#TBT: ‘New Counseling Program Attempts to Reduce Alienation’ 


The Indy goes back to the 1970s to see the creation of a PAF-like program. This week, the Harvard Independent is bringing you an article from our September 17, 1973 issue on Harvard’s changing mental health services. 


Harvard students have become much more academically competitive in the last few years. Ordinarily, as pre-med and pre-law students vie for high grades and good recommendations one would expect increasing tension and fragmentation within the student body. Those expectations are in part coming true, but there are tentative signs that students are depressurizing the Harvard years through upperclass advisory programs.

All freshmen have advisers to aid them in understanding and dealing with Harvard. Advisers may be law or graduate students, administrators, professors, or the like, but they all are considerably older than freshmen. Some advisers establish close relationships with students, relationships that are of immeasurable importance. Yet many are unable to aid freshmen in certain respects.

Many feel freshmen should have more contact with upperclassmen both for informational purposes and as a means of easing the pressures and uncertainties of the freshman year.

A New Counseling Program

The Non-Residential Upperclass Adviser Freshman Counseling Program is an experimental program designed to assist freshmen who may not seek aid through other established channels. James Dern, Michael Fitts, and Stan Gacek set up the program that will run as a pilot program this year.

The Program brings 250 Harvard-Radcliffe freshmen chosen at random together with a like number of upperclass counselors. Each counselor is paired with one freshman of similar secondary school and geographic background. Hopefully, this arrangement will maximize understanding and compatibility.

Upperclass counselors have been given some guidelines within which to work. Choosing courses, possible rejections from houses, classes, or concentrations, Harvard institutions or organizations, exams, and many others should be discussed by the paired counselor and freshman.

With such an upperclass contact, it is hoped that freshmen will find Harvard a little less confusing and disheartening. The program will not in any way replace the regular adviser program, but will supplement it.

The program’s fate is very much in question. Initially, the Freshman Dean’s Office was skeptical of the program, feeling that upperclassmen had little to offer freshmen. After a good deal of effort and persuasion, the Dean’s office accepted the program.

Stan Gacek estimated that if the program were successful, most upperclass advisers would see their freshmen once every two weeks or so, obviously depending on the individuals. Both advisers and freshmen will have to put significant effort into the program for it to succeed. The upperclass advisers now living in the yard have never had much impact on freshmen, but those planning the new program have gone to great lengths to establish a strong system for aiding freshmen.

Looks like the FDO didn’t have to worry because Harvard currently has a full-fledged Peer Advising Fellow Program for freshmen—not to mention the other peer advising groups that are available for students on campus.