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Freshmen 'Disappointed' by Invitation to De-densified Harvard Campus

Freshmen will enter Harvard's campus this fall.
Freshmen will enter Harvard's campus this fall. By Allison G. Lee
By Benjamin L. Fu and Dohyun Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

Admitted freshmen were the only College class invited back to campus for the fall Monday morning, but many in the Class of 2024 said they are displeased with the arrangements.

The announcement outlined plans to house no more than 40 percent of undergraduates — freshmen, as well as upperclassmen who cannot adequately continue their education from home — in Cambridge for the fall semester. Regardless of residence, all enrolled students will take virtual classes.

Students returning to campus will be required to sign a “Residential Community Compact” and abide by strict social and public health regulations. For example, they must submit to coronavirus testing every few days and cannot visit each other’s dorms or dining halls.

Some freshmen doubted how compliant their peers would be to the stringent rules. But administrators say if residents don’t comply, the offenders will have to leave campus.

Jasmine M. Green said she couldn’t help but feel let down after receiving the news.

“When I read [the email], it was like my heart broke a little bit,” Green said. “You can understand that it’s the right decision, while still be disappointed by it — and that’s how I feel right now.”

Administrators said they chose to bring freshmen to campus because these students benefit most from the opportunity to “build their Harvard network of faculty, advisors, and friends” and “learn about life in the Yard.” Yet Green and her peers were unsure these goals could be achieved in light of the guidelines.

“They want first-years on campus for the first couple of months in order to ease the transition to college life, but we can’t talk to upperclassmen because there will be no upperclassmen,” Green said. “We can’t really build personal connections with professors because everything is going to be online and it's much harder to talk to them if everyone's trying to access them in these small slots for virtual office hours. And then we can barely talk to our own classmates because of very restricted socialization rules.”

Some students criticized lack of clarity in the College’s plans. Samantha M. Galvin said she has qualms about what form social life can take in de-densified dormitories.

“They haven't really specified who we can interact with, how many people,” Galvin said. “They said we're going to have single dorms and no one's allowed in our dorm.”

“The only common spaces that they said will be open was the laundry room,” Green said. “It just doesn’t make any sense. The only place where we can talk to people is while doing laundry? What?”

Many incoming freshmen who felt let down by the plans said they were more inclined to take a gap year, delaying their Harvard career with the hope that college life will return to normal by fall 2021.

Over the course of Monday, more than 60 rising freshmen students joined a Class of 2024 group chat dedicated to discussing gap years. Members weighed financial aid concerns, plans for activism or travel, and other factors affecting their outlook.

Robert F. Greene, originally a member of the Class of 2023 who is currently on a gap year, said he might take even more time off in light of hesitations about the fall.

“I've already gotten the experience of the gap year, and that's something that I've really appreciated,” Greene said. “I think I feel ready to go back to school, but at the same time, I just need to weigh the pros and cons of taking more time off, versus starting school in this sort of fragmented way.”

As of late June, over three percent of students accepting spots in the Class of 2024 had deferred enrollment since the May 1 reply date.

All pre-orientation programs, such as the First-Year Outdoor Program and First-Year Arts Program, will be held virtually — replacing mountain hikes and live performances that many incoming students hoped would help them build social connections.

“A lot of Harvard students have told me that pre-orientation programs are where they met their first friends at Harvard,” Green said. “Especially because Visitas was cancelled, I was really looking forward to hopefully having a second chance at socialization with my classmates in pre-orientation programs — but it’s no longer the same.”

Orientation will also take place in an online format, which will include two to three hours of discussions, webinars, and pre-recorded presentations over the course of August.

—Staff writer Benjamin L. Fu can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BenFu_2.

—Staff writer Dohyun Kim can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @dohyunkim__.

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