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Harvard College’s Tuesday announcement that it would prioritize bringing upperclassmen back to campus this spring drew a broad range of reactions — excitement, shock, and disappointment among them — from students.
Harvard administrators wrote in an email Tuesday that the College will expand the number of undergraduates invited to live on campus next semester, including seniors and juniors who enrolled this fall. The College plans to use all undergraduate bedrooms this spring, allowing for 3,100 students to return as they continue to take online classes.
In addition to seniors and currently enrolled juniors, Harvard will also prioritize petitions from students who were already invited to live on campus due to special circumstances, those who reside in a time zone four or more hours away from Eastern Standard Time, or those with “learning environment needs” this spring. After reviewing student petitions, the College will also consider bringing back juniors on leave this semester.
Prashanth “PK” Kumar '21 said he was “very happy" with the announcement that seniors could return to campus for their final semester. Still, he said he was waiting on additional details to help him make an informed decision about whether to take the College up on its offer.
“If we're going to live on campus, we want to know more about what that entails,” Kumar said, citing questions about whether returning students can choose their roommates. He suggested that, depending on the answer, he might prefer to rent a Cambridge-area apartment with friends.
Still, he said, he is leaning towards spending his final semester in Harvard housing.
“We all want to be normal Harvard students for another semester before having to go on and live on our own and cook for ourselves,” he said.
Whether seniors choose to live on campus or in nearby apartments, Samyra C. Miller ’21 said the proximity of her peers will be conducive to class bonding — something she is charged with facilitating in her role as the senior class’s first marshal.
“It's good that we will have the senior class on campus — not everyone, but lots of seniors on campus — which will make our job of fostering and building community at least slightly easier than it would have been if everyone was all over the world again,” she said.
Zeel M. Patel ’22, a currently enrolled junior who intends to return to campus this spring, said he was excited — albeit surprised — by the decision.
“I think this is something that caught me by surprise,” he said. “I had plans ready for next semester, where I was going to be interning at a company out in New York City. I actually had talked to them and signed the offer letter and had the dates ready, and I was about to look for housing. And then this email came.”
Patel said he is trying, now, to defer the internship to a later semester so that he can enroll this semester and come back to Cambridge.
“One of the big draws now is it's very likely that most of my friends who are juniors will come back to campus, or just be in the general Boston vicinity,” he said.
But like Kumar, he said he is unsure whether he should live on campus or find an apartment with friends in the area. He said his ultimate decision is contingent on forthcoming information about the spring’s dining situation and social life.
Emmy Semprun ’22, a junior who took time off this fall, said she was disappointed to hear that, though juniors on leave can petition to live on campus, they would have lower priority for receiving housing. She added, however, that she understood the reasoning behind the decision.
“There's only so much housing and there's a lot of people who took time off,” she said. “They warned us about this when we did take time off that we might not be guaranteed housing. I'm still disappointed but also understand because they made sure to tell us this when we took time off.”
During a webinar about leaves of absence in early July, Associate Dean of Students Lauren E. Brandt ’01 told students that Harvard could not guarantee students taking a leave in the fall campus dorms upon their return.
Semprun, who is living off-campus near Harvard this semester, also said she is excited about the prospect of more of her classmates returning to Harvard.
“The announcement does impact my decision to still live near campus in the spring because I would want to be around if all the other juniors were coming back,” she said.
Jaxson T. Hill ’23 said he was “not surprised” that Harvard chose to invite seniors to live in residence and prioritize enrolled juniors, though he still found it upsetting that he and most of the sophomore class would have to spend more than a full year away from campus.
“In their email, they acknowledged that sophomores were getting the short end of the stick,” he said. “And the email seemed to imply that summer school classes were sufficient consolation.”
Harvard reiterated its fall announcement that all enrolled undergraduate students who spend the entire 2020-21 academic year off-campus will be eligible to take two tuition-free courses at the Harvard Summer School in the summer of 2021.
Madison M. Pankey ’24 said that although she was saddened by the College’s decision not to invite freshmen to return in the spring, she anticipated the news.
“I mean, we were already on campus right? To me, it didn't really make sense for us to be first priority,” she said.
Pankey said she will spend the spring in an apartment with friends she made this fall.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana wrote in an email Tuesday that the College will convene a panel discussion Wednesday during which students can learn more about Harvard’s plans for the spring term.
Khurana will speak on the panel in conversation with Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda J. Claybaugh, interim Cabot House Resident Dean Meghan Lockwood, who is also serving as a special advisor to the Dean’s Office for COVID-19, and Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair.
“I think that'll definitely be an avenue for people to get answers,” Miller said of the panel discussion.
“If you can't attend, watch recordings or talk to friends. The information is being put out there,” she offered as advice to her peers. “Be very vigilant and read things and attend things.”
—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.
—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.
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