Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

FYRE - Future

Context: After conducting 9 internal interviews, I have analyzed the relationships between student leaders and administrators at Harvard College. Both the students and the administrators have played unique roles in the development of the First-Year Retreat and Experience (FYRE). For my action plan, I wanted to look at analyze the partnerships between administrators and students. More specifically, I wanted to see if there was a discrepancy between expectations of the students and the administrators. If so, I wanted to see how that impacted the work that the students did. Similarly, I wanted to analyze the workload that the students were facing and how that has impacted their college experience. If it has impacted them in a negative way, I wanted to develop an action plan with them as to how to best fix the situation. 

The biggest complaint that I heard from the students was the workload. All the students said that they found themselves dedicating more time to the pre-orientation program than they anticipated, causing academic stress for all and financial stress for half. It is important to note that about a month after these interviews were recorded, the steering committee’s perception of the administrators shifted dramatically. There was a miscommunication regarding the autonomy of the steering committee, creating frustration and distrust. After a follow-up conversation, we, the students, sat together and made our demands. 

From the administrators, these were their thoughts:

  1. The pre-orientation program should not be student-run.
    1. A pre-orientation program has too many stakeholders involved, which means that for the sustainability of the program, the administration must have a hand.
    2. There is classified information that deals with the students--both the team leaders and the participants--that must go through administrators rather than students.
  2. Partnerships are important.
    1. Students and administrators must work together to solve the issues at hand. The administrators did differ in the way they approached the partnership. Some viewed the administrators acting as mentors for the students while others viewed them as being in direct partnership with students. 

From the students, these were their demands:

  1. More financial compensation: moving from a salary to an hourly wage.
  2. Clearer delineation of work responsibilities.
    1. Guidelines for administrative involvement, i.e. what they are responsible for and how much support they are able to offer.
    2. More student freedom to make decisions without consulting the administration
  3. Student access to a credit card that can make purchases for student programs.
  4. Attendance by a senior administrator in the meetings to establish a true partnership.

As for my personal views on what should be done, I agree with the demands of the students but I would also propose some other ideas as well:

  1. Mental Health support for these students so that they receive the attention and professional help that they need and deserve. All too often, students are demanded to do under- or unpaid labor to fix the issues of the university, causing them to forego their mental health. This means the DSO should have mandatory workshops and check-ins to support students as they balance academics, extracurricular activities, and other domains of their lives. 
  2. Housing for students who are taking time off to better this university. For leaders that are in positions which require a high demand of work and stress (will be determined by DSO), the college should allow them to take time off while being covered by the university to live on campus. The students' financial aid packages could be tailored to only cover their room and board. Each student would be afforded a one-semester offer.
  3. Course credit (or restriction) to help alleviate the academic burden on the students. Students should be allowed to take three classes for the semester and still be on track to graduate with the college by offering these student leaders course credit. This will not be for a letter grade but rather a Pass/Fail course credit to ensure that the student has the bandwidth to work on her projects.

Compared to other pre-orientation programs, the students are not paid for their work. While we understand that it could be seen as unfair for one pre-orientation program to get paid while others don’t, the steering committee for FYRE has a different role than the other steering committees. FYRE’s steering committee is in charge of developing the entire curriculum from scratch while the other steering committees simply have to make adjustments to what they did the year before. Because of this, FYRE’s steering committee believes that they should be compensated for the extra hours that they have to put in to make this program happen. After this year, it is still up for debate as to whether or not the steering committee of FYRE should be paid. Regardless, the demands listed above could be applicable to all student leaders who spend a vast amount of time working with or for the administration. 

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