by TUSHAR DWIVEDI
The headlines for student organizations at Harvard have recently centered around key buzzwords such as sanctions or efficiency, with much debate revolving around the identity and purpose of such organizations.
Given recent controversies, when asked about “what they envisioned Harvard’s campus life to be like, given the latest news and coverage of the school,” one out-of-state respondent believed it to be a “highly political fighting ground between student desires and the whims of Harvard’s administration.” Those on campus, however have a completely different viewpoint.
One major campus organization leader, however, mentioned that: “Our club has a stated goal of helping educate students, and we have yet to vary from that goal. The perspective that all student organizations are a threat to Harvard’s mission are putting clubs like us under duress.” Lost amidst the recent conversation are bike auctions for charity, hosted by Harvard’s Phillips Brooks House Association, or recruiting events for students hosted by pre-professional clubs such as the Veritas Financial Group or Harvard Financial Analysts Club. While challenges to public perception may be one downside for many student organizations, the mumbled voices at the “Student Leader Forum,” seemed to oppose another key issue: office space.
In attendance at the SOCH on September 12th were over 100 student leaders and representatives from an incredibly diverse range of organizations on campus. Media and journal publications, pre-professional organizations, diversity and cultural groups, special interest and hobbies, and many more groups were represented, as administrate staff from the Office of Student-Engagement explained to students the major changes to student organization policy. While new guidelines, such as those regarding financing and expenses, were highly relevant, the most active engagement in the room became present once Dean Alex Miller began his speech regarding the reorganization of the SOCH.
Almost immediately, the atmosphere of the room changed to one of high interest and tension, as students eagerly awaited the explanation for the massive loss of office space suffered by a number of organizations on campus. Dean Miller first walked through the plans for the SOCH; given that student offices are being repurposed, the general idea, according to Miller, was that Harvard would now provide common spaces within the SOCH with enough technological equipment such that many clubs could share the space for diverse purposes, including printing. When questioned on the timeline of the creation of such spaces, as student organizations had already lost their office space in the SOCH, the Dean could not provide an exact timeline. In fact, as the question repeatedly came up, he emphasized that he had little to no information on a timeline.
The mood in the room changed from one of tension and interest, however, to one of absolute incredulity when Dean Miller mentioned that another key reason for the relocation of student spaces was that students were using the space as a social and/or drinking space. The thought that fellow students were partying or drinking within the SOCH seemed incredibly funny and peculiar to most students, as strange glances were exchanged across the room.
Usage statistics were also mentioned by administrative staff as a key metric for determining which organizations lost their space, and without going into detail, the staff mentioned that they had been counting the number of keypad entries, and at times, even watched the entrances to offices. Counterarguments quietly littered the room, as student leaders mentioned that they “went to meetings in groups and entered the code once,” explaining why they only had one keypad entry per week.
One student in particular asked about student organization involvement going forward, and plans to incorporate such voices in the discussion; while the Dean mentioned that communication with students would be key, there was no formal commitment to involving students in major discussions going forward, such as those involving issues with regards to space and student homes.
The Independent, in its own example, was given a space over 50% smaller than its previous space, and administrative staff was unable to guarantee that this space will continue to be theirs going into next semester even.
As one (anonymous) student puts it, “There are real issues here on campus. I came to Harvard because I want to make a difference in this world, and I’m in [redacted organization] because I get to start by making a difference in the lives of my friends. Strikes me as odd that the school that let me in here to try and change the world won’t even give me room to do it.”
Tushar Dwivedi ’20 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a concerned student organization leader.