The Harvard Outing Club’s mission statement reads, “Founded in 1939, The HOC exists purely to help the Harvard community get outside and have fun in the outdoors. So whether we're hiking, backpacking, camping, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or biking, we want you to come along.” It follows that the Harvard Outing Club is one of the most inclusive organizations on-campus. With a limited fee of $20 for six months of membership, need-blind financial aid, and no application, anyone is welcome on any of the club’s weekend outings, which cater to students of all levels of outdoorsmanship. And yet, in the midst of the University’s push to increase social inclusivity on campus, the Outing Club is being, for lack of a better word, punished.
Since its founding in 1939, the Outing Club has been privileged to have a small, hole-in-the-wall office space at 15 Linden Street, buried in the aging Adams House walls. Leaders, members, and their friends fondly call it the HOCice (spelling variable). The space not only stores all of the gear the club lends out, but also provides a cozy and central space for the group to gather — planning hiking outings and events to get students involved in the outdoor community. During the renovation of Adams House, however, the space will be closed for good, and the Outing Club will be moved to a yet-to-be-determined shared storage space.
I — notably not a member of the Outing Club — am definitely disappointed to see one of Harvard’s charming hidden nooks taken away. More importantly, however, the decision is an apt example of how the College has failed to provide (and protect) adequate alternative social spaces as it rallies to minimize the impact of final clubs on campus. For many, after all, the HOCice served as a refuge from the often overwhelming presence of these clubs. A casual gathering at the HOCice, whose door is always open when people are inside, a leader reminded me — listening to music, strumming an old toy of a guitar, commenting on the maps and the crunchy décor – was a meaningful alternative to the Delphic up the street or the Fly across Mt. Auburn Street. The Outing Club, with its open square dances and HOCtoberfest, is for many students an icon of inclusive social life on campus, and a window for new experiences. For instance, at the end of last semester the Outing Club brought 120 students to a climbing gym in Boston, an event they will repeat this semester. Though I have no doubt the organization will persevere, the removal of its beloved space dishonors that well-earned reputation.
Overall, Harvard has done a poor job of offering social alternatives for students who don’t feel comfortable or included in the final club scene. Leaving the task of community building mostly to the Houses, the College has not stepped up to show the way toward a more inclusive future. It is no wonder, therefore, that students continue to gravitate toward final clubs. The Pforzheimer Igloo is great, but it definitely leaves something to be desired, as it is cramped and hot beyond belief. Everyone loves a good dorm party, but opportunities are often limited by House administrators. For example, Eliot House residents can only have two dorm parties per night, can only have those parties on Friday and Saturday, and are prohibited from having any events on nights before the LSAT or MCAT — an understandable restriction but one which severely limits the possible dates. Freshmen, it should be noted, have almost no sanctioned social outlet at all. The College strictly limits in the number of people allowed in their dorms, forbids them to possess any alcohol, and does not provide them with accessible and welcoming common spaces – a big part of why punch is so exciting for the sophomore class.
If Harvard wishes to guide the undergraduate body toward a more inclusive model of social life, it needs to create more spaces for students to socialize. The last thing the College should be doing is closing recognized social and semi-social venues. Harvard should seek to provide more recognized organizations, especially those with a track record of hosting inclusive social events, with the means and resources to bring students in, make them feel comfortable and welcome. Doing so would not only help with this noble work, but also send the message that Harvard supports this sort of social leadership on campus.
I remember the last time I was at the HOCice. It was absolutely pouring outside; the door, a great metaphor, beckoning beneath Claverly Hall, appeared through the slanting sheets. Inside it was warm; a couple other small groups of students had also found the shelter. We made friends; we laughed; we dried out; and when the clouds lifted, we went home. Such is the legacy of the HOCice. I thank the members of the Harvard Outing Club for sharing it with me and so many other night-drifters stuck outside in the bitter rain.
Isaac O. Longobardi ’21, a Crimson Editorial executive, is an Anthropology concentrator in Eliot House.