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Engineering a Unified Campus

By Zadoc I. N. Gee
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Harvard’s Allston campus is finally filled with students. After over two decades of planning, a financial-crisis-induced hiatus, and five years’ worth of construction, Harvard students can now sit through lectures on the other side of the Charles at the brand new Science and Engineering Complex, the first cornerstone of a still-developing campus.

The project hasn’t been without controversy — and our own view of its impact hasn’t always remained optimistic. From concerns surrounding local affordability to misgivings about its appearance, Allston residents have made clear their discomfort with the new Harvard complex; our own board has expressed unease regarding its potential gentrifying effect while lauding its innovative attempts at thoughtful development. The overall local footprint of the SEC is still hard to ascertain, and sure to prompt further scrutiny in the future.

But the Allston annex is now an undeniable part of our campus reality. It’s a place where we travel to and take classes every week, another inconvenient address on our regular schedules. Now the question is whether our campus’s geographic expansion will serve or disappoint the student body.

From this student-centric perspective alone, we find reason to celebrate the Allston campus. Its completion isn’t just an exciting chance for the student body to enjoy newer and more impressive facilities, but also an imperative if our institution is to maintain its leadership in non-humanities fields. The University’s decision to pour such time and capital into the SEC is a welcome tribute to all the Harvard students who choose to pursue studies in science and engineering, an acknowledgment of their contributions to our once humanities-focused institution. The imposing physical structure is a symbol of Harvard’s commitment to its School Of Engineering And Applied Sciences.

The new complex will also offer an unexpected boon for student athletes, decreasing their isolation by “shifting the center of gravity” across the Charles. Our athletes can now enjoy an integrated academic space on their bank of the river, complete with a constant flow of their non-athlete peers.

Obvious beneficiaries aside, the entirety of the student body ought to make the most of our new facilities. If physical spaces define our reality — fixing who we see and when, inspiring our thoughts, shaping our health — we hope the Allston campus contributes to the building of a strong, collaborative community of interdisciplinary learners. To this effect, we encourage Harvard to follow through with its liberal arts values when scheduling SEC classes. Placing more widely sought-after courses, such as General Education lectures, in Allston could encourage cross-pollination among disciplines, de-stratifying our academic communities: Offering “GENED 1033: Conflict Resolution in a Divided World” over the river this fall semester has been a good start.

This ideal Allston we crave is hardly a given — in fact, it’s heavily contingent on University policy. From a purely logistical perspective, having a campus a mile away could prove challenging: Ensuring a smooth commute, cutting down on travel time, and easing scheduling are absolutely crucial. If Allston is to become a multidisciplinary hub, students must be able to get to and from classes easily and conveniently, otherwise the temptation to stick to a one field, one campus schedule might become hard to resist. Because of our limited experience with the commute, Harvard must maintain a pulse on these issues and prove responsive to the needs of students and faculty.

Finally and more pressingly, the University must realize that happy neighbors make for a happy campus. Continued engagement with Allston residents is vital, as are active efforts to ensure that local Boston youth and children benefit from this new facility — there should not be a hard boundary between the Harvard and Allston communities. Ramping up or expanding current worthwhile initiatives, like the lesser-known Harvard Local Housing Collaborative, would help, as would a firm University commitment to rent control and affordable housing.

The Science and Engineering Complex is now quite literally set in stone — but its impact on Harvard students and Allston residents isn’t. It’s up to the University and our student body to make it what it deserves to be.

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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