CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — I woke up last Saturday on the floor of a cold, dusty apartment. Through the paper-thin walls, I could hear the morning conversation of two men next door.
“Did you go see Nancy Pelosi yesterday?”
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“No — why was she on campus?” I replied, half asleep and wholly confused by the presence of the voice seemingly above my head.
The conversation fell silent.
“Why can’t we have a little privacy in our bedroom?” a response finally came, 30 seconds later.
The answer to that, dear faceless friend, is simple: You go to Harvard. And Harvard is preparing you for your future.
What exactly does that mean?
In this case, Harvard seems to be grooming its students for public life by eliminating the notion that privacy is a basic human necessity.
This particular dorm room, in Leverett House’s McKinlock Hall, is known for its history — evidenced by the charmingly weathered façade of the structure and its quaintly cracked sinks inside suites’ bathrooms. And throughout its 85-year history, the Hall has indeed been a springboard for many public figures, including Yo-Yo Ma and Aga Khan IV. So maybe a little conversational intrusion isn’t all that terrible?
Too bad that’s not the suite’s only problem.
As my vision began to focus, I noticed something peculiar along the ceiling: cracks, and lots of them. The room’s ceiling was scored with small chips of peeling paint and cracks in plaster that made a scary pattern of thunder-like lines above my head. Looking to the sides of the room, I noticed a similar predicament along the walls of the room. The windowsills, the doors, even the electrical outlet plates, were cracked and peeling, screaming for a heavy-duty renovation.
What lesson is Harvard trying to teach its students by housing them in these conditions? Why has the paint not been retouched and the sink reattached?
According to the Leverett House Web site, the dormitory was renovated in 1983, so maybe Harvard is waiting for a few more cracks to appear in the ceiling before taking to the matter. Although, another popular answer is that Harvard has a lot more on its plate than just a few plaster problems.
“Maybe it’s that Harvard doesn’t really care about its undergraduates,” Betsy Cowell ’12 said.
The cheap metal bunk bed in the room, the linoleum tiling on the floors of the corridors and the difficulty of working with a bathroom door that won’t lock certainly do resemble the struggles of living in a low-rent New York City apartment. And perhaps therein lies the most logical rationale for why the most affluent university in the world doesn’t allow its students to live in standards comparable to those of other institutions: Harvard is readying its students for their first few difficult years out of college.
Before I continue, I should mention, I don’t completely understand how Harvard’s housing system works. Regardless, I’ve slept in four dormitories, visited a dozen others and looked at, like, all of them. So I like to think of myself as a kind of Harvard dorm connoisseur with enough authority to judge Harvard’s housing system. And while I appreciate these lessons Harvard teaches its students, I did come across a few items that need revision.
First, I hope Harvard realizes that the egregious patterns on Canaday’s carpets no longer hide the stains of your messy, clumsy students. (For those fortunate enough not to know the building, Canaday is a freshman dormitory on Harvard’s Elm Yard.)
Second, can you please remove the tacky paintings from the stairway of Adams House’s Claverly Hall? Are they supposed to be modern Roman second style? Also, why are there so many American flags in these paintings? As an objective Canadian, I’d like you to know that it’s a little weird.
Third, I get that you’re going for this red brick look, but it’s not working. Understand that I say this with kind intentions, but it mostly looks dirty and ratty.
This list could continue indefinitely, but it’s beginning to depress me. And I don’t like to think about cracked ceilings for prolonged periods of time. So the conclusion: Harvard dorms are generally unpleasant, but Harvard is probably a well-intentioned institution.
Okay, now I’m going to take a nap in my cavernous single nestled along what Robert Frost called “the most beautiful courtyard in America.” Thanks, bye.
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