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Housing Day Midterms and the Culture of Non-Fun

Leverett students donned bunny ears and chanted in front of University Hall on Housing Day morning in 2022.
Leverett students donned bunny ears and chanted in front of University Hall on Housing Day morning in 2022. By Truong L. Nguyen
By Aden Barton, Lucas T. Gazianis, and Manuel A. Yepes, Crimson Opinion Writers
Aden Barton ’24, an Associate Editorial Editor, is an Economics concentrator in Eliot House. Lucas T. Gazianis ’24, an Associate Editorial Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Currier House. Manuel A. Yepes ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Cabot House.

Housing Day is a venerated tradition — and one that entails a really fun morning. That won’t be the case for two of us this year, as we’ll be in class, taking midterm exams at 10:30 a.m.

This isn’t the first time students’ academic commitments have prevented them from having fun. This type of conflict is sometimes unavoidable and, for the sake of our education, often a good thing.

But on Housing Day, such conflicts are decidedly avoidable — which day a midterm takes place is simply a matter of professor choice. Today, we urge our professors to think twice.

To be clear, we know that academics take priority over partying — our professors were likely thinking along those lines when they scheduled our tests. But at Harvard, with its near-constant slog, why must we sit for exams on one of the singularly most fun days of the year?

We don’t agree that any trade-off between academics and Housing Day must exist. Most classes meet twice a week for thirteen weeks. What in-class midterm couldn’t be moved to the class before, or the one before that, or even the Thursday after Spring Break? It’s hard to imagine how giving an exam on Tuesday and holding an ordinary lecture on Housing Day would seriously compromise the course’s academic continuity. And if tweaking the date of a midterm would amount to choosing fun over school, we’re hard-pressed to imagine how a professor could make any accommodations for their students without seemingly putting school second.

You may be wondering why we’re making such a stink out of an inconveniently scheduled test. “Stop whining!”

But that very attitude betrays a disconcerting willingness to allow treasured traditions to fall by the wayside in the name of academics. It brings us to the far deeper roots of our strong feelings against Housing Day midterms.

Fundamentally, Harvard’s students are fun, and its culture is not.

This isn’t a shocking revelation. It manifests itself nearly everywhere in student life — including at last fall’s Harvard-Yale Game, perhaps the only event to share Housing Day’s pomp, when the administration banned independent student tailgates under the guise of student safety, providing only a highly restrictive and, if we may say so, lame tailgating option. Various Houses also banned all dormitory parties for the duration of the weekend, making us wonder whether The Game was meant to be an intercollegiate book club.

Harvard students responded exactly how they should have: by gathering en masse for an unofficial tailgate, simultaneously highlighting the frivolousness of the administration’s safety rationale and our capacity to create fun.

We’ve framed this tailgate as a triumph of students over the administration, and it was. But we rarely see that side of Harvard — boisterous, spontaneous, joyful.

In many ways, Harvard-Yale was the exception that proves the rule. Much of the time, we students perpetuate Harvard’s culture of non-fun. We let it drape over us like an inescapable cloak and we accede to its norms as if we were powerless to create the culture we all want. The administration’s helicopter parenting and the inherited social ecosystem of Harvard mix with students' apathy to these circumstances to create a deadly cocktail.

We’ve heard alumni stories of past freshman pastimes, such as playing Donkey Kong by rolling empty kegs down the stairs of Weld Hall, that tell us there was a time before the culture of non-fun.

While it’s true that many of these traditions, likely including the above, have been lost due to legitimate safety concerns, we’re making a broader point. Who could imagine Harvard administrators allowing anything like that to happen today, or students even trying to engage in such spontaneous play? Since then, it seems like our imagination, our conception of fun, has narrowed. Our campus’ vitality has withered.

We’ve stopped seeing this kind of fun, the kind that doesn’t take place only on Friday and Saturday nights, as integral to the college experience. We’ve sacrificed the nonroutine, the momentary, the improvised types of fun, treating these experiences as an expendable part of our packed schedules. It feels like too much effort to go to the Beanpot championship game when you could be working on a problem set instead.

Professors didn’t create Harvard’s rigid culture, and they won’t save us from it by moving their midterms from Housing Day. But moving exams isn’t trivial; small acts are necessary to induce big changes. A similar effort is needed from all of us. We shouldn’t accept the Harvard that was handed down to us as if it were the way things have to be. We owe it to ourselves, and those who follow, to create the environment we want to live in — and finally destroy Harvard’s unfortunate culture of non-fun.

Aden Barton ’24, an Associate Editorial Editor, is an Economics concentrator in Eliot House. Lucas T. Gazianis ’24, an Associate Editorial Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Currier House. Manuel A. Yepes ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Cabot House.

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