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Every House Should Be a Home

By The Crimson Editorial Board

So, you’ve been Quadded — and remain unimpressed, despite their cute ‘pfishbowls,’ or perhaps because you realized it’s not actually quite as close as Mather House. Luckily, you can simply transfer houses and pray that the river gods look favorably upon you this time — just kidding. The interhouse transfer process is notoriously opaque and temperamental, with the College providing very little specific or quantified information on the number, direction, or cause of transfers. Not to mention, by applying for a transfer, students jeopardize at least a year’s worth of social connections and relationships.

Given these difficulties, why do our peers continue apply for transfers — and in even larger numbers than before?

The truth, in our view, is that where you live matters. Houses and their immediate surroundings do not simply exist for aesthetic reasons (no, not even Eliot). They overwhelmingly shape our experiences and relationships during our last three years at Harvard — which is why we insist that every student deserves to find a home in their House.

On the surface, traditions like Housing Day are meant to foster a sense of community and House pride. Waking up at the crack of dawn to paint our faces, putting on ridiculous House mascot costumes that we’re honestly not sure have ever been washed, and marching into the Yard with homemade posters as tourists in Harvard Square stare on — all to boost House spirit and morale.

What rarely makes the front page, though, are the genuine fears and occasional loud sobs that erupt in first-year dorms when freshmen are placed into a House that they can’t envision as their home. These students are essentially left out of something special after receiving news that could dictate a significant portion of their undergraduate experience.

For many students who live in the Quad, their Housing Days were plagued with discussions of dreaded stereotypes, their introduction to their house tainted by stress — even if they themselves, like many Quadlings, would eventually grow to love the commuter’s life. Indeed, while the University keeps a tight grip on official transfer statistics, anecdotal accounts suggest that more Quadlings seeming willing to subject themselves to the emotional turmoil of this opaque process each year. Quad housing, for whatever reason, is not seen as equal by significant fraction of our peers.

To be clear, we know well that all 12 Houses are capable of being loved. For many, if not most, Quadded students, their House does become a deeply-cherished home, one they will defend to any and all detractors. But that’s not a reason to ignore the clear need for a morale boost suggested by the growing transfer numbers. They make it imperative that Harvard direct resources towards making material improvements to the Quad that can help Quadlings learn to love their Houses.

These investments should seek to improve all of the various aspects of House life that contribute to a student’s sense of House pride. That might entail expediting renovations through the House renewal program in Quad houses, giving greater funding for social events through House Committees, improving service from the Quad shuttle system, and even building on the small, thoughtful gestures like dining-hall ice cream sundae bars that make Houses feel special.

So long as different houses are deemed unequal, the option of transferring remains an important outlet for student dissatisfactions that must therefore be open, accessible, transparent, and fair. At the very least, Housing Administrators should be more transparent about the number of openings in each House, so that students can rank their options accordingly and thereby maximize their odds of a successful transfer.

Most importantly, we believe that the interhouse transfer process should not remain “impartial” — that all transfer requests are not created equal and should not be treated as such. For some, an interhouse transfer is a matter of safety — an incredibly high-stakes decision brought on by Title IX issues, accessibility concerns, or interpersonal issues like discriminatory or bigoted behavior. For others, it is about avoiding the inconvenience of waking up extra early to commute to a 9 a.m. lecture, a genuine but assuredly less severe issue.

In recognition of this hierarchy of complaints, the College should create an option on the standard transfer application for students to list compelling issues with greater detail and subsequently prioritize them in making decisions on who will be allowed to transfer. This adjustment seems to us particularly important in light of Harvard’s own recognition that many barriers and deterrents discourage students from bringing forward formal complaints against the conduct of other students. Given these issues, it is urgent and necessary for the College to at least protect these students by prioritizing their transfer applications while working to improve the status quo of silence and inaction. After all, how can interhouse transfer effectively resolve student dissatisfaction with their Houses when it has not even begun to address concerns of student safety and well-being?

Ultimately, we maintain that all Houses, Quad or river, can be lovely homes. We also know that sometimes, things just don’t work out. That’s okay — but only as long as the College fulfills its obligations to support unsatisfied students through housing improvements and a better transfer system.

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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