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Coffee Break is No Real Classroom To Table

By Joey Huang
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Classroom to Table is back — but with coffee as the only menu option. The popular, student-founded program, where Harvard paid for students to grab meals with their professors and instructors, is back after a pandemic-induced hiatus, albeit in a new and more limited format. The new edition, dubbed “C2T: Coffee Break,” will offer participants a $10 voucher to have coffee and pastries at the Pavement Coffeehouse in the Smith Campus Center — a far cry from the $30 for a proper, sit-down meal at a selection of local restaurants that the program boasted in the past.

We are glad to see Classroom to Table return, even in this rebranded and trimmed-down form. Despite its limited allowance, Coffee Break offers a more casual alternative for those students who are eager to get to know their faculty better yet don't feel quite comfortable sitting down with them for a prolonged meal in a formal restaurant setting. We find it a great addition to the College's broader student-faculty programming, one that is well worth continuing in the future.

Coffee Break is not, however, an adequate replacement for the program's original, meal-oriented format.

Back in 2015, when Classroom to Table was first piloted, we praised the College for helping foster stronger relationships between faculty and students, arguing that these extracurricular interactions could enrich our academic experience and render instructors less intimidating. Since then, the program has proven extremely effective at doing just that, financing hundreds of dinners and lunches and skyrocketing in popularity. Our peers and faculty members have repeatedly embraced the chance to get to know one another, thinking, debating and laughing out loud over drawn-out multi-course dinners and quick pizza-centric lunches alike.

We believe that its success is owed, in no small part, to the idiosyncrasies of grabbing a meal with someone: of setting aside a substantial amount of time, sitting down, and exchanging thoughts over food. Eating with others is inherently and historically a social endeavor, a cornerstone of how we interact and bond with family, friends, and everyone in between. Coffee-drinking, on the other hand, is nice enough but brief. Even the new initiative’s name, with the inclusion of ‘break,’ seems to emphasize conciseness, a short respite from work rather than an experience in and of itself. Of course, meaningful interactions can happen anywhere — some students might well find themselves enjoying a life-changing cappuccino — but we find the original setup undeniably more conducive to longer, deeper interactions.

The shift from a full meal to a latte and a scone comes with other downgrades, too. Under the new C2T: Coffee Break, students and faculty have no option but to meet at the Smith Campus Center, right across from the Yard. That is, the space that is supposed to host our informal faculty-chaperoned breaks from the Harvard bubble is now sandwiched among studying students. While Pavement might serve fine coffee, drinking a cup of it at the very heart of our campus hardly offers the same breath of fresh air as going to Russell House Tavern or the Hourly Oyster House once did. Notably, the benefits were bidirectional: In the past, local businesses reported a boom in business connected to the initiative, a boost that would come in handy as our community struggles to recover from the ongoing pandemic.

The pandemic was the reason Harvard cited for halting the program in the first place, arguing that the College did not want to incentivize indoor dining given the health crisis. We find that logic flawed (we’ve been eating in dining halls all across campus since the first day of the semester!) and unconvincing. We fear that Classroom to Table is yet another of Harvard’s perennially under-resourced student-founded programs — look no further than the First-Year Retreat and Experience pre-orientation program, which struggled for years before being institutionalized by the University. Despite its popularity and obvious benefits, Classroom to Table has been consistently underfunded and embarrassingly forced to go on hiatus term after term after term after term.

While the College has already suggested that sit-down meals might make a return to the program next spring, we encourage Harvard to truly buy into Classroom to Table for the first time: to provide both quick coffee and full sit-down meal options, and to allocate adequate funding to keep it available throughout the entire term.

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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