Let me start with a story:
Before I arrived on campus, I emailed President Bacow about making Harvard free. To my surprise, he offered to meet, and when we were discussing how to increase financial aid, he told me that at Harvard “we are overwhelmed with opportunity”.
Harvard has a huge educational problem: us students struggle with lack of knowledge, support, and utilization of our world-class resources.
Personally, I’ve tried to combat this by open-sourcing Harvard through founding a dozen intercollegiate nonprofit initiatives. The UC tries to combat this by representing student interests through activism, organizing, and funding. For this class, I joined the Undergraduate Council, analyzed the results of three Crimson, HODP, and UC surveys, and talked to leaders at the DIB, DSO, SOCH, ARC, and PBHA. Based on results of the surveys, I helped develop recommendations for Harvard administration (you can see the slideshow of recommendations here.
Learnings from Interviews
We discussed universal problems, like a lack of student awareness of their work, and specific ones, like the finance committee struggling with unjust club funding awareness, spending, and transparency. Together with many leaders (see slide from last section), we brainstormed a vision for Harvard Online, a college-wide Slack for students for automatic cross-promotion, collaboration, and coffee chats.
Cross-promotion would center around the opportunities channel. To boost activity and provide an incentive to check it, I’d create an email to Slack app, filtering on the best content I receive. Personally, I receive around 200 emails a day, and I have well over 100k emails, so filtering would be personally helpful. Once there’s enough organic activity, I’d split feeds into events and recruiting. So for cross-promotion, the Slack will integrate existing tools for organizational recruiting, marketing, and resource sharing with a website, mailing list, and interactive guide.
Coffee chats would be booked through email matching and calendly, and then once activity picks up, through slack. Leveraging Harvard connections would be an easy way to get guidance. At first, I’d match alumni mentors and public service org mentees after they fill out an Airtable form. However, matching need not be formal and mentoring based, as anyone can message anyone. In fact, classmates could use the slack to conduct interviews for their project. Once we’re on Slack, I can use tools like Donut, which does random pairing every week. Coffee chats would encompass icebreakers, cohort calls, and combine with cross-promotion to form a social calendar.
While cross-promotion adds fuel and coffee chats add sparks, collaborations build the hearth to keep the fire going. For partnerships, the Slack will be co-managed to centralize communications between established centers like the PBHA and IOP, and new virtual centers for inclusion and belonging, like for Multicultural organizing, Social Impact research, and First-years.
I chose Slack because all students are already invited to the platform for their classes. Furthermore it has plenty of helpful features. Through channels, direct messages, and apps, students can be matched to leaders, administrators, or alumni for coffee chats, receive and contribute to a daily digest of the best events, and easily find collaborators for projects. Through these features, members can facilitate networking sessions and contribute to a database of activities and partnerships that have happened in the past. For example, someone could create a #surveys channel.
Even in-person, Harvard Online will provide a flexible, extensible open forum for student leaders to communicate informally, serendipitously, and with greater impact. Online allows for instantaneous one-to-many communication where information is available to everyone, for free, forever. In-person, mentors will still need mentoring, leaders will still need leading, and and so on. Having an open space for peer-to-peer communication is necessary for a modern Harvard.
Since students struggle with lack of knowledge about available resources, they would benefit from an interactive platform where they could make new friends that they perhaps wouldn't typically meet, host social events, post opportunities, find mentors, discuss the latest happenings, receive administrative support, and generally learn about Harvard’s public service resources. Furthermore, the platform would combine email lists and instant messaging to provide events, resources, advice, and solidarity. Second order effects include vision, capabilities, relationships, connections to multiple forms of resources, and care.
In preparation for a program launch, I will be forming a staff team, finding advisors, and partnering with student organizations using my Harvard leadership connections. Staff are responsible for recruiting, posting, and messaging weekly. Advisors are responsible for showing up to monthly office hours or coffee chats to advise student organizations, leaders, and/or projects. Lastly, outcomes of collaboration include students hosting community events and the assembly of cross-functional teams to work on independent or partnered research projects.
After this structure is set up, I will prototype a community structure, fill out a website explaining the platform, and set up the platform. All aforementioned individuals and organizations will be emailed according to the following timeline:
May: Invite Sociology 1130, UC members, and faculty
June: Setup bots and funding
July: Invite public service organizations
August: Invite all organizations
September: Invite all students
Funding: In addition to requiring point of contacts to be on the platform, we can develop a Slack Bot workflow for students to receive an interest form, meetings schedule, one-click join meeting link, a transcript and update for money allocation, day-of check-in, and receipts follow-up, all automated. Furthermore, we can require that if 80% of provided funds aren’t accounted for, the club cannot request anymore funding for the semester. By revamping the funding system, we can ensure funds are allocated equitably, efficiently, and effectively. Moreover, this will give Council members more time to engage with the clubs they fund. We can finally pursue a “high-contact” model where UC and club reps can learn from each other, documenting best practices. This will increase institutional memory, as well as facilitating the spread of knowledge between clubs.
Extensions I worked on during this project, that I plan to engage the Slack with:
- Harvard Resource list: https://linktr.ee/harvard
- Random Acts of Kindness week: https://projects.iq.harvard.edu/rak/
- If I were(n't) at Harvard
- QR Here: http://there-qr.webflow.io/
- Virtual Multicultural Center
- Mental Health Fund
- Harvard Live Discord Team
- .wavExperience audio choose your own adventure tour of Harvard
- Community tree
- Apart together (find Harvard students near you)
- Confessions art
- Anonymous message line (code)
- whats going on now
- poetry tutring test contest
Inclusion: We are trying to build a modern university communication system, where students practice polypolitanism: they can choose what channels they contribute to in the same ways they can choose which organizations they have membership to. Only good can come from lowering communication, resource, and administrative barriers. Through Harvard Online, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging-oriented organizations that previously did not receive guidance or funding will now automatically be a part of the conversation. As a result of providing an open forum, communications become international between students, intersectional between activists, interdisciplinary between clubs, and even intercollegiate between university chapters. All clubs and their leaders will benefit from a platform for inter-group collaboration. We can create sub-communities in which students, faculty, and staff can explore and nurture their deepest convictions, and engage in honest and respectful conversation around questions of ultimate meaning, purpose, and value. Through sharing workshops that already exist, we can encourage healthy practices, relationships, and ways of living that promote the overall intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of our members. When we design new systems that make connection feel simple and easy, people want to join in. when people feel supported by strong relationships, change happens.
Conclusion:A Harvard College-wide Slack will provide a much-needed space for students to learn about, share, and receive support for the amazing resources that already exist online from the UC. This way, we can finally bring communications into the 21st century, and support the missions of Harvard College, UC, and PBHA, that is, to develop student and community leadership to creatively meet critical needs and advocate for structural change. Through this space, student leaders can share ideas and opportunities to connect with each other and feel more at home and a part of Harvard.