…and other challenges presented at the Student Leaders Forum.
At the beginning of term, student leaders of all recognized undergraduate organizations received multiple emails from soch (at) fas.harvard.edu regarding an upcoming Student Leaders Forum. It was made quite explicit in these emails that in order to receive funding, renew office or locker space, and register this year, each organization must send one representative to the Forum. This condition was stated before the allotted time of this Forum – which was 3 hours – on last Thursday and Monday nights.
Therefore, when the kids who drew the short straws (myself among them) finally dragged their feet over to the Quad, the Student Leaders Forum began. Dean Khurana was introduced and began his keynote speech. His tried and true address on the sacrifices Harvard has made for this country (second only to the two oldest military academies in America) seemed to loosely fit the occasion. And when embittered laughter followed his joking evasion of a question regarding social change and social space, we moved on.
The other speakers included the new Dean of Students Katie O’Dair, Associate Dean of Student Life David Friedrich, and the new Assistant Dean of Student Life Alex Miller. Both O’Dair and Miller commented on the barriers to entry into student organizations on campus. They implored the student leaders present to be “socially responsible” leaders. The emphasis seemed to lie on the plea to upperclassmen to make underclassmen feel welcome.
And then, it was time for the student leaders to converse. Broken into groups led by facilitators, it was the chance for us to discuss, vent, collaborate, and reflect. This portion of the evening was not only much more indicative of student organizations’ current concerns, but it allowed leaders of these organizations to find comfort in the fact that their peers also struggle with comp cuts and retention rates.
Junior Berkeley Brown facilitated group discussions in both sessions of the Leaders Forum. Brown worked to make the conversation flow organically and to provide and open channel of communication between students of every kind of club. Brown also felt the “discontented vibe” of the students present and could, as a student leader herself, relate. Brown proposed that though the social changes and required meetings such as these are met with aversion and eye-rolls, they at least lead students to “think critically about their organizations” and to “rethink what it means to be a leader and run an inclusive organization.” The discussion in our own session did pose such questions as those.
What was most surprising to me and pleasing to Brown was the “collaborative aspect of problem solving.” The groups were composed of a mix of upper- and underclassmen. An example of this collaboration occurred when the underclassman leader of a relatively new student organization posed a question regarding funding, and an upperclassman student answered willingly – even offering her email address to contact her as a resource in the future.
As a PAF and OSL intern, Brown agreed to taking on the role of the facilitator in the hopes that the Forum would “get concerns out in the open.” The discussion sessions
certainly did that: in a moment of unity through complaining, our group bemoaned the tricky manipulation of institutional memory of the undergraduates. Whether discussion or bonding or brainwashing was the administration’s goal for the Forum is unclear.
What is clear, and what needs to be reiterated, is that Harvard students’ greatest resources are each other. There are so many Harvard-unique experiences that we all share, and they help us to understand each other in this time of great “social change” at the College. The OSL is taking steps to assist and get to know the student body, and the student body – made of leaders, facilitators, and peers of all sorts – needs to know itself.
One thing we seem to know quite well is how to pronounce the name of a certain concrete structure on the outskirts of campus. The student leaders present expressed surprise in unison at the concluding announcement that the SOCH –acronym for the Student Organization Center at Hilles – is pronounced “SOCK.” Interesting.
Caroline Cronin (firstname.lastname@example.org) thanks the OSL for the chance to meet with leaders of every variety and address challenges facing the student body.