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Covid Killed the Welcome Wagon

By Pei Chao Zhuo
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Over the past weeks, thousands of undergraduates descended upon an eagerly awaiting campus, toting masks and fragile optimism for the new term. Welcome tents and volunteers clad in bright red shirts brought the Yard back to life — for freshmen, at least. Sophomores and juniors — classes that, by and large, have still yet to experience a full year of in-person Harvard themselves — were left to figure out House life largely on their own.

In a normal, non-pandemic year, a flurry of Opening Days scheduling would have taken place by now: shows in auditoriums, public service days, House-organized events. The works. Juniors would have been moving into Houses they already knew well, with no need for extra support or guidance; sophomores would have already been warmly welcomed into their new residential communities housing day their freshman spring. For the latter, the loss of sorely needed programming was only worsened by the awareness that freshmen — newer freshmen, actual freshmen — were enjoying some semblance of the activity-packed move-in they never got.

So why weren't the Quad Lawn and the Yard serving as a revolving door of welcome back festivities throughout our extended move-in? Why didn't the University, which has so frequently suggested that outdoor socializing is pretty much fine, litter our grass with a thousand engaging activities for returning upperclassmen?

The easy answer is uncertainty — confusion about what is and isn't okay on our not-quite-post-Covid campus.

Students and administrators expected a waning pandemic to usher in our welcome this fall. So far, we’ve gotten anything but: Delta, a substantially more contagious variant of Covid-19, has been ravaging the U.S., hampering our return to normal before it even began. So even as we needed more welcome programming than ever, rapidly changing, contradictory, or unclear socializing protocols meant we weren’t even sure what that could look like. Students, eager to figure out what was considered safe, got no clear answer.

Our much-awaited double Convocation — where members of the band wore masks with holes cut out to play their instruments as hundreds of students sat, largely unmasked, only feet away — captured the spirit of our uneasy, puzzling return.

We are so grateful to our tutors, proctors, deans, and staff for trying their best to welcome us back to campus amid such confusing circumstances. But we need Harvard to provide us with more opportunities to get to know each other and the campus home we now inhabit. Upperclassmen — the juniors and seniors who became our institutional memory almost overnight — can’t bear that burden alone.

Harvard needs to support all classes as we make the transition back to campus. The dearth of reorienting welcome programming we’ve seen the first two weeks can’t cut it moving forward. Academic programming especially — concentration fairs, advising networks, department events — can’t fall through the cracks. Trust us, we need it.

We are not blind to the fact that the rapidly changing public health guidance makes orienting thousands of students to campus a challenge. But it’s clear that we — the administration and the students it serves — are all confused, and there’s no harm in either of us admitting it.

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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