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As evidenced by other posts on this blog, Harvard kids tend to love their campus houses.  Each house has its own traditions, mascots, quirks, secrets and sites of pride.  But as I begin my third year in Dunster, I can’t imagine a better place to live! Here are some reasons why the [often shortchanged] house might be better than you think:

1. Underground Passageways

Every part of Dunster is connected to every other part of Dunster through a labyrinth of subterranean tunnels. These passages are fun to investigate all year round, but when winter arrives, their value skyrockets.  As a veteran winter-phobe, I’m adept at avoiding face-to-face encounters with winter.  So when it’s snowing outside, I can actually get from my room to the vending machine, to the laundry room, to the dining hall, to the computer lab, to the Grille – all without going outside or taking off my flip-flops.

2. The Illustrious D-Hall

Dunster’s dining hall is famed across campus for it’s Harry-Potteresque interior and lovingly crafted cuisine.  It also stays open later than any other dining hall – something that many non-Dunsterites appreciate every day.

3. Location, Location!

Some [weird] people claim that Dunster is located really far away from the center of campus.  While the five-minute walk admittedly feels endless in winter, Dunster is not that remote – and it’s refreshingly far away from the fray of the Square.  The courtyard faces onto the Charles River (a beautiful sight in any light).  And Dunster is a mere block away from Petsi Pies – Cambridge’s hipster-haven, a local café with good music, greasy air and sinful pies.

4. Meese

Dunster’s mascot is the endearing, enduring Moose.  We get to wear Moose sweatshirts, wrap our necks in Moose scarves and carry around Moose steins. On Housing Days, we even don our Moose antlers en masse – and you know that’s cool.

5. The Dunster Petting Zoo 

A brand new Dunster tradition!  This past Sunday afternoon, Dunster’s student council organized an autumn Hoedown in the courtyard.  The yard was dotted with footballs, bales of hay, and picnic tables filled with donuts and candy corn.  But when I arrived on the scene, everyone was totally ignoring the Hoedown — instead, they were clustered together in the middle of the grassy lawn.  I ran over to see what was so enthralling, and I wasn’t disappointed.  It was a petting zoo of baby farm animals!  Baby ducks, baby rabbits, baby goats, baby chickens, and even a baby pig named Lydia, who reminded me of a little furry black bullet.  About forty mostly-grown Harvard students were squealing and talking in high-pitched baby voices (Awww wook at the iddy biddy piggy wif its wittle snout!)  I loved witnessing the immense transforming power of baby animals — how we all became undignified and delighted for a few minutes.

Here’s a picture of me holding an adorable baby duckling.  Apparently, the Petting Zoo/Hoedown has now been instituted as an annual tradition.  So if you live in Dunster House, or if you get assigned to Dunster one day — be glad!

Addendum: Yesterday, as you may have read elsewhere, Mark Zuckerberg made his grand reappearance at Harvard – his first official return since he left the school in 2004.  On my way to class in the afternoon, one of the campus streets was lined with multiple news trucks, reporter paraphernalia and police cars.  We asked one policeman on a motorcycle, “Is this all for Mark Zuckerberg?”  He grinned and said, “Yep, it’s all for him.  Just think, a few years ago, he was walking around this campus and no one even cared.”  He rubbed the fingers of his right hand together and smiled slyly: “You make a li’l money, and look what happens!”

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Sue Brown, Resident Dean of Freshmen, Elm Yard

If you are an incoming freshman, first of all let me congratulate you on your accomplishment! Here at the Freshman Dean’s Office, we are very excited to meet you in August. You are probably engaged in one of a variety of activities (or several, as the case may be). You are working, traveling, backpacking through the wilderness (and likely not reading this blog), or just hanging out and gearing up for the big move. It’s an exciting time.

 You probably aren’t really wondering what we are doing in the FDO. Who are we anyway? Well, at our helm is the Dean of Freshmen Tom Dingman. There are four Resident Deans who oversee roughly 60 proctors. All of us live in residence with or very close to students. We have a fantastic Director of Freshman Programming (Katie Steele), an outstanding Department Administrator (Sheila Coveney) and a thoroughly amazing support staff (Julie Berenzweig, Brandon Edwards, Mary Lincoln, and Chrissy Spakoski). We hope you’ll come by and meet us in the fall!

So, what are we doing? Well, believe it or not, we are getting to know you. Most of the FDO is busy preparing in a variety of ways for your arrival. The four Resident Deans are housing you with your future roommates. You may or may not know this, but we do nearly all of it by hand. The only random bit is which dean you’ll work with (which puts you into either Elm, Ivy, Crimson, or Oak Yard). After that, we go through all the applications individually and match you based on a number of factors including the preferences you indicated on your housing applications. This process takes several weeks in the summer. Each of us has 400-450 students to fit into the spaces in each Yard (which are all very different!). In the end, we build entryways that reflect in some way or other the diversity of the freshman class. We’ll be finishing up and sending out your housing assignments next week!

How do we do this? Well, I can’t give away all of our secrets, and I can’t speak for the others, but I can share a little about how I do it. First I house the women and then the men. Each of you indicated your preferences for social and neatness levels in your suite, as well as how many students you would like to live with. This gives me a broad sorting mechanism. I then read through each application and note your interests and musical tastes and study your essay very carefully. Do you like art museums and coffee? Perhaps I’ll find someone from another country who also likes art museums and coffee to go with you. Do you like Broadway show tunes and country music? Maybe your roommate will, too. Do you have an adventurous spirit and a quirky sense of humor? Maybe your roommate will will have spent a gap year in Southeast Asia and want to write for the Lampoon. Do you like video games/not like video games? Are you particular about your bedtime? Do you want social roommates who hope to use the room to study and relax, while they socialize outside the dorm? These are just some of the many, many things that get taken into consideration when we match you.

Here’s what it looks like when we’re in the thick of it (imagine a very large game of Concentration):

In matching this way, we hope you’ll teach each other and share your life stories with each other. We hope you will broaden each other’s horizons and support each other. We hope you will be open to each other’s differences as you seek out your commonalities. Ultimately, we hope that you and your roommates will strive to enrich each other’s lives. This is what you tell us you are eager to experience.

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As a freshman at Harvard, stress about housing is largely concentrated in the few hours leading up to announcements on Housing Day. After having picked a blocking group, students wait anxiously to hear of their assignments and are usually so excited by their placement that any worry about rooming groups, square footage, or window placement for their future dorm falls away. Freshmen get the heavy lifting done for them: they receive a simple email in August with their room number and move into their new House a few weeks later.

I’ve found that things are not so simple for sophomores. To be honest, I wasn’t aware that the process was any different for rising upperclassmen; I figured that groups were somehow judiciously divided amongst the rooms and we would magically receive our assignments before heading off for the summer. This, as it turns out, is not the case. Instead, rising juniors and seniors must engage in the complicated, dramatic, and tense process known as the housing lottery.

The housing lottery is, as the name suggests, a drawing where each group is assigned a number and allowed the chance to handpick their room in the House. Rising seniors get the opportunity to choose first, and within each class groups are divided both by number of individuals in their group and the average lottery number assigned to its members. That is, seniors rooming in a group of 7 get first choice of housing, followed by senior groups of 6, and so on, all the way through junior groups of 2 individuals. For a lowly rising junior with only 3 girls in a rooming group, this means that I’m due up for one of the last picks in the entire lottery.

Dunster Floor Plan

How, then, does one prepare for this highly anticipated lottery? For the three of us, preparation involved hours of poring over House floor plans, comparing size, window placement, proximity to the stairwell, and views. In Dunster, views can range from the back wall of neighboring Mather House to a perfect view of the Charles River. You can be on the first floor facing the street or on the sixth stuck under slanted ceilings. Being placed in the same entryway as the dining hall becomes key during the cold winter months; having to walk around the outside of the building to get to dinner is less ideal. Needless to say, there are an enormous number of factors to consider.

A word those outside of the Harvard bubble may be unfamiliar with? “Walkthrough”. In many of the River Houses, bedrooms within a larger suite connect to each other through only a single door, which means roommates might have to walk through each other’s rooms in order to get to the bathroom. Admittedly, it’s a downside (and something that our classmates living in the Quad Houses frequently remind us of – “Quadlings” typically have great rooms), but it’s a reality of living in one of these old dorms.

When it came to the actual afternoon of the housing lottery, my poor roommate was forced to tough the selection out herself (I had class and our third roommate is still in Europe!). I was getting minute-by-minute text updates of which rooms had been selected, which ultimately made me just as stressed about it as she was. At the end of it, we wound up with one of our solid choices. Admittedly, most of the star triples had been snatched by the seniors the day before, but given our lottery number we would up with a great room: lots of windows, view of the Charles, and a big common room!



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I still remember getting the long-awaited letter in the mail, the letter that would seal the fate of my freshman year, the letter that contained the names of my freshmen roommates.  I had been waiting in anticipation all summer long.  What would they be like?  How many would I have?  Would the housing gods at Harvard even read the rooming application that had caused me so much angst last spring?

But when I finally got the letter, I couldn’t help but feel that the event was a tad anticlimactic.  After all, the only thing it contained were names, names of four girls from different areas of the country and the name of our dorm:  Pennypacker.

“Pennypacker?” I thought.  “What kind of name is Pennypacker?”

I immediately asked Google to give some insight into this strangely named dorm.  The results were not comforting.  Pennypacker was the farthest-reaching freshman dorm, situated three blocks from Harvard Yard, and had had a historical scabies infestation only a few years before.  Great…

Facebook, on the other hand, delivered more promising results.  My roommates all seemed very friendly.  I immediately friended all of them and initiated a “Roomie Message Thread!!!!” in which we shared novel-length biographies about ourselves and decided who would contribute what to our room.

On move-in day, I didn’t know what to expect.

Now, a month and a half into the school year, I can confidently say that I live in the best dorm on campus.  The community fostered in my dorm is unrivaled, partially due to geographic location, but mostly due to the dynamics in the dorm itself.  First, it is a widely acknowledged rumor that those On High purposefully place the most social people in Pennypacker due to its secluded nature away from the Yard.  While I am not sure this is true, as I have found many freshmen in different dorms to be social, Pennypacker is definitely packed (note the pun) with social people.  Second, the fact that Pennypacker is slightly farther away means that we avoid tourists desperate to snag photos with Harvard students (I mean, I know I’m a celebrity, but sometimes enough is enough) and the noise of the cars and buses and street performers in Cambridge, which lends itself to excellent Sunday morning sleep-ins.  But most important, every room in Pennypacker opens onto a central stairwell, and most of the students leave their suite doors open, inviting others to stop in, study, get to know each other… and, of course, procrastinate.

These are my lovely roommates and me!

While I am obviously very happy with my dorm, I think this happiness is reflective of the wide range of students that populate Harvard as a whole.  I came to Harvard buying the stereotype of introverted, socially inept students who ruthlessly compete with each other for the top spot in the class as they step on each other to further their future careers.  I have yet to find a single person to fit this model.  People here are smart, sure, but in a nonchalant way, and they are focused more on learning than on showing what they already know.  And as I am reminded every night as I sit in my common room in Pennypacker, they all come from different backgrounds, are good at different things, and have different stories to share.

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