A Harvard subcommittee within the universitywide Inclusion and Belonging Task Force is soliciting feedback from the Harvard College community on a spring 2017 proposal to transform the current campus housing model to resemble Yale’s residential college system.
Currently, all Harvard freshmen are randomly assigned to dorms in Harvard Yard upon arrival. During their spring semesters, freshmen form one- to eight-person groups called “blocks,” which are then assigned to one of 12 residential houses, which are similar to Yale’s residential colleges in both size and facilities. Harvard freshmen find out into which house their block has been placed on Housing Day, traditionally the last Thursday before spring break. Under the new proposal, however, freshmen would be assigned directly into one of the houses.
According to a Feb. 14 Crimson article, the proposal is still in an “exploratory stage” and is under the direction of a residential subcommittee of a Harvard inclusion group that recently collected student opinions at two town hall meetings.
Harvard alumnus Brooks Lambert-Sluder, who works at the college’s Advising Programs Office and also directs the Peer Advising Fellow Program in charge of the potential change, told The Crimson that the proposal to change the housing system is “so preliminary that there’s not even a recommendation — this is well before any recommendation stage.”
Several times during the last 15 years, Harvard administrators have considered changing to the preassigned college system that both Yale and Princeton have followed for nearly a century. Harvard has “alternated between directly advocating the switch, opposing any change and remaining undecided on the matter,” The Crimson reported last year.
William Corbett, a Harvard graduate whose former girlfriend attended Yale, told The Crimson in May 2016 that he was surprised by Yale upperclassmen’s enthusiastic response to incoming freshmen in their residential colleges on Yale’s move-in day each August.
“I remember being like ,‘Oh my God, this is so welcoming,’” Corbett said. “[At Harvard,] you have these little clusters that are the blocking groups and nodes that are the people and it’s much sparser, whereas at Yale it’s like the house is much more integrated.”
Those in favor of Harvard’s current model have argued that the “blocking” process gives students greater flexibility in choosing sophomore roommates, and others have praised the traditional celebrations held by each Harvard house on Housing Day each spring, which include house chants and waving house flags.
Harvard sophomore Maciek Holubiec told the News that he enjoyed the blocking system because it gave him an opportunity to expand his friend group and offered him more time to plan his housing for the rest of his time at Harvard.
However, Harvard freshman Genevieve Hu said blocking can be stressful for some due to the eight-person limit, as freshmen worry about creating tensions within their friend groups due to the selectivity of the blocking process. Still, Hu said she appreciates that Harvard allows students the freedom to form blocks, which ensures that groups get along.
At Yale, students interviewed spoke favorably of preassigning residential colleges. Morse student Tyler Meli ’20 said the residential college system gives students a localized community within the broader University.
“I find that students form stronger connections with their peers in their respective residential colleges,” Meli said. “I have a close friend group that I will be living with in my sophomore year, but I am also very close with many other people in Morse.”
Sami Ahmed LAW ’17, a Morse College graduate affiliate, said he thinks the strong affiliation students feel to their colleges is a unique element of Yale College. He added that the residential college pride among his undergraduate friends in Morse is much stronger than the attachment his Harvard friends — who he said often switch houses — feel for their residences.
Serena Lau ’17, a freshman counselor, emphasized that the Yale College system allows freshmen to instantly form connections and friendships within their class, with upperclassmen and with the college staff and fellows.
“The residential college is a place you can always return to and count on seeing a familiar face, which makes being in a class of over 1,000 people much less intimidating and anonymous,” Lau said.
Harvard’s Housing Day falls on March 9 this year.