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As Virtual Semester Closes, College Appraises Remote Programming Performance

Tourists enjoy a socially-distant afternoon in the Yard.
Tourists enjoy a socially-distant afternoon in the Yard. By Zadoc I. N. Gee
By Juliet E. Isselbacher and Amanda Y. Su, Crimson Staff Writers

As the fall semester wanes, Harvard administrators and faculty took stock of the promise and pitfalls of Harvard College Everywhere, a project the College launched to spur student engagement during the remote semester.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced the initiative in a July email to students, describing the program as a set of initiatives aimed at keeping the virtual campus connected. History of Science Professor Anne Harrington ’82 and Phillips Brooks House faculty director Julie A. Reuben serve as the program’s faculty co-directors.

“Harvard College Everywhere was set up to be an incubator for all the main units on campus — academic, athletics, wellness, the arts, student organizations, public service and house life — that normally support residential life on campus,” Harrington and Reuben wrote in an email to The Crimson.

The College built Harvard Everywhere around eight “squads”: academic engagement; arts; diversity, equity, and inclusion; house and yard engagement; public service, civic engagement, and social justice; recreation and fitness; student organizations; and wellness and health promotion.

Harrington and Reuben wrote that Harvard College Everywhere’s key starting goal this semester was to “broaden student awareness” of squad-focus programming by creating a centralized College calendar channel and website.

Squad leaders have largely worked with existing programs and groups to develop activities, most of which have not been under the banner of Harvard College Everywhere, Harrington and Reuben wrote.

“This was fine with us, because the point always was to try to connect students to the College, not to promote some kind of Harvard College Everywhere ‘brand,’” they wrote.

Jack Megan, who co-leads the Arts squad and directs Harvard’s Office for the Arts, wrote in an email he particularly enjoyed a joint Harvard College Everywhere and OFA series dubbed “Off Camera.”

“It involves conversations with gifted artists who are literally off camera now because of the pandemic,” he explained.

The series hosted guests including actress Jameela Jamil of “The Good Place,” actor Ben Schwartz of “Parks and Rec,” and actor Orlando Bloom. Megan said his office has seen “very little attrition” at the events.

Matias Ramos, who chairs the Public Service, Civic Engagement, and Social Justice squad, also said his group has primarily focused on promoting existing public service events and programs hosted by organizations like the Institute of Politics and Phillips Brooks House Association, rather than devising its own events.

Ramos, who also serves as PBHA’s director of programs, said he sees the squad as a “guiding structure” for student organizations. He said he hopes student leaders can use Harvard College Everywhere as a promotional opportunity, source of funding, and space for “advice and collaboration.”

“I think one of [Harvard College Everywhere’s] potential legacies is better coordination among different students facing units in the College that got in conversation more solidly through this effort,” he said.

While Harvard College Everywhere has been successful in a variety of ways, Harrington and Reuben acknowledged that the program faced a number of challenges getting off the ground, notably regarding staff capacity.

“Everyone involved in Harvard College Everywhere has a full-time job and those jobs became even more demanding in the remote context,” they wrote.

They also noted that health risks prevented a number of their plans from moving forward, including connecting students with alumni across the country. Their greatest challenge, however, was securing the student engagement that would have allowed them to understand what undergraduates “want and need.”

“We discovered that the task of meeting student needs off-campus was more complex than we anticipated: we could not simply translate programming designed for a residential experience into a remote form, because student needs changed also,” Harrington and Reuben wrote.

They wrote that they hope to better understand students’ current priorities and interests by polling undergraduates about their interests in a House survey and soliciting ideas at an open meeting on December 7.

“We need to find a way to make Harvard College Everywhere more of a bottom-up and grass-roots undertaking,” they wrote.

Harrington and Reuben wrote that they also hope to move away from Zoom-based activities in the coming semester. To supplement online events, they wrote that they are considering activities such as yoga, music performances, and fitness classes, in addition to knitting, chocolate tastings, and origami.

Khurana said in an interview early November that the College is continuously taking stock of lessons learned about which programs and events work well remotely and which don’t.

“We’re trying a lot of different things. Some things have gone better than others,” he added. “But there's a lot to learn, and we plan to continually improve.”

—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at juliet.isselbacher@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.

—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at amanda.su@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.

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