Shopping Week: Activities Fair

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A friendly bazaar.

Photo by Meghan Brooks '14
Photo by Meghan Brooks ’14

Friday afternoon, hundreds of undergraduates streamed into the Quad. Mostly freshmen and upperclassmen student organization leaders, they came by shuttle, bike, and on foot to the annual Activities Fair, an event organized by the College’s Office of Student Life. Designed to expose freshmen in particular to the 538 listed co-curricular and extracurricular activities that student and university organizations offer, the Activities Fair was bazaar-like — alive with the excitement and confusion of student leaders shoving candy and flyers into small groups of freshmen already weighed down with neon papers and logo- stamped Frisbees.

The Office of Student Life, in its attempt to add structure to the fair, had organized the student groups along lengthy rows of eight-by-two foot tables according to type. With “cultural and racial initiatives,” peer counseling, and “college life” organizations occupying the space in the plaza in front of the SOCH (Student Organization Center at Hilles) and employment opportunities its interior courtyard, the expansive Quad lawn was given over to everything else. Publications (including your beloved Harvard Independent) and political, governmental, and religious/spiritual organizations watched over the end of the field while the performing arts and athletic teams flanked everything public service, BGLT, pre- professional, and “other.” Each organization, regardless of its self-importance, was allotted one half of a table, often leading to organizational pairings both humorous and uncomfortable, the best of these being that the Anscombe Society was situated next to GLOW (Gay, Lesbian, or Whatever).

Despite inevitable jockeying for space during set-up, by the time freshmen arrived, fully veiled beekeepers kept company with crowned and caped Shakespeareans. Members of the women’s rugby team played catch in front of sailors, and a student in a Pikachu costume offered free hugs while members of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals whizzed by on roller skates (in drag, of course). Most organizations stocked their booths with candy, but some raised the stakes – StressBusters stayed true to their mission with free massages, while the Harvard Radcliffe Christian Fellowship gave away mesh bags filled with goodies, and CityStep handed out cake. The efficacy of such tactics in attracting compers has not been tested, but the StressBusters massage chairs were occupied throughout the afternoon.

For many student organizations, the fall Activities Fair seems to be the most important recruitment opportunity of the year. An attractive presence at the Fair might draw more attendance at introductory meetings, and there is undoubtedly a certain satisfaction in watching freshman sign one’s own email list over a competitor’s. Yet, it is uncertain how influential the Fair actually is for freshmen beginning to build their extracurricular lives at Harvard.

Maureen Ball ’17 had just arrived at the Quad lawn when she stopped to speak with the Independent. She was unsure exactly how she would approach the Fair: “I’m currently here just to look around and see what’s offered,” she said. “The massive list [of student organizations] on the [Office of Student Life] website is a little daunting to go through.” At the same time, however, she had already compiled a short list of activities to consider, none of which she had participated in during high school —Harvard Model United Nations, the debate team, and ballroom dance.

Meanwhile, Daniel, a member of the Class of 2017 who requested that his last name be redacted for privacy reasons, was less specific in interests. When asked why he had come to the Fair he replied, “It was there, and I might want to do some activities.” Like Ball, he was interested in exploring extracurriculars beyond those he had enjoyed in high school. “[My
Peer Advising Fellow (PAF)] says I should branch out,” he said. “I guess I’ll do whatever looks interesting…whatever strikes my fancy.”

Daniel’s willingness to explore the Activities Fair with an open mind mirrored the mindset of most freshmen attending the Fair. The Office of Student Life included a guide to the Fair on its event webpage, which suggested that students arrive with organizations of potential interest pre-identified, use the time to visit them, and then browse. Yet, not every freshman was in the Quad to compare Women in Business and the Canada Club. Matthew Casso ’17 made the mistake of asking the Independent directions to Cabot dining hall. When pressed for his opinion of the event he admitted, “I didn’t really attend this, I actually just came to the Quad to meet with my PAF.” Casso didn’t seem concerned that he was missing the Fair, however, explaining, “I’m going to talk to friends and see what they’re involved in, then piggyback.”
Casso was not the only Harvard student to miss the Activities Fair. Scheduled for the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the Fair may have been considered off- limits by certain observant students, as refraining from work is an important component of the holiday. In the spirit of the holiday, University Dining Services (HUDS) provided traditional apples and honey along with small pieces of challah on a table behind the “Taste of Boston” buffet. For certain vegetarians and vegans in the crowd, this table was a welcome addition to the meat and dairy-heavy spread. The familiar station-based meal of New England favorites and pan-Asian and Italian foods seemed to go over well, however, and as Dorm Crew’s ALPO (All Powers) began to clear trash and tables as evening fell, students lingered, enjoying the early fall air and each other’s company.

Meghan Brooks ’14 ([email protected]) hopes all freshmen stopped by the Harvard Independent, where a cool and groovy time is always guaranteed.