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Plan of Action on How to Improve House Committees
After reviewing the literature, and talking to students from Yale I drew up a plan on how these ideas could improve house life at Harvard.
I want to focus on how my service role as a HoCo-Chair affects the community of Quincy House. Our goal as a House Committee is to make people from all different backgrounds get along and feel comfortable with each other. The house system at Harvard is unique from that at other schools because students get randomly assorted into the houses and stay in them for three years. Because of this, the role of House Committees is very important. Our job is to bring together these people from different backgrounds together and interact with people who are not just their immediate friends. One of the factors that makes Harvard different than other schools is the collection of unique people from different backgrounds and we try to encourage people to take advantage of this.
In this project I want to look to see how the role of a House Committee could become more inclusive. Often times it is difficult to get people besides my own friends to go to events in the house and I wonder if other models similar to Harvard’s House Committee have a better system. I chose to observe Yale’s version of House Committee to see what I can do to better fulfil my role as a co-chair. Ultimately I cannot do much institutionally for my HoCo, but we could learn from the goals that they have as a House Committee and the methods they use to make people feel included. I am also curious to know how involved administrators are in monitoring the actions of the committee.
The way that I collected data is mostly through interviews. I am regularly in contact with tutors, past co-chairs, co-chairs from other houses, and Quincy administrators constantly about how to make Quincy more inclusive. My goal or this project is to see how I can improve the inclusivity of Quincy house and as an affect hopefully get more people to go to HoCo sponsored events like steins, open houses, and formals.
In order to gather information on how to improve HoCo, I went to Yale and conducted interviews with a member of one of their House Committees and with a mutual friend that I had at Yale who offered an outside perspective on House life. I asked them a lot of general questions- like how does the housing system work, how are the House committees structures, what roles do they play in house life, how involved administrators are, what events they hold for their house, how they get people to attend the events, what their main goals are as a HoCo, etc. In an ideal situation I would be able to gather what Yale does well and implement those practices to Quincy HoCo.
I found an article titled Process, Content, and Community Building by Keith Morton that discusses how service roles like a HoCo Chair can be “an integrated system of learning processes shared by campus and community (89).” The article gave specific evidence about how to organize service as relationship and how to direct that towards community building. The author references a theory from peter Senge’s The Fifth Disciple which argues that “systems are less about specific nodes within a system and more about the connectivity among the parts (100).” This is relevant to my project because from my experiences, it is better if HoCo works as a group instead of everyone focusing on their one job. For instance, every week we hold events called Steins which are bi-weekly gatherings for students in the house. The last couple of times the burden of setting up and cleaning up the event has fallen on a few members of HoCo. The issue that I am facing- and that a lot of other HoCo’s face- is that it is hard to hold members of HoCo up to a high enough standard so that they support the work of all HoCo members. When members do not focus on the connectivity among all of our parts, that is when the burden falls on a select few members and this is also when the work of being on HoCo can become more of a burden than a fun activity.
Another article titled “Leadership Reconsidered: Engaging Higher Education in Social Change” is relevant to my project because it talks about the application of transformative leadership to higher education. Chapter two was especially relevant to me because it was about the principles of transformative leadership. A brief summary of the important values of leadership that were discussed in this reading are: to create a supportive environment where people can live in peace with one another, to promote harmony with nature and thereby provide sustainability for future generations, and to create communities of reciprocal care and shared responsibility (21). During my time in my service role I have realized that even though harmony is hard to attain, it is essential for a group of people to function. It is also very important to respect one another- even the people in charge have to respect everyone on their team. My whole philosophy as Co-Chair has been for all eight of us to try and serve as role models for the rest of the house in terms of how we interact with each other and other people. Ideally we would all seem very friendly and approachable to ourselves and others and that attitude will spread throughout the House. That has been my goal as a Co-Chair, and I am constantly struggling to try and achieve it.
A third source from a book called Exploring Leadership: For College Students Who Want to Make a Difference, by Wendy Wagner talked about way in which college students can try to make change on their campus. It says that “change agents” are leaders that are committed to social justice outside of their own organization, which I totally agree with (115). I am not sure how many leaders in society get to those positions in order to actually make a positive impact on society, but the ones who do have a genuine passion to make their community better I believe are the most effective leaders. The article also includes a model that is helpful in understanding how collaborative leadership happens in the pursuit of social change. The model shows that group values, individual values, and society/ community values are all interconnected. In order for change to happen these values all have to work in sync together. The article also talks about how collaboration and a common purpose could help facilitate change as well. If everyone is on the same page, working towards a common goal then it is possible for changes to be made. My end goal for my term as co-chair is to have the entire house focused on trying to be as inclusive and amicable as possible. I realize that this goal might be impossible to achieve, but in order for there to be any chance of this happening at all I have to make sure that my HoCo members first have interconnected community values and can work in sync. I am constantly working to achieve this preliminary step, but I hope that my efforts so far have made at least one person feel more included.
Astin, Alexander W.; Astin, Helen S.TITLELeadership Reconsidered: Engaging Higher Education in Social Change. Kellogg Foundation, Battle Creek, MI.
D. W. Butin et al. (eds.), The Engaged Campus. Pp. 89-107.
Wagner, Wendy, et al. Exploring Leadership : For College Students Who Want to Make a Difference, Student Workbook, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2013. ProQuest EbookCentral, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/harvard-ebooks/detail.action?docID=1169444.