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Somehow, it’s already November, and with the days getting colder and the hues of the leaves getting warmer, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on my first “real” semester of college: one with open dining halls, weekend parties, and in-person classes. And with the Dean of Students Office’s review of the blocking process underway, I’ve reflected on my own blocking group experiences and my new social life here at Harvard, which has been in stark contrast to last semester’s weeks of lounging in pajamas and hanging out with my dog.
Personally, I couldn’t be happier with my blocking group. We met through Covid-19 testing station run-ins, pre-orientation programs, extracurriculars, and mutual friends, and we were quick to stick together despite our limited interactions. Regardless of the fact that blocks during the past pandemic year formed from branching out, I’ve noticed that there is certainly an, at first imperceptible, cliquey vibe to House life. This revelation wasn’t particularly surprising; after all, the blocking structure inherently ushers most of us into groups.
And groups isolate. Since we typically choose groups based on who we want to spend time with, it’s all too easy for groups to become isolated bubbles of like-minded individuals selected based on freshman year social preferences. These bubbles collectively reinforce social stratification as they stay intact over the next three years. Rather than encouraging us to get to know those outside our usual communities, such policies can cement groups and stifle social exploration and connectivity past “our people.” After all, Harvard provides an invaluable opportunity to interact with, what is for many, one of the most diverse communities that they have ever encountered. So why sort and separate multitudes of stories and experiences into isolated groups? Instead of feeding into a culture of cliques and self-segregation that originates from the formation of blocking groups, we should dare to explore outside of them. Doing so will construct a true sense of community throughout the College and de-emphasize blocking groups as the social center of our time here.
Of course, this is not to say that blocking groups are without merit. Within them, we can find deep friendship, support, and solidarity. However, I believe similarly important benefits can be found outside of group settings. Personally, I’m fairly unfamiliar with the friend group experience. My middle school friend group dissolved dramatically and catastrophically in seventh grade, and that was truly for the better. After that, I was never part of friend groups at school and instead had very strong, powerful, and intimate friendships with a handful of best friends individually. From each of them, I learned so much about various experiences, interests, and perspectives. We grew up through the good, the bad, and the ugly in the worlds we encountered, together and apart.
Here at Harvard, it’s safe to say that things have been different. Of course, the pandemic limited friend-making opportunities. This fall, I understandably prioritized getting to know my blockmates over meeting new people, which I don’t regret at all. But on my long walks to class, I reminisce about run-ins on the street with freshman seminar buddies, anime marathons with close friends and the strangers they brought along, and a club conversation under a multicolored parachute. In calls home, I’m most excited to share the interactions outside of my social circles. I excitedly dish out the details of the times that I sat with new people in the dining hall, caught up with the summer camp friends here who knew me long before I was ever a Harvard student, and struck up conversation with someone locked out at the House gate. There’s something special and precious about these encounters, these moments in which we, virtual strangers or distant acquaintances, spark a connection that feeds a community. It’s the promise of community that drew me to Harvard in the first place.
Going forward, I hope to intentionally create space to meet people outside of my blocking group and cultivate my connections at the college. If you’re reading this, I urge you too to help break down the blocking barriers and try to step outside your social circle a bit more. If you only stay in your blocking group, never breaking the bubble, you not only disservice yourself by missing out on all that Harvard has to offer, but you also perpetuate cliquish echo chambers that chip away at a community that could uplift us all. At risk of sounding idealistic, together, we can create a much stronger, genuine, and widespread culture of camaraderie, in which “our people” are everywhere, both within and beyond the blocking group.
Anuksha S. Wickramasinghe ’24 is a Crimson Editorial editor in Mather House.
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