in an email to undergraduates that senior survey data revealed that undergraduates have in recent years dedicated more time to extracurricular activities. In the three-year span of 2010, 2011, and 2013, Khurana wrote, the proportion of surveyed senior reporting spending more than 10 hours a week on extracurricular events increased from 27 to 43 percent.

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In that email, Khurana asked students to submit their thoughts about the extracurricular culture at Harvard. On Wednesday, he said that subsequent responses—which had been aggregated in a Google Doc—revealed four common themes: that students join extracurriculars in search of skills not acquired in the classroom, that some students feel that extracurricular activities can be at times more rewarding or engaging than academics, that some students feel a pressure to participate in extracurriculars, and that students had varying opinions on the “comp” process.

Skip L. Rosamilia ’17, in attendance at Wednesday’s town hall, said many students feel pressured to join extracurriculars for social reasons.

“I think that something that we struggle with at Harvard is a space issue, of not having a lot of social spaces for people to just go as students; rather you have to be a member of something, or punching, or comping something to be able to get into these scenes,” Rosamilia said.

Although the event mainly featured students offering opinions on the interplay between extracurriculars, social life, and academics, Khurana replied at times to specific points either in the survey or immediate comments from participants.

At one point, Khurana agreed that students often perceive that being busier than their peers is a “heroic” quality.

Some students at the town hall defended the predominance and role of extracurriculars on campus, while others cautioned against taking a strictly binary approach in assessing extracurriculars and academics.

Undergraduate Council representative Brett M. Biebelberg ’16 said he does not believe that everyone who comes to the College enrolls chiefly for the sake of learning in the classroom.

“I don't think it’s surprising that people often times will prefer extracurricular activities to sort of more academic-oriented endeavors,” Biebelberg added.

John A. Sturm ’15, meanwhile, said he thinks there is more overlap between academics and club activities than might be first assumed.

"I was struck by how strongly students contrasted the role of academics and extracurriculars," Sturm said after the event.

—Staff writer Ivan B.K. Levingston contributed to the reporting of this story.

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

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