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Laissez-Faire Makes For Fairer Fare

“The worst form of inequality,” quoth Aristotle, “is to try to make unequal things equal,” and so it is with dining restrictions.

For the less familiar, these strictures are a series of byzantine rules designed to control access to Harvard’s 13 dining halls. Since not all are equidistant to the Yard and other classroom buildings, some lay empty while others are bursting at the seams. The urge to redistribute is strong. In 2014, the administration indulged.

Of course, the rationale was couched in benevolently paternalistic terms: despite “restrict[ing] choice and convenience,” then-Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde wrote upon Community Dinner’s introduction two years ago, it was done to “enhance students’ sense of belonging at Harvard.” This move, itself predated by the advent of garden-variety dining rules, only marked the most recent step away from open dining halls. Sadly, these restrictions have hardly been wise. (And how could I be wrong when both the Undergraduate Council and The Crimsons Editorial Board agree with me?)

At a very basic level, one might be forgiven for thinking that the true reason for interhouse restrictions is to make the tax code look simple by comparison. Dunster House, for instance, has separate rules governing access to athletes, Dunster residents, and their guests, each depending on the day of the week and with special carve-outs from 6-7 p.m. and 7:15-8 p.m. Multiple this complexity by 13, and even a seasoned senior will quickly be cowered into walking to Mather.

To make matters worse, each year the restrictions move further south, as limitations at Adams propel strictures at Quincy, in turn exacerbating crowding at Leverett. At this pace, Mather will soon have them too, and that will truly be a sad commentary on interhouse community at Harvard.

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I will admit that halting the unwashed masses at the gates of Quincy and Adams has a certain elitist appeal. (Imagine the abode of FDR, soiled with first-years. The place would go to the dogs.) But alas, I do not live in those two hallowed houses. Instead, I must queue at the swipe desk, final-club-like, waiting for a friend to utter that time-tested shibboleth: “oh, yeah, he’s with me.”

These dining halls are truly un-inclusive, and rumor has it that such places do not align with the Mission of Harvard College. Despite the benefits of community bonding that the restrictions supposedly engender, none of my friends who live in Mather have experienced personal, social, or intellectual transformation on the long walk to their concrete eyesore’s sparsely populated dining hall. Even denizens of Quincy and Adams, the perennial poster children for the necessity of restrictions, might well benefit from a restriction-free dining hall. After all, if hordes of freshmen prevent them from eating at home, there are friends to be made on the walk to Leverett.

More fundamentally, restrictions and Community Dinner aren’t working. I mustered some courage and snuck into Adams at lunchtime last week, and it was still overrun despite the limits. Like all planned economies, this Gosplan on the Charles is starting to crack. Telling me where to eat is socialism, and any proper Fox News pundit playing word association can tell you what that means: Long lines, shortages, and universal healthcare. It’s un-American. We didn’t win the Cold War for nothing.

A better plan: Deregulate the dining halls. A laissez-faire free-for-all seems more chaotic, but it’s the sort of good-natured anarchy that forces Harvard students to meet new people, even if it’s past September of freshman year. An extra lap around the dining hall, tray in hand, is a small price to pay. (Alternatively, if Adams is overcrowded, simply make their food worse. Weekday lunches too busy? Bring back the swai. Personally, I’d walk to the Quad if they started serving prime rib and lobster up there.)

The irony is that Community Dinner ignores the communities that matter more: The broader, pan-house Harvard friendships centered around activities or friend groups. House life is indeed important, but as a practical matter, relationships that are the product of choice and mutual interest are more meaningful than those that are the product of the Office of Student Life’s computer program. As Marx might have said, we have nothing to lose but our restrictions.


Derek K. Choi ’18, a Crimson editorial executive, is a government concentrator living in Leverett House.

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