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Fired Up About FYRE

By Casey M. Allen
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Unlike the music festival sharing with which it shares its acronym, the First-Year Retreat and Experience is here to stay. Last week, the college permanently added FYRE to its collection of pre-orientation programs. First piloted for the freshman class of 2022, it is designed to help incoming students from disadvantaged backgrounds adjust to life at Harvard.

Student leaders of FYRE have done an excellent job not only getting this program off the ground in its pilot phase but also getting it institutionalized. The wildly positive response from participating freshmen is a testament to the skill and initiative displayed by these leaders and their intensive efforts.

Recognizing that the College was in desperate need of a bridge program for these students, who often lack the networks of knowledge and relationships that more privileged students have upon arriving on campus, the designers and coordinators of FYRE persevered against institutional resistance. As we have opined in the past, this sort of leadership and problem-solving is essential to a vibrant and progressive campus. We join others in our community in thanking them for that outsized effort.

That said, we are disappointed that this program wasn’t spearheaded long ago by the administration. Two years ago, administrators did exactly that. In response to our staff editorial encouraging the advancement of FYRE, Dean of the College Rakesh Kharana and former Dean of Freshman Thomas A. Dingman ’67 wrote an op-ed criticizing the bridge program as too narrow. To be sure, the two deans offered a thorough counter proposal, but we would posit that in doing so they missed an essential component of FYRE’s significance. Student initiative matters, and programs that are advocated for and designed by students should be prioritized not merely because they are rooted in experience but also because they have the support on campus to really take root.

In brief, the administration should be the wind at students’ back, not a force of opposition. Unfortunately, when it comes to FYRE, the administration failed in that regard.

Moreover, we look to Freshman Scholars at Yale, a five-week summer program combining academic for-credit courses, resource orientation, and community building, and Princeton’s Freshman Scholars Institute, a similar seven-week program that can be extended into the academic year, as models for expansion of FYRE going forward. Both programs provide examples of ways in which FYRE can become both deeper and more lasting, as Harvard catches up on the critical problem of helping low-income and first-generation students adjust to college life early.

The pre-orientation programs often serve as students’ first opportunity to establish lasting friendships at Harvard. Many know of the cliques that may form with programs; the First-Year Outdoor Program friendship is basically a cliche. While it is surely a positive that students can get so close so soon, Harvard should do more work to mix different pre-orientation groups once they arrive on campus.

Siloing by pre-orientation group would be especially harmful in the case of the FYRE program. Many may feel that our campus is poorly integrated socioeconomically, so it is crucial that measures are taken to prevent disadvantaged students from being further isolated from the more well-off subcultures of Harvard. The University should consider rearranging the schedule of Opening Days so students do not have to choose between FYRE and another program if they would like to do both. This would allow for these students to have the opportunity to integrate into multiple communities and support networks before arriving on campus.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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