While participating in the Summer Research Opportunities at Harvard program this summer, 22 undergraduate students from outside institutions discovered that Boston, the consummate wintry city, is getting hot.
This past summer was one of Boston’s hottest on record, and our guests felt it. Sweltering heat drove some SROH participants to sleep in labs or common spaces instead of their own beds. When mentors requested portable air conditioning to help with the heat, students received only box fans after nearly a week’s delay.
The heat became dangerous on a bus trip to a late-July conference in Hartford, Conn. Over the course of the trip, a series of administrative missteps forced students to change buses twice, including to a vehicle without AC or openable windows. One student suffered heat stroke that ended in hospitalization. Participants described the trip as chaotic and “actively unsafe.”
The prolonged, dangerous heat faced by the SROH participants was egregious and clearly unacceptable. Simple communication and low-effort, proactive interventions could have easily averted these crises. Harvard failed spectacularly to put its best foot forward as a host to visiting students — guests of our institution.
To the Editorial Board, the SROH participants’ summer nightmare furnishes a strong argument for providing us with AC. We disagree.
Harvard undergraduates do not suffer extreme heat to an extent remotely comparable to those who participated in SROH. This summer’s SROH students were on campus from June to August, the peak of Cambridge’s heat. Undergraduate students at Harvard, by contrast, generally move in during late August, experiencing a month-by-month slide into the characteristic chills of Cantabrigian winter. To equate the highly unpleasant and sometimes-dangerous conditions suffered for months by our summer visitors with the brief, moderate discomfort of a Massachusetts summer’s dying days is to make a wildfire out of a candle’s flame.
Last semester, after a certain interloping YouTuber disrupted an LS1B lecture, the Editorial Board wrote, jokingly, that “We came to Harvard hoping to be walled off from the world, the vagaries of day-to-day life dashed against the wrought-iron gates of Harvard Yard. Instead, we were inconvenienced.”
With today’s editorial, the Board seems to have missed the punchline. As a long, important train of our precedents emphasizes, student well-being matters deeply and merits firm institutional support across a host of issues far more serious than a few sweltering evenings. But Harvard neither can nor should be a palace. Manageable, non-life-threatening adversity is an entirely reasonable burden to expect us to bear.
Most of our lives will be spent beyond Cambridge, without the protection of a multi-billion-dollar behemoth squelching our every discomfort like an impudent bug. With that in mind, we would venture to say that managing the annoyance of a few weeks of mild heat can even be educational. Able-bodied Harvard students can learn to “brave” the mild heat of late August and early September by cracking open a window, plugging in a fan, chugging some water, or daring to sleep above the covers — simple remedies for this minor inconvenience.
On a more serious note, we recognize that heat is a more serious problem for some, and we believe that anyone who requires an accessibility accommodation to combat the heat should get one. As we have discussed previously, Harvard’s Disability Access Office (formerly known as the Accessible Education Office) lacks the resources to alleviate the difficulties faced by students. This ineffectiveness is disappointing and has long demanded remedy, but we can do better in addressing case-by-case issues without retrofitting every dorm room on campus with AC.
Ironically, that retrofitting would exacerbate the global warming driving Boston’s record temperatures in the first place. Simply put, AC is a climate catastrophe, both in terms of energy use and of the refrigerants it needs to function. Rich though it may be, Harvard runs into important tradeoffs when it makes decisions on spending. Rather than wasting time and money slapping climate-killing AC units onto our dorm, Harvard should invest in the kind of ambitious climate research and mitigation that Boston desperately needs.
A few weeks of restless nights and sweat-stained days has the power to preserve our community’s natural environment for generations to come. To achieve this, we can take the heat.
Tommy Barone ’25, an Associate Editorial Editor, lives in Currier House. Noah E. Siraj ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Mathematics concentrator in Lowell House. Libby E. Tseng ’24, a Crimson Editorial Comp Director, is an Integrative Biology concentrator in Pforzheimer House. Christina M. Xiao ’24, an Associate Editorial Editor, is a joint concentrator in Computer Science and Government in Eliot House. Ivor K. Zimmerman ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Classics concentrator in Kirkland House.
Dissenting Opinions: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.
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