Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

The Story of Self: Lowell House Committee

At tonight’s Lowell House Committee meeting, we set up the final details for Housing Day -- the day when Harvard College freshmen will be randomly assigned their upperclassmen house -- on Thursday. At one of the most defining moments for me during my two years on the committee, a young woman spoke up through imminent tears. She expressed her frustration with the committee’s distribution of labor for Housing Day. She had spent countless hours working on the housing day video in addition to organizing all the merchandise and was saddened that the rest of the committee hadn’t stepped up.

This burn out was all too familiar. Last year I was in her exact shoes as the committee co-chair and director of the housing day video—a short promotional song parody that captures the spirit of the house. Not to mention that housing day videos are always met with harsh critique from house members who did nothing to offer to help. This girl speaking up on our committee was a moment in which I realized that despite all of the wonderful work that the committee does, it takes those who love house life the most and wrings out substantial amounts of their energy and joy for the house.

This week, many co-chairs of other house committees have shared similar stories saying things as emphatic as “This really sucks.” To add to the burnout: House Committees face an uphill battle. They are tasked with a near-impossible task – build community among 300-400 diverse and disparate individuals who did not “buy into” their house community. They were randomly sorted into the house as freshmen and are now asked to be a part of something larger than themselves . But how? Does it depend on charismatic leaders willing to build house community at the cost of their own wellbeing and joy?

House Committees are tasked with planning all of the calendar events for the house. For Lowell, that means weekly events such as stein club (smaller drinking events), trivia night, movies, and outings. It also means larger events like campus-wide dances or house formals. Co-Chairs are at the helm of it all, organizing diverse personalities within a committee, facing bureaucratic regulations such as administrative policies, and trying to remain peppy throughout it all. They are the ones who clean closets, pick up beer cans, and wake up early and stay up late.

After experimenting with many clubs on campus, I realized that the types of organizational leadership roles I wanted to be in involved two main features 1) propelled by a deep sense of relationships and 2) high-touch positions that involved personal contact with my constituents and the nitty-gritty of implementing projects. My primary two leadership roles include being a preorientation leader and steering committee member for the first-year urban program (FUP) which introduces students to the public service model of PBHA and being the head student of house committee as co-chair. Both of these positions required me to be in constant communication with my constituents and carry on lots of event-planning. In Lowell House, I am the one student who is constantly in the dining hall talking to new people and asking for their input on house life, and I am most thrilled by the ways that they have become receptive to my outreach. As a FUP leader, I was able to give back to an organization that really shaped who I was when I got to campus. FUP introduced me to absolutely phenomenal people on this campus and it built the community that I cherish. In both roles, I'm the one preserving a sense of spirit and excitement for the potential that community has on a campus as big and intimidating as Harvard.

Being Co-chair is, I am certain, worth it. It is amazing to see people from different backgrounds come together and become a family. I am thrilled that Lowellians report back to me a deep sense of community. At a town hall, Lowell House sponsored to discuss the sense of community after entering swing housing (a time when Lowell house is split into 5 distinct buildings during construction), there was very little negative feedback at all. In fact, housemates voiced that they felt Lowell "swing" showed the community was more than the physical setting. 

I served as Co-Chair of the Lowell House Committee as a sophomore in 2017. Following this term, I did not run again. Instead, I learned how to say “no” to commitments I felt stretched me too thin, to cherish a bit of time in a more relaxing reprieve and to replenish my love for the house. Part of that meant pursuing other activities on campus while still hosting informal gatherings for housemates . An event is organized by a House Committee may mean it is inclusive, but that does not mean it is automatically “welcoming." Creating community, I believe, is best done in everyday actions beyond formal house events -- we are lucky at Harvard to have the physical space in which to create the everyday serendipity that builds into friendships. House events can certainly play a role in bolstering community but do not stand on their own. The Lowell House Committee is one of the most cohesive and spirited I have encountered and my scalar project hopes to better analyze the challenges and opportunities facing house committees through the perspective of co-chairs and other house members.

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