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When I was a student at Gainesville High School, a public city school in Northeast Georgia, I took a lot for granted. School pride, in particular, is something I should have appreciated more.
Last month, I spent just my second week back home since starting college two years ago, and I made sure to visit my high school, see my teachers and attend a Gainesville football game for the first time since graduating in 2013. That night, I gazed in awe as thousands of roaring fans cheered on our football team for the first game of the year. In that moment, I realized why I am so proud of my high school—why I am still so proud to be a Gainesville Red Elephant.
It is hard to be proud of Harvard. Not the idea of Harvard. I believe this is the best school on Earth. Not the students of Harvard. Folks here are among the brightest, most genuine, passionate people that I have ever met. No, it is hard for me to be proud of how Harvard is being run by our administration. Indeed, with all of Harvard’s name recognition, its academic resources, its funding, its powerful alumni, during my first two years here it was tough for me to understand why people at my public high-school seemed so much happier than people here. Why, after getting into the school of my dreams, did I feel such discontent? It just didn’t make sense.
This sense of discontent, of malaise, has been even more intense since the controversy erupted between Harvard’s administration and final clubs in the last few months. I have come to realize that, through its recent action (and decades of inaction), Harvard’s administration has let us down as a student body by failing to provide us with safe, accessible social avenues.
Now that student complaints have finally started to gain momentum, the administration is attempting to shift all of the blame onto unrecognized organizations, instead of taking responsibility for its own failures. Few will deny that the Spee's recent decision to make its organization co-ed is a form of progress, but this still fails to create social spaces on campus that are accessible to everyone. For the sake of our university’s culture and climate, Harvard’s administration must realize that it has shirked its responsibility.
Unlike many universities, Harvard refuses to recognize single-sex organizations such as fraternities, sororities, male final clubs, and female final clubs, and therefore prohibits them from being on campus. Some of these organizations still exist, but without any form of official oversight, parties here have legitimate safety concerns.
I am not a member of a final club. In all honesty, this article is not even really about final clubs. Rather, this is an article about how we as a student body must demand change from Harvard. If the administration is going to remove social spaces that fail to meet Harvard’s standards for inclusivity and safety, then it is the administration’s job to help create new spaces. We must remind our administration that its duty is to protect the social and mental well-being of all students on campus.
Further compounding this issue are the prices of real estate in the area. In Harvard Square, real estate prices are astronomically high, with an average sale price for homes of close to a million dollars. Even if a group of students wanted to create a new, safe social space with university oversight, this would be nearly impossible from a financial standpoint without active help from the administration.
Why not dorms? Over 97 percent of students live on campus all four years, so it might seem that there are plenty of on campus social spaces for us to gather. But as any undergraduate will unhappily tell you, that is simply not the case. Freshmen are not allowed to have any alcohol in their room, period, even if it just means sitting around drinking a beer. Designated “party rooms” such as the Currier Ten Man and the Pforzheimer Belltower are nice, but there is simply not enough space or University funding for these rooms to accommodate the hoards of students yearning for social release every weekend. Who here hasn’t experienced the freshmen wander, or hasn’t gotten used to parties with extremely imbalanced gender ratios, regardless of location? Who hasn’t, even once, wished they had gone to a school with a regular social scene?
Now that we have talked about our administration’s long history of inaction, let’s talk about the sweeping steps it has taken recently. After decades of near-silence, the administration has made the decision to adopt an outspoken stance against the clubs and to restrict their social activities. Having spoken with friends who have had negative experiences at organizations’ events, I do not doubt that many of the administration’s critiques are accurate. But, try as it might to distance itself from unaffiliated organizations, thereby avoiding legal liability, the mere fact that our administration is now heavily pressuring clubs from hosting parties shows that this separation is merely a façade. The administration must understand that it has been a major cause of, and thus is largely responsible for, the campus's current—shattered—state of social opportunities and student mental health.
Undergraduates, alumni, faculty, potential applicants and donors to Harvard University, it is time for all of us to put Harvard’s administration “on notice.”
It is time for the administration to publicly acknowledge its decades-long failure to act. It is time for them to take immediate steps to provide readily available and safe social spaces on campus. It is time for us to remind them that if our administration does not provide or encourage the establishment of safe avenues for students to enjoy themselves, it hinders our mental, social and physical well-being. It is time for them to know that we are young. That we are stressed. That we need some way to unwind after endless all-nighters, papers, and psets. That we yearn for some approximation of “actual college" life in this notoriously intense environment.
We are students. We are human. We are not just numbers on John Harvard’s stock portfolio. Let them know that it is time for John Harvard to invest just a tiny fraction of his 33 billion dollar endowment into students' social and mental wellbeing.
After we let the administration know all of this, let’s sit down and talk with them, work with them. Let’s talk about ways we can improve our time here. Let’s talk about how other institutions, such as the more robust college system at Yale and co-ed eating clubs at Princeton, do a better job with their social spaces. Let’s talk about ways that we can create spaces for students across campus to ease the intensity of the academic and professional pressure that we all feel here.
Harvard was founded in 1636 and will likely be around for many more centuries. But we are only here for four years. With this in mind, we must urge the administration to act now to provide us with new social spaces. It is time for them to stop talking about creating a new culture of inclusivity and acceptance and to start taking real steps towards getting us there.
Harvard is ours. Let’s work with the administration to help make our college balance the pressures of grades, papers, and GPA with safe down-time. Most of all, let’s work with the administration to help us make our school an institution that is worthy of our pride.
William F. Morris IV ’17, a joint concentrator in history and East Asian Studies, lives in Pforzheimer House.
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