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Last week, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana sent an email to students subject-lined, “Checking In.” It was in theory a nice gesture. He’s right: “It is hard to avoid the sense of despair about what is happening around us,” and many of us are “feeling isolated right now.”
But there’s something in the phrase “checking in” that strikes us as a little ironic. To check in with someone is an intimate act, an act of care, an act of personal and singular concern. Though Khurana’s email comes from a well-intentioned place and is in no way incorrect in what it observes, it fails to really embody those intimate qualities of checking in. You do not check in via an email to multiple thousands of students; you reach out individually. And no doubt, part of the profound isolation of this term has been how little of that individual checking-in there actually has been.
So in the spirit of checking in, here’s where a few of us are — not as a board but as intimate pairs of peers. We wrote these sections in teams of two, checking in with each other:
Living On Campus
The communal campus life we once knew is broken. It has to be: shared living quarters and social distancing don’t mix. This version of Harvard’s campus, one designed for isolation, makes it much easier to feel lonely. Without incidental comforts like bumping into friends in the dining hall or en route to physical locations (remember those?), reconstructing a college social life within this new normal requires intention and planning. If you don’t do that, or, understandably, don’t know how to, it can make for a crushingly remote experience.
College can be hard, and unforgivingly busy. What often redeems the experience is rooted in that lost communal life: weekends spent washing the stresses of the week away with friends, or p-set seshes liberally interspersed with laughter and gossip. It’s strange to be in the same place where those joys once took place, at a loss for how to recapitulate those experiences.
But it’s not all bad. Returning to campus after a six-month quarantine has been a blessing for some of us. Being able to unmute on Zoom without hearing screams from younger siblings or simply having the privacy for a phone call has alleviated much stress. The joy of watching the sunset with friends on the Weeks Bridge is immeasurable and was impossible just several weeks ago.
Living Just Outside Campus
Walking through Harvard Yard is tough. Watching people walk into buildings you once called home, but are now barred from, feels a little like living in exile. There’s a community there, but you’re no longer part of it. In a way, walking through campus and being reminded of old memories that seem so distant makes it feel like our time at Harvard has already ended, like we are living some ghostly premonition of our future lives.
Then again, living just off campus is like going to a more traditional college. We cook for ourselves, entertain ourselves, find new communities for ourselves. There’s much to miss about house life, but, then again, there’s something exciting about this new independence. Why settle for Harvard, when you could have Harvard and, say, Somerville? Perhaps it’s time to reconsider residential life at Harvard — to open ourselves up more fully and permanently to the city and communities around us.
Living Far Away From Campus
Oh, what we’d give to see some red bricks and colonial architecture. Here in the same houses we grew up in it’s almost easy for the Harvard experience to feel like a really elaborate dream we had sometime in June. Our social lives are still delivered through Zoom, FaceTime, and probably more TikTok than we care to admit. To some extent it feels like a pause button was hit all those months ago and no one has yet pressed play.
Some of us have coalesced together somewhere in the great beyond outside Cambridge, rented apartments in cities with our friends or partners to get that part of that Harvard dream back in reality. Some of us outside the country haven’t seen any of our American friends at all since March. Maybe we are doing classes or maybe we aren’t. Some of us have chosen to travel: If not Cambridge, why not Rome? But not even an espresso next to the Colosseum can warm us up like the 2 a.m. Lamont Cafe coffee we really need.
None of this is Harvard’s fault and certainly not Khurana’s. But we thought it might be nice to share these places from which we opine.
Just checking in,
The Editorial Board
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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