Harvard debates Yale model for housing

Despite recent discussion at Harvard about making its residential system more like Yale’s, the university does not have any immediate changes planned, students and administrators said.

“There is no plan in place at all [to switch to a system like Yale’s],” Harvard spokesman Robert Mitchell said.

Harvard President Larry Summers touched off a debate last month when he suggested following Yale’s residential college system as a possible solution to complaints about the university’s social life. Harvard and Yale both have similar systems, with Harvard students living in residential houses akin to Yale’s colleges. But at Harvard, freshmen do not belong to any specific houses until the end of their first year.

In response to a student’s question about improving social life at Harvard, Summers suggested possibly assigning freshmen to houses before they arrive on campus, as Yale does. He made his remarks at a Harvard Undergraduate Council meeting earlier this month.

Students like Harvard junior Noah McCormack said word of possible changes has been circulating around Harvard dining halls.

Like Yale, Harvard has 12 houses for upperclassmen. Once students are assigned to a particular dorm, they are affiliated with that community for their entire undergraduate experience unless they elect to transfer to another house.

But unlike Yale, Harvard freshmen must go through a special housing lottery at the end of the year to determine what houses they join. To do so, students enter a “blocking” process to ensure they will live with a group of friends. Blocking groups consist of up to eight students and are assigned randomly to a house.

Harvard junior Judd Kessler said currently Harvard students must make two major transitions — one to college itself, and later, one to their houses.

He said the second transition, accompanied by the blocking process, is a source of stress for many freshmen.

“There’s always the worry freshman year about blocking,” he said.

Kessler said he is in favor of switching to a system like Yale’s.

“I think it would [integrate] freshmen into the the undergraduate community more fully,” Kessler said.

McCormack, who did not attend Harvard during his freshman year, said he is against changing Harvard’s system.

“I personally think it’s a bad idea,” he said.

McCormack said associating freshmen with a particular house would put “limitations on who you get to know.”

Concerns about freshmen social life were valid, McCormack said, but students can always find a party going on somewhere.

Jim Ware, co-master of Harvard’s Cabot House and a 1963 Yale graduate, said each school’s system has its own virtues.

Ware said he likes Harvard’s system of freshmen living together before being split between different houses.

“There’s something good about feeling like part of your class,” Ware said.

On the other hand, Ware said he sees plenty of freshmen searching for a place to party.

“Freshmen do seem like their social life could be improved,” he said. One way to do that is to affiliate them with houses, Ware said.

Yale Dean Richard Brodhead said he prefers Yale’s system because freshman are able to interact with other freshmen while still belonging to a college.

“Our system is way better [than Harvard’s],” Brodhead said.

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