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Houses Zoom to Digital Platforms to Continue Traditions, Social Events

Harvard's upperclassman houses have transitioned events online during the coronavirus outbreak.
Harvard's upperclassman houses have transitioned events online during the coronavirus outbreak. By Camille G. Caldera
By Sydnie M. Cobb and Declan J. Knieriem, Crimson Staff Writers

With residents scattered throughout the world, Harvard’s undergraduate Houses are relying on virtual study breaks, movie screenings, and traditions in an attempt to recreate House life for their students.

With campus devoid of students, House leadership now largely relies upon Zoom — a video conference platform — to facilitate House-related programming.

Lowell House Faculty Dean David I. Laibson ’88 wrote in an email that Lowell will continue to hold regular activities, including entryway meetings, a weekly baking group, a watch party for the musical Sweeney Todd — which was supposed to be performed by the Lowell House Opera this month — and virtual bell ringing sessions hosted by the Lowell Society of Russian Bell Ringers. He also wrote the House is preparing for a virtual Housing Day, when freshmen will receive their assigned dorms.

“We are brainstorming for Housing Day, though we don't yet know the details about how this will be organized, so we are in the “green field” stage,” he wrote.

The shift in House life follows the March 10 announcement from University President Lawrence S. Bacow that mandated students to vacate their on-campus housing due to the ongoing spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kelly A. Miller, a resident tutor in Lowell House, wrote in an email that she misses the “personal interactions” with Lowell students, but believes they are doing “an amazing job coming up with fun and creative ways” of staying connected.

Miller also wrote that one of her favorite virtual House activities is the House-wide Slack channel, where Lowell residents can post pictures of their pastries, their pets, and springtime views in their respective hometowns.

Kirkland House Committee co-chair Andrea J. Zhang ’22 said Kirkland is also planning how to welcome new members in lieu of an in-person Housing Day . One option, she said, is a “Zoom storm,” where House members will connect with freshman blocking groups via Zoom to give their assignments.

“That's under construction, but basically it's surprising them in some way,” she said. “A lot of the fun in dorm storming is the anticipation involved, because emails are a little bit anticlimactic. Also, because then the rest of the house can get involved.”

Many Houses have chosen to set up “virtual dining halls” with a Zoom link open at all hours of the day for residents to connect.

Anh Tran, a resident tutor in Mather House, said tutors are “helping each other come up with various creative ways to execute certain programming virtually.”

According to Tran, Mather anticipates shifting all regular programming — study breaks, coffee hours, a talent show, senior thesis presentations, and more — to digital platforms.

Mather tutor Annie V. Dang ’16 said virtual programming is important to maintain bonds between House residents.

“The people are what makes Mather House a home, not the physical structure,” she said. “So as long as we stay connected, we will still have that sense of home and community.”

In Dunster House, some tutors are spearheading an initiative dubbed the “Story-Telling Project,” where residents can participate in House-wide brainstorming and writing sessions with professional writers. Khin-Kyemon Aung ’14 — one of the Dunster tutors heading up the project — said she hopes the project will encourage student participation during an “unprecedented” semester.

“Trying to find ways to bring together different people and interests and maintaining that connectivity, especially in a time when we're championing social isolation, I think it's really important to still find avenues to bring people together,” she said.

MaryGabrielle “MG” Prezioso ’13, another Dunster tutor leading the project, said that it, along with other House efforts, will be necessary to preserve the “communally focused” House experience, despite the fact residents now live off campus.

“I think that keeping as much normalcy as we can, in that respect, to give students some semblance of that Harvard experience is really important,” she said. "It is a really uncertain time and anything we can do to show support and love across Zoom is really important and really lovely.”

—Staff writer Sydnie M. Cobb can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cobbsydnie.

—Staff writer Declan J. Knieriem can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @DeclanKnieriem.

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