Give Us Some Space

The administration should not punish student groups for their use of SOCH in its trial year

For all of their hyperactive energy, Harvard student groups are still victim to inertia—it’s not easy to teach an old club new tricks. So it should come as little surprise that one year after the administration’s transplanting of office space from Yard basements to the new Student Organization Center at Hilles (SOCH), the paradise of happy extracurricular group members commingling in a modern community has not yet materialized according to its planners’ hopes.

And yet, in its reallocation of space at SOCH for the upcoming year, the administration has apparently decided to lay the blame for the troubled transition at the feet of the very student groups that the center was designed to help. Several groups’ reapplications for space were denied because of low use patterns over the past year—but instead of giving the space to more deserving groups, the offices will go empty. This ill-advised decision to punish student groups assumes unfairly that a few months is enough time for organizations to adjust to a forced migration to a new location.

By choosing to locate the hub of student group space in the Quad, Harvard administrators should have realized that it would take time and persuasion for students to overcome the substantial psychological barriers to such a shift. Executed largely without input from the groups involved, the SOCH transition process was widely perceived by students as an act of administrative fiat.

That is not to say that there are no legitimate reasons to concentrate student space in a single location or benefits to the move. The new freshman social space in the Yard’s basements has been well received, and the College has provided a fine array of resources in SOCH to mitigate the shift from the river area.

But regardless of the facts of the situation, College administrators lost the war of public opinion before it even began. Promises of free trinkets could not overcome irate student groups that made it clear that they would do little to use space that might risk alienating their membership.

Time has borne out their convictions. Meetings in the Quad remain, with a few notable exceptions, largely fictitious, and the halls of SOCH are silent more often than not. What were designed to serve as thriving offices operate now mostly as half-furnished storage closets. The reservable meeting rooms demand no reservation, as they are perpetually empty.

And yet the student groups that have not yet embraced SOCH are being punished. This policy rests on the flawed assumption that an entire organization’s apparatus can be transplanted to the Quad over the course of a few months. Blaming groups for not using SOCH is counterproductive; student groups are not little children who should be chided and made to sit out an inning because they haven’t done what the administration wanted.

What’s more, some student leaders claim that they were promised by the administration that swipe access records would not be used to evaluate space reallocations. If such a promise was in fact broken, it should be honored. But regardless of what promises were made, swipe access records are not a fair barometer of use—propped-open doors, delays in granting access to new members, and other inconsistencies all counteract swipe frequency’s potential usefulness.

There will likely come a time when SOCH is an active student hub. This Sunday’s influx of prefrosh to SOCH’s activities fair indicates that students who never knew Yard basement offices might look more kindly upon the walk down Garden Street.

Once that time comes and demand for office space is high, then perhaps it will make sense for the administration to punish the groups that do not put their space to work. But for now, taking away offices despite their availability not only hurts student groups, but, more importantly, it undermines the transition that must be completed if SOCH is ever to be a success.