BackgroundInterview Date:July 2018
Gender Identity: Female
Sexual Orientation: Straight
Graduation Year: 2019
High School Experience: Public school on Long Island with about 250 people in the graduating class. There was very much so a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: No
Concentration: Social Studies, it’s interdisciplinary so you can take classes within Government, History, Economics, Sociology, and Anthropology
Secondary Field: Not sure yet.
Extracurricular Activities: I write for The Crimson’s weekend magazine, the Fifteen Minutes. I am on the club swim team. I am a member of the Crimson Key Society, where we give tours to tourists of campus, so not prospective students, and we run a program for local public school students to come to campus and learn about college and the opportunities that college would offer them. We also do freshman orientation. I’m a member of a female Final Club. I work on a research team on campus that works through the Ethics Center, and I’ve been working with them on a project that is assessing ethics in education at Harvard, so looking at courses and understanding how and where ethics as a subject is being taught and how students are learning it.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
They all have had a big impact and I’m really passionate about all of them. If I had to pick one, I’d say my research has definitely given me a lot of skills. I’m working closely with a team and we all have a similar goal of getting good results. We’re very passionate about understanding ethics in society because it’s sort of controversial but extremely important to think about and talk about in a place like Harvard where we’re supposedly raising the next leaders of the world. It’s important to think about ethical decisions and dilemmas in whatever the students go off and do after college. I’ve really enjoyed the work that we’ve done in trying to figure that out and think about what that means.
I would also say the Crimson Key Society. Beyond being a service group, it’s been my network of closest friends. I made my best friends through that organization and it’s a really supportive community of people who are like minded in that it’s a lot of outspoken, passionate people.
How easy was it to get involved in your research?
It was pretty easy. I applied to stay on campus last summer, [you stay in] the Research Village, and you apply to work with a professor. There’s a batch of projects, I would say close to 50 different projects, that professors look for undergrads to help them on. From that, you apply to your top three choices that sound like they align best with your passions and goals. I applied to three, got the offer from my first choice, and worked with them over at the Ethics Center. Then, because it’s remote and the team isn’t based all based at Harvard, I was able to stay on the project throughout the year.
What is your weekly coursework for your concentration like?
It definitely leans more towards the readings. Sophomore year you take a tutorial that covers the basics of political and social theory, so what they deem as the most important in the world of political and social theory. Because we had to read through all that stuff sophomore year, it was definitely my most consuming course.
Is there anything that you feel your concentration’s department does especially well or especially poorly?
I think they do a really good job in creating the sort of excitement and drive in their students because they pride themselves on being interdisciplinary, which is cool for someone like me because I have no idea what I want to do postgrad. I had no idea of what I wanted to study in college and I saw how open Social Studies was to students interesting in doing research for the rest of their lives, but also students interested in consulting and finance and going into the government. I was really excited about that because I wanted to keep pushing off actually deciding and closing doors. I also think there’s something to be said of having an overall sense of history and how we got to this thing called democracy. I feel that it has made me a more critical and well-rounded person.
Can you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I would say I don’t necessarily feel very competitive with my peers at school. That’s super subjective and others might. I have the mindset where I am going to get as much out of college as I possibly can, but at the same time, if somebody’s doing something cool maybe I can find something similar. I don’t see it as much as competition, I see it more as an overwhelming amount of opportunities that Harvard offers and some people do a better job of taking advantage of them. [I don’t feel competition] in Social Studies as well, you raise your and hand say what you want to say and the teacher is receptive.
What has been your favorite class in your concentration?
Feminism and Pornography. It was a history class on what the feminist movement has thought of pornography. It uses archives from the Schlesinger Library, which is the Women’s library on campus, and we dug through archives of the Feminists of the ‘80s. That was the peak of it, it was called the Sex Wars and feminists were fighting back and forth on whether pornography was violence against women or was it empowering for women and could be considered something that helped them escape the patriarchy. That class ended up what I’m going to end up writing my thesis about.
What has been your least favorite class in your concentration?
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
I lived in Leverett House. How it works is freshman year you get random roommates and you move in the Yard, which is kind of the center of campus. Then halfway through freshman year, you go through the housing lottery with a group of students in a blocking group or by yourself, and you’re guaranteed to have the same housing as the people in your blocking group. I went into that system with a few of my friends from New York City and we all got assigned Leverett house. And now we all live in a suite in Leverett. The set-up is eight singles connected by a hallway.
Your house really depends on your rooming set-up. There are some houses that have so many doubles that you’re basically guaranteed a double. Other houses you’re almost guaranteed to have a single. What’s funny is that there is this crazy statistic that shows most Harvard students think that their house is the best house.
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you participate in?
I’m in a female final club, so I find myself on weekends going out with friends from that or a lot of times the men’s final clubs will throw parties, so I’ll find myself there.
Senior year that might be different because Harvard is anti-final club, and they’re basically trying to shut them down or get them to be more inclusive because they’ve traditionally been known as super exclusive. I am curious to see what’s going to happen this year and in the coming years. They’ve made some sanctions. [See Crimson article, “Penalties Now Apply: The Class of 2021 Navigates the Sanctions.”]
What nights of the week do you regularly go out?
I usually keep it to Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Maybe during the recruitment process of the final clubs, it will be more often.
What is the impact of final clubs on nightlife?
I would say they get a bad rap on campus of being exclusive. Like any sorority or fraternity system, their recruitment process is really subjective and can make you feel really bad about yourself if you don’t get into the one that you wanted to get into. Overall, the final club scene is not the only scene, it’s the scene I chose to participate in when I chose to join my club.
A lot of people get sad and frustrated when they don’t get into a club and they have a harder time in that scene, especially when they seem so huge and big and there’s a day party on a Saturday but you’re not on the list. There is a way to conceive the final clubs being the number one social scene, but I have so many friends who are not part of those clubs that have amazing times at Harvard going out. There are many groups on campus that do similar things.
I would say it would be hard to go out if you didn’t have a group on campus that had a social component. Final clubs are not the only groups that are social groups. Like, the service organization that I’m in is social, those people are some of my best friends and I go out with them.
What do you do when you go out? Do you go to house parties or bars?
We usually go to either dorms or bars around campus. There’ll be a party thrown in one of the different residence houses. We’ll usually get a Facebook invite or an email invite that’s weirdly formal even for a random person’s party in their dorm. We’ll also go to a couple of bars around campus. Then also final clubs. There are options every night, so there’ll be a party at a final club or I could just leave that and go to a dorm party easily.
How happy are you with the nightlife options at Harvard? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I’m very happy. I also got really lucky in that I have these communities of social people that I can hang out with. I could imagine it would be hard for someone who hasn’t found their niche. With all my communities I was really happy really early, and am still really happy.
How did you meet your closest friends?
Definitely the Crimson Key Society and then some of my roommates I met freshman fall. A couple of them are fellow New York people. I feel like the New York group, especially the girls, tend to mingle a lot of freshman fall.
How would you describe the social scene?
I would say it’s still pretty dominated by final clubs because they occupy physical space on campus. There are these huge mansions that are basically right in between the Yard and the houses by the river. You have to walk past these huge mansions to get to class every day and a lot of the times there will be music blasting late at night from those clubs and stuff like that. But, at the same time, that’s not the only scene that you have the option to be a part of.
How would you describe the student body?
It’s really, really diverse. It’s super diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and [geography]. We have a significant percentage of international students. [About 12% of undergraduates are international students and about 41% of students are White.]
To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
Overall, Harvard definitely welcomes and includes so many different types of people and perspectives and breeds an environment where people will somehow have to connect with someone really different from them. So, maybe you’ve never met a gay person before, or you never had a really close Black friend and now you’re in a double in a freshman dorm with them. I think there’s a lot of that that happens in general at schools, but I think Harvard does it a little more intentionally. Harvard has given me people with different perspectives to talk about serious issues with, so it’s been really powerful in that sense.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Harvard before entering as a freshman?
I wish someone told me not to sweat the little things. Like, if you didn’t get into this class you wanted to get into. There will be another awesome class that you can get into, or if a friend your freshman year [does something mean], it’s okay because there are so many more cool people out there that you’re going to meet. I would’ve been happier sooner. I was pretty lucky in that I quickly looked over those bumps in the road and got to a really happy place fairly soon.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
I would say catching a beautiful day. Weather is huge. In the middle of winter, it’s much quieter and students are just sort of running around, hoods on, not looking up or paying attention to anything around them. When the sun’s out there is a beautiful grassy green yard where the freshmen live, and there’s always people sitting around having a picnic or throwing a football. Also, in front of the Science Center is a social hub because there will be food trucks and clubs will set up and things like that.
Is there anything that we haven’t touched on that is important for somebody to know?
Just remind somebody that this is totally subjective and my experience. It’s all about how you experience the place and people. I believe that anyone could be happy at Harvard, but I was lucky and that could be a skewed perspective. Harvard is hard in a lot of ways.
Reasons to attend Harvard:
1) It’s Harvard. That’s annoying to say, but the name alone does hold a lot of weight. The second you step off campus and people as you where you go it holds a lot of weight. The opportunities that come from something like that are unique.
2) The people. It’s super diverse, and people are really passionate about something really similar to you or someone who is weirdly passionate about something else. It’s really fun to sit down and have conversations with people who come from all different places and are passionate about different things.
Reasons to not attend Harvard:
1) If you are someone who doesn’t do well under social pressure. If you were thinking about going to a school with a frat party life and the reason you didn’t go there is that you didn’t think you would do well in that environment, you probably shouldn’t go to Harvard because it’s similar.
2) If you’re overwhelmed easily because it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the opportunities.
3) If you’re somebody who is super competitive and gets paranoid when you hear your friend got an interview with Morgan Stanley and you didn’t. If that’s going to make your head explode, then maybe Harvard isn’t the place for you.