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Harvard’s housing system is one enshrouded in tradition: Thousands of students lived in the Houses we now call home before we — or our parents — were even born. The University took preliminary steps to establish the housing system in 1930 with funding from Edward Harkness, who was actually a Yale alumnus, starting a tradition that would exist through the present day. Harvard currently has twelve upperclassmen Houses — nine near the Charles River and three in the Radcliffe Quadrangle, which used to be occupied by Radcliffe’s female students — with these Houses being microcosms of community on campus.
House life can end up defining one’s experience at Harvard. From House-specific traditions and events to simply just eating in your House’s dining hall daily, Houses are a stronghold for community on campus. More specifically, Houses offer connection: They allow students to meet more people than they may have during their first year and widen their perspectives to students from different backgrounds and experiences. What is uniquely special about House life at Harvard, though, is that House communities exist for students to be present as much as they would like to be — just showing up is enough to be involved in a House community.
In a campus that often feels isolated, particularly for many freshmen, House communities build strong friendships and act as a foundation of support for students. From House tutors to faculty deans, the housing system provides students with the ability to lean on mentors and advisors before they permanently depart for the real world.
As a now-sophomore who spent the entirety of my first year Zooming in to all of my classes from various dorms in Harvard Yard, the isolation of my first year due to both the Covid-19 pandemic and the transition to Harvard are sharply contrasted by the immense inclusion and community of my upperclassman House, Quincy. From near-constant events to House Committee meetings to Festas, Quincy has fully involved me within the House and has shown me that the apprehension of your first year here doesn’t have to last. All of Harvard’s Houses, like Quincy, show this warmth to their students in juxtaposition to the harsh Boston winters, making students feel truly at home although they may actually be thousands of miles away.
Harvard is an old school. You live in your House for three years, and in doing so, you are now a piece of Harvard history yourself. After your time here, what are the memories and experiences that will stick with you? What will you look back fondly on? As Julia Casas ’24, a resident of Mather House, said, “I think, honestly, the best memories I’ve made this semester — or most of them — have been with my House.” In terms of how she’ll remember House life even after graduation, Casas elaborated, “I feel like it’ll definitely be a big part of what I remember most about my time at Harvard, and it is something I will look upon very fondly in the future, because the community is unparalleled.”
We are left with memories and feelings of how a place made us feel, how a certain time in our lives made us ache or rejoice. The Houses at Harvard are so instilled within our memories of this place — this old, enduring institution — as they touch us so deeply and for a long time. It is in this way that you find the true Harvard experience: strangers becoming friends, experiences later becoming memories, memories becoming nostalgia.
Although I am still a couple of years away from graduating, I often still find myself wondering what parts of Harvard I will take with me when I leave. Will I remember all of the precious moments in Quincy dining hall, quickly catching up with friends as we all rush to our next classes? Will I remember the specific way the Qube smelled, the cold Cambridge air coming through the windows, perfumed by the scent of old, well-loved books? How about the pleasant conversations with my faculty deans as they walk their dog? As I sat on the grass of Quincy Courtyard on one of the last warm days of fall, I couldn’t help but feel waves of nostalgia for things that I know I will miss in the future, grief for the memories still yet to come that I will inevitably forget as I grow older and time moves on.
To current students: Appreciate your House now. Go to events, integrate yourself in your wonderful House communities, make your Houses even better for current students and future ones. Put down the problem sets and essays for a few brief moments and listen to the waves of overlapping conversations in the dining hall, sit in your House common rooms for just a few minutes longer, soaking in the seconds that you will never be able to relive. Memories may become blurry, but the fondness you have for your House, the way you felt during your time there, will stay with you long after we cede our dorms to the next generation of Harvard College undergraduates.
Shanivi Srikonda ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Quincy House. Her column “Nooks and Crannies” appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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