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The Office of Student Life recently established the "Collaboration and Innovation Grant", which will provide undergraduate organizations, individual student groups, academic departments, and Houses with up to $3,000 to host collaborative, College-wide events, so long as these events are free and open to all undergraduates. This follows a series of initiatives to shift the epicenter of undergraduate social life and challenge final clubs’ social hegemony. While Harvard is taking the right step to create more inclusive social spaces on campus, it must recognize that money is not the only barrier that students face when seeking to host events.
This recent initiative, however, is not purely reactionary; it also reflects the administration’s response to increasing student criticism over the lack of social spaces on campus. Last year, such debate prompted the Undergraduate Council to launch the “Grant for an Open Harvard College,” which provided $30,000 for events related to mental health, sexual assault and harassment, race relations, and social spaces. The UC should be commended for its trailblazing efforts to support more inclusive social spaces at the College, especially since the precedent it set may have helped pave the way for this new avenue of funding.
Nevertheless, if Harvard seeks to continue improving social life on campus, the College must go beyond just financial support. Many issues arise from the logistical process of organizing parties and the lack of physical spaces for social events on campus.
Harvard can tackle these problems by streamlining and expediting the party registration process across all Houses. While some Houses have improved their party registration process, thereby making their environments more conducive to social events, these efforts have not been not consistent. Currently, students must fill out extensive party registration forms that differ on a House-by-House basis, but some houses have managed to expedite the process through simple Google submission systems. Encouraging all Houses to adopt more efficient methods for party registration would allow every student to reap the benefits of streamlined event hosting.
Furthermore, Harvard can seek to fix its lack of physical social spaces by consulting students about future renovation projects. Students have already fought to transform existing rooms on campus into social spaces for events. While the College might currently be seeking to reduce the influence of the final clubs, it has yet to compete with their physical presence at the University. The renovations in buildings such as Quincy’s Stone Hall and Dunster House, for example, have yet to demonstrate the University’s dedication to improved social spaces. A large number of hallway doubles and singles rather than suites continue to decrease the amount of space for parties on campus, rooms that pale in comparison to the large mansions owned by final clubs. If Harvard is serious about fostering a social environment, their future House renovations should reflect this goal.
The College has taken a step in the right direction by facilitating students' social life. If Harvard aspires to continue creating a more vibrant undergraduate social scene in the future, however, administrators must consider providing resources other than money to support students' endeavors. Only then can Harvard foster a more lively and robust social environment.
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