Comment 66699

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 21, 2011 at 10:06:16

Tangentially related: I just read an essay in the Paris Review about a student who went to Harvard and was frustrated at how isolated the school was - physically, geographically and culturally - from its host city.

I arrived at Harvard from Montreal, which is a pretty fucking hip place to be an eighteen-year-old. I’d been going to bars for a while, and I was in a political theater company that did shows in lofts with homeless people and South American activists. And we went to pubs and got old gay men to buy us drinks. It was a pretty cool, fun, and exciting life for a kid in Montreal. It was a very vibrant place, and young people were really part of the life of the city.

Then when I went to Harvard, the place was full of these nominally smart, interesting people, all of whom at the age of eighteen seemed perfectly happy to live in dormitories and be on a meal plan and live a fully institutional life. And that was completely maddening! This was the opposite of everything I’d hoped for from the environment I’d be in.

By design, the university wants to be an enclosed institution, so you’re required to live on campus, which means that you’re not living in the city. You don’t have a landlord or neighbors or those kinds of things. You’re pretty much required to sign up for the meal plan, which means you don’t interact with people in restaurants or grocery stores or any of that kind of stuff. The drinking age is twenty-one, and it’s strictly enforced in the city but mostly unenforced on campus, which means if you want to drink or go to a party, you can only do that on campus, but if you want to go see a band at a club, you can’t do that.

I spent my first year trying to figure out how to participate in the life of the city in some way, but by the end of my first year I think I gave up because the pull of the university community was so strong and the boundaries were so hard to overcome.

In fairness, there's a generous dollop of hipsterism going on here, but the underlying issue - of a school determined to close itself off from its surroundings - is familiar.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-07-21 10:07:48

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