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After more than a year of classes from afar, the return to in-person academics has been swift: In-person instruction is back, lecture halls are filled, and caffeine-fueled homework sessions in House libraries have begun. We’re even getting daily print issues of The Crimson. Conspicuously missing from this budding sense of normalcy, however, was this year’s iteration of shopping week.
At the start of this semester, instead of bouncing from class to class — sampling flavorful menus of courses in a week-long frenzy of academic bliss — we sat behind computer screens, previewing our courses on Zoom before the academic year began. According to College spokesperson Rachael Dane, the administration decided to hold this “virtual course preview period” in order to prevent crowds in classrooms and accommodate international students who might not be able to get to campus on time.
This virtual course preview, though destined to fall short of an in-person shopping week, was disappointing. The online shopping week offerings were inconsistent between courses, with some offering no preview materials at all. And while we hoped that virtual course preview period would be better, our larger concern is the fate of true, in-person shopping weeks.
We understand Harvard’s public health-related justification for sidelining shopping week this year — on such matters, the University has been right in the past. Yet we don’t want the administration to mistake this acknowledgement of pandemic-time necessities for an indifference toward the future of shopping week: Shopping week must stay long term.
Shopping week is among the College’s greatest differentiators, with 62 percent of undergraduates naming it as a significant factor in their choice to attend Harvard. This is not simply a matter of convenience: The exploration shopping week affords changes in concentrations, births secondaries, and occasionally alters careers.
When else would the Applied Math concentrator with a quiet love for music have the opportunity to sit in on Theater, Dance, and Media lectures for a week, facing no obligation to stay in the class if their creative dreams take on a misshapen reality? When would an English concentrator who wants to challenge herself, but doesn't know if she could truly handle stoichiometry, be able to dabble in the chemical world?
Shopping week not only contributes to personal discovery, but it also serves to protect student mental health and eases financial burdens. It allows students to try out classes without fear of fees and to find enjoyment in their classes, rather than finding themselves trapped in a course that is not a good fit. For students, shopping week is a perfect arrangement.
That said, we understand that on the flipside, for administrators, faculty, and graduate students, shopping week is a logistical nightmare even in normal times. This is particularly true for teaching fellows who can never be sure if their position will remain as enrollment numbers fluctuate. However, we believe there are measures that could be taken to relieve this burden without sacrificing the shopping week for undergraduates. Perhaps this means guaranteeing compensation across semesters for teaching fellows or making it easier for them to transfer courses.
Shopping week is certainly a large undertaking, but as the upperclassmen who have experienced it in person can testify, it is not untenable. Ultimately, faculty, teaching fellows, and undergraduates all have a substantial stake in decisions pertaining to shopping week, and those groups must be equally included in the process of finding ways to ease its burden.
We hope that in a couple of years, when the pandemic is but an ugly memory, Harvard will look back on this piece and see that shopping week is a quintessential part of being a student in this institution. It is a beloved tradition that has helped students for ages; a cherished hallmark of academic life. Instead of dropping shopping week, we want to join generations of Harvard students — old, new, and forthcoming — in shopping until we drop.
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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