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Editorials

Dissent: A More Empathetic Shopping Week

By Ricards Umbrasko, Noah B. Kassis, Treasure N. Oji, Grant B. Williams, Christina M. Xiao, and Ivor K. Zimmerman, Crimson Opinion Writers
Dissenting Opinions: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.

There is no shortage of articles on The Crimson’s website centering on shopping week and the student body’s frustration with its suspension. Many of these pieces reminisce about a bygone era when students spent the first week of the semester exploring the term’s offerings before submitting a final schedule. As evidenced by the student body’s overwhelming opposition to the College’s new course registration process, shopping week remains an immensely popular staple of Harvard’s liberal arts education that students are determined to protect. Notwithstanding that reality, it’s time to reflect more objectively on the people in our community who lose out from shopping week, and to realize that the stress and logistical difficulties it imposes on graduate students and faculty may not be justified.

For graduate students trying to juggle their own class registration, coursework, and research, shopping week brings an uncertainty in class enrollment that can be unfairly burdensome. When professors don’t know how many teaching fellows they need, graduate students who count on those jobs can’t effectively structure their schedules, their course plans, or their finances. Administrators are similarly burdened, especially in small or under-administered departments: they are left holding the bag when class sizes fluctuate wildly from day to day.

Of course, the loss of shopping week is devastating to undergraduate students, many of whom chose to attend Harvard because of its unique course registration process. But we should empathize with the graduate students and faculty for whom shopping week has been an anxiety-inducing stressor. We should listen to them when they tell us that course preview period is what works best for them.

As undergraduate students, we must remember that this community includes not only our peers in the classroom, but also the graduate students and professors who teach us. We affirm our support of the Editorial Board’s pro-labor stance when it comes to the systemic issues that Harvard’s graduate student body faces. We supported graduate students when they striked in 2019, and we opined in favor of the HGSU-UAW strike in 2021. Throughout our difficult conversations about the future of course registration, these are the voices we must amplify in order to reach a compromise that serves all those impacted.

We echo student concerns that course preview period, as it has stood for the past four semesters, has been a shoddy replacement for the free and informative exploration that shopping week offered. When professors take course preview period seriously — hosting Zoom Q&As, posting robust Canvas sites, and sharing exemplary course materials — a post-shopping week Harvard comes into view, one that retains its academic flexibility and informed course selection. Some professors, however, have not taken such a robust approach to course preview period, offering no opportunities for engagement beyond posting their syllabi. If course preview period is to succeed in replacing rather than merely displacing shopping week, the administration must require a certain level of honesty in professors’ pre-term engagement.

It’s clear there are many reasons for undergraduates to love and miss shopping week, but this love doesn’t take into account the burden placed on others. There is no reason why course preview period can’t effectively replace shopping week, especially during the pandemic but even beyond it. Doing so will simply demand a greater measure of empathy and respect for our fellow undergraduates, faculty members, graduate students, and one another.

Noah B. Kassis ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Straus Hall. Treasure N. Oji ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in The Inn. Grant B. Williams ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in The Prescotts. Ricards Umbrasko ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Canaday Hall. Christina M. Xiao ’24, an Associate Editorial Editor, is a joint concentrator in Computer Science and Government in Eliot House. Ivor K. Zimmerman ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Classics concentrator in Kirkland House.

Dissenting Opinions: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.

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