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Harvard College Institutionalizes First-Year Retreat and Experience Program

University Hall Morning
Tourists gather outside of University Hall at the center of Harvard Yard Wednesday morning. University Hall houses several administrative offices, including those of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard College.

Harvard College officially institutionalized the pre-orientation program First-Year Retreat and Experience, which aims to orient under-resourced incoming students to life at the University, FYRE leadership announced Tuesday.

FYRE was first piloted as a pre-orientation program for the Class of 2022 after being introduced at a College town hall in spring 2018. The program features activities like “FYRE Family Time” and an opening dinner in Widener Library during which students receive personalized books from Harvard faculty and alumni. The program garnered praise from its inaugural class of participants.

“We’re incredibly thankful to all the students, alumni, and administrators who tirelessly vouched for the necessity of a pre-orientation program specifically designed for our community,” FYRE Co-Chairs Alyssa J. Britton ’21 and Lisette Leon ’21 wrote in an email sent over the FYRE listserv.

Britton and Leon declined to comment for this story.

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One of the changes that comes with FYRE’s official institutionalization is a permanent source of funding.

“Previously, the money for FYRE had been coming out of the College dean’s special accounts, essentially,” said James A. Bedford ’20, a co-founder and former FYRE co-chair. “But now, it’s fully institutionalized and will be part of Harvard’s permanent budget as dictated by the Corporation.”

Bedford said that during its two pilot years, FYRE’s status was “not very much guaranteed at all.”

“We were really on tenterhooks for the first year to see whether it would be approved for the second, and then in our second year, to see if it was going to be successful enough,” Bedford said.

Because FYRE is designed and led by students, the program faced distrust from administrators in its early days, according to Bedford. Though FYRE steering committee leaders lobbied for institutionalization from the start, the decision to permanently fund the program was ultimately in the hands of administrators.

Associate Dean for Student Engagement and Acting Associate Dean for Inclusion and Belonging Alexander R. Miller wrote in an emailed statement that the College is “delighted” to offer FYRE as a permanent pre-orientation program.

“The First Year Retreat and Experience (FYRE) is one of many programs that offer new students at Harvard College a chance to engage with their peers, begin to build community, and strengthen the skills they will utilize during their time here at Harvard,” Miller wrote.

Though he is “thrilled” that the pre-orientation program he co-founded has now been institutionalized, Bedford also said he looks forward to expanding the program. He said he believes that some of the program’s greatest limitations are that it is restricted to a three-day program, lacks the funding to run in-semester programming, and can currently accept only about 100 incoming freshmen per year.

“I’m proud that the administration has made this one of its major commitments on diversity and inclusion over the last 10 years,” Bedford said. “I hope that administrative decisions will continue to push for more programs and larger programs like this.”

— Staff writer Elizabeth X. Guo can be reached at elizabeth.guo@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @elizabethxguo.

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