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Harvard Charges Student Groups Up to Thousands for Commencement Housing, Sparking Outcry

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Harvard is set to charge student groups requesting Commencement housing from Harvard up to thousands of dollars in a marked shift from previous policy, which allowed student groups to stay for free.

In an email to student groups on Thursday evening, Harvard informed student group leaders they would have to pay $45 per night for each student in an effort to provide students with meal plans. The surprise fee’s announcement comes just four days ahead of the May 1 deadline to apply for extended stay housing.

The College had preapproved 23 organizations — including The Crimson — for extended stay housing, according to a list obtained by The Crimson. Not every preapproved organization will have to pay the fees, such as the Harvard Din and Tonics, which did not request Commencement housing.

The Harvard Opportunes, which hosts a yearly “graduate jam” performance alongside other a capella groups to honor their senior members, faces “a real possibility” of having to cancel it, according to its president Abby A. Obeng-Marnu ’23.

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This situation “was definitely something that none of us were expecting,” Obeng-Marnu said. “It’s definitely frustrating because this is a tradition that’s important to all of us.”

“It’s pretty bold to ask undergraduates to pay hundreds of dollars to stay at the College for an extra couple of days,” Harvard LowKeys President Emily Hansen ’25 said, confirming that canceling the graduate jam is being considered. “It’s an unreasonable expectation.”

Hansen said the LowKeys would have to pay $500 for each of its 13 non-senior members for an estimated cost of $6,500. The Harvard Callbacks, another a capella group, would have to pay about $4,860 while the Opportunes would be charged roughly $5,000, student leaders said.

College spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo wrote in an emailed statement that the decision to charge for extended stay housing was made in part due to student equity concerns.

“We have taken this action based on feedback from previous years where we have heard directly from students that the lack of access to food was a challenge during extended stay periods,” Palumbo wrote.

“We have worked with our partners across campus to provide a full meal plan for each student’s entire stay. Students can apply for support to cover their costs or work with their on-campus sponsor to address the fee,” he added.

According to Obeng-Marnu and Hansen, the a capella groups had reached out to the College a month in advance to coordinate housing, receiving little response.

Oliver B. Hirshland ’24, president of the Crimson Key Society, said that he “wasn’t surprised,” because had heard that student groups may have to pay for their stay on campus from the Harvard Commencement Office. The Commencement Office and the Crimson Key Society work closely together in preparation for the ceremony, according to Hirshland.

“It definitely just means that we’re gonna have a lot of volunteers that were planning on being able to join us that are just not able to join us,” Hirshland said. “It just might make the whole process a little bit more difficult with more limited numbers.”

“It’s unfortunate that it’s seeming like being able to help volunteer for Commencement is going to end up being something that only people without certain financial barriers would be able to do,” he added.

Julian A. Wagner-Carena ’24, the president of a capella group the Harvard Callbacks, said that while the College pointed to reasons of equity for the fee, he thought it was “incredibly ironic.”

“You’re forcing every single person in this group to pay,” he said. “The College is expecting essentially that all these groups can afford this, which is ridiculous. That’s not equitable.”

Palumbo, the College spokesperson, declined to comment on specific student criticisms.

Four of the a cappella groups — the Callbacks, LowLeys, Veritones, and Opportunes — wrote a joint email to the College, according to Wagner-Carena, though he said he is not optimistic about an arrangement.

“Honestly, I’m pretty pessimistic. The College is very unlikely to change their stance,” Wagner-Carena said.

Kelsey Wu ’24, the president of the Harvard-Radcliffe Veritones, wrote in an email to The Crimson that she has followed up with officials to come to a solution.

“If not, we’ll have to use our (limited) finances to figure out housing, since we do really want to honor our seniors!” she wrote.

Hirshland said that due to the collaboration between the Commencement Office and the Crimson Key Society, the organization may not have to pay all the required fees themselves.

“They said they were willing to actually give us some money to try to help support the difference in housing and food and stuff like that,” he said. “It’s just that we really are lucky to have a connection with the Commencement Office specifically.”

Obeng-Marnu said that she is open to discussing the situation with the College to come to a solution.

“I really want to make this work,” she said.

Wagner-Carena took a dimmer view of possible arrangements with the College.

“I’ve been here for nearly four years now, and very few times has Harvard showed me that they listened to complaints from students,” he said.

Correction: May 10, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that May 1 was the payment deadline for extended stay housing. In fact, May 1 was the application deadline.

—Staff writer Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen can be reached at ryan.doannguyen@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryandoannguyen.

—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at rahem.hamid@thecrimson.com.

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