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Harvard is More than Your Blocking Group

By Kai R. McNamee
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Part of the unique excitement that comes with being a freshman at Harvard is the blocking process: finding a group of up to eight peers to live with, potentially linking with another group, and eventually having all of this chaos and anticipation crescendo into being lotteried into one of the 12 College Houses.

Despite this exhilaration that comes with the blocking process, a recent Undergraduate Council survey reported that, for many students, blocking was a challenging and stressful experience. As such, the administrators at the Dean of Students Office have decided to review the blocking process with affiliates at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Let us begin by saying that we firmly understand why the blocking process feels like a stressor for so many of our peers. The blocking process can, on the whole, feel like a massive social experiment. It forces students to self-select into groups and, too often, threatens to reveal the unsettling biases that inform which characteristics students deem socially desirable. Blocking may also engender social maneuvering and networking that is inherently oppositional to the formation and fostering of genuine friendships. We have to wonder if this is ultimately worth it — to go through our very first year of college with the perception that it is essential to have a group of people with whom you certainly want to live, and who certainly want to live with you — when in reality you’ve only known each other for a few months.

For some students, the blocking process may be extremely simple and stress-free, but speaking anecdotally, it seems rare to survive the endeavor without a few relational casualties. To keep these casualties to a minimum and to make the process less cut-throat, we must shift our perception of the blocking. We believe that this starts with understanding that blocking groups are ultimately not that a big deal; you’ll find friends wherever you go.

To that end, Peer Advising Fellows and upperclassmen are the members of the Harvard community who are best positioned to set the institutional tone for newly-arrived freshmen. These upperclass students are often beckoned to provide support and guidance to others, and thus must work hard to deliver the message that blocking does not wholly define your Harvard experience. Moreover, PAFs can help to destigmatize blocking groups of one and assure freshmen that, despite the undue stress that blocking may temporarily deliver, their housing situations will ultimately be more than okay.

Our blocking system is perhaps not perfect, and we would welcome creative amendments driven by data and findings about the current system. These changes could take many forms, such as randomly generated blocking groups, but must be driven by real research on the student experience. While we wait for such metrics and analyses to be unearthed, we must in the meantime focus on improvements to blocking culture.

Finally, we encourage our freshmen, rather than toiling over blocking, to look forward to reveling in the true center of community at Harvard: House life. House culture broadly is indeed much more important than any individual blocking group, as it encapsulates a stronger microcosm of community on campus. Much of this beauty comes from the randomness of the Housing system, which helps to bring a diverse array of students under one roof and which ultimately has helped to cultivate a collection of unified, cohesive, and vibrant House communities.

The Harvard experience is, indeed, about so much more than any isolated group of one to eight. Instead, it’s about the dozens, if not hundreds, of other wonderful people whom you will meet along the way — the people with whom you might not share a room, but with whom you may share years’ worth of experiences instead.

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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