Back to the Grind



My gripes with Harvard’s shopping week.

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Move-in days can be stressful. Hundreds of students are carrying bags, boxes, futons, sheets, clothes, and a number of other items this way and that, crashing into walls, trying to prop doors, and wallowing in sweat and exhaustion. When move-in ends, however, everything should be up from there. People have reunited with friends. Opening days (or rather nights), filled with the parties and stress-free activities that will be more difficult to find when midterms and papers are breathing down our necks. Yet one aspect of school, directly following opening days, does not invite such a carefree environment: Shopping Week.
In theory, this week is extraordinary. We have a week where classes are not supposed to matter quite as much. There is little if any homework. We can leave classes early and jump in and out of any subject that may peak our interests. While, in general, I love shopping week and all it entails, I do have some issues with it. Here are my three reasons to despise Harvard’s first week.

1) Stressful Lotteries
Lotteries make sense. Some classes are amazing but can only reach their potential if a small number of students are in them. Others are a great opportunity for many to slide by in a Gen Ed that in not their forte. In these cases, lotteries are entirely acceptable. The way Harvard does lotteries, however, is not conducive to an environment that is at all healthy for students. Some people do not find out about their lottery placement until the day before study cards are due, giving them almost no time to figure out a replacement class and get any signatures they may need. Other students — let’s say seniors who need to fulfill one last requirement, whether it be for their concentration or a Gen Ed — are placed in a situation that is difficult to maneuverer. When writing a thesis or working on a final project, it is understandable that seniors are looking for one or two easier classes to balance their load. But if they are kicked out of a class due to a lottery — a mechanism they have been told they will have preference in for the last three years — they must scramble to find a suitable substitute that fits in their schedule. (Related to this is Harvard’s decision to stop showing difficulty ratings on the Q, which is borderline asinine.)

2) Study Cards
Oh, study cards. These might have been useful back before the Internet and email or the Google machine (as I’m sure some of the administration refers to Google, based upon their understanding of technology). If someone, anyone at all, can give me a reasonable answer as to why we must run around collecting signatures on a piece of paper and turn it in by hand, I will be waiting in the Indy offices for them. This entire process could be done over the internet, making it easier for students, advisors, and professors everywhere. The idea that this chaos creates some sort of human connection is absurd, as I know nobody who has ever sat down with anyone for more than five minutes to get a study card signed. It simply becomes an inconvenience in everyone’s days. Furthermore, the lottery situation that I have already addressed makes this worse, especially when one is lotteried out of a class on the last day before shopping week ends.

3) Homework and Catching Up
My final issue is much more situational than the prior two. I have been in plenty of classes that never assign written homework or even reading the first week of school. But I have also been in classes that assign some work and plenty of reading, entire books even, due by the second week of class. If someone joins a class at the end of shopping week, which happens to plenty of people all of the time, and they discover they have hundreds of pages to read already, high levels of stress will ensue.

Overall, I truly believe shopping week is a great part of Harvard’s system. To allow students a chance to get a sneak preview of the classes they will take that semester is a wonderful opportunity. I simply find these three aspects of the week to be highly questionable, especially since they induce so much stress. For a school to take care of its students, it must look to ensure the good mental health of these students. But with lotteries run the way they are, study cards taking time out of our days, and work being assigned before classes truly start, shopping week does not provide an ideal scenario.
Clearly, these issues are solvable. Lotteries could start and be decided earlier. Study cards could be done away with almost entirely. And professors could agree to put off homework bulk until week two, assigning only essential introductory material the first week, which a student could catch up with quickly. With these simple fixes, Harvard’s shopping week would lose almost all of it’s stress and become a week where students could enlighten themselves intellectually and prepare for the classes that are to come.

Sean Frazzette ’16 ([email protected]) just wants to make everyone’s life easier.