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A forceful op-ed in defense of linking groups is likely to be met with apathy.
It’s not obvious, I’ll admit, that we should care about Harvard’s quiet decision to remove the option to link with another blocking group from the housing lottery process. After all, upperclassmen already have their linkmates. The next batch of sophomores will simply have a different — not necessarily worse — lottery experience.
I want to offer two perspectives: the forceful defense of linking you might not have considered and the reason Harvard’s decision is worth talking about, even if you don’t care about linking groups.
The reason I value linking groups so highly isn’t that they’re essential to every student’s experience — it’s that my linking group has been essential to mine. And no one should be deprived of that opportunity without a much better justification than Harvard has offered.
Many students find living in the Quad isolating — I’ve heard some people even transfer to River Houses — but I haven’t. I’ve been surrounded by 13 of my closest friends the entire time, essentially guaranteeing a rich social web around the Quad that leaves little to be desired in my “home” life. My linking group is only roughly half of this web, but I can’t imagine how different my college years would have looked without it.
I doubt most people assign the same personal importance to linking. It’s true that students will form close friendships in the absence of linking groups, and our social circles evolve as we meet new people throughout college. But especially for Quad residents, the opportunity to start off one’s upperclassman years alongside a large group of friends can be indispensable.
Admittedly, lottery groups are only a best guess about our future social lives. But the ability to make this guess is one of the greatest features of Harvard’s housing system, one that’s allowed some of my closest friendships to form and flourish. Arbitrarily halving the ceiling on the size of that group may not be bad for most, but it doesn’t seem very good for anyone, either — linking has always been an option, not a mandate.
I characterized Harvard’s decision as arbitrary, but the truth is that we are left to speculate about the soundness of its reasoning. Harvard has largely declined to articulate why it abolished linking, hiding instead behind generic references to a growing student population and creating a more “fair and equitable” housing system.
I struggle to grasp how limiting student autonomy in an already randomized housing system advances fairness or equity. I could attempt to guess Harvard’s underlying worries — perhaps it’s concerned about increasing the flexibility of the housing system — but without further explanation, it requires a feat of mental gymnastics to understand why, after almost two decades, there’s any reason to change it now. The opaque rationale the administration has offered is simply a deficient justification for a meaningful change in student life.
Whether or not linking has been important to our Harvard experience, we should demand a higher standard from the people who govern us at school. The administration should explain why a growing student population makes it infeasible to sort the same number of students across the Houses in larger units. And it should tell us clearly how limiting students to the guarantee of living near seven of their friends, instead of 15, advances fairness and equity.
Harvard hasn’t endeavored to convince us of any of this — it’s taken our apathy and inattention for granted. But vacuous word salad can’t do the work of justification, on this or on any other issue.
Letting students link is important — undoubtedly more for some than for others. But it’s also important to raise the low bar for transparency to which Harvard seems to hold itself.
If linking must go, let’s let the notion that we’re apathetic go with it.
Lucas T. Gazianis ’24, an Associate Editorial editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Currier House.
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