A few weeks ago, the Harvard administration announced some unsettling news. After a lengthy search, a donor for the long-proposed student center had finally been secured. Though construction won’t start on the building for quite some time, the center will likely feature large spaces that can be used for parties, events, and lectures, as well as smaller areas for less formal gatherings.
Do you see the problem yet? Despite the misguided enthusiasm of some students, the space will ultimately be useless: it’s downright wasteful to spend untold millions of dollars constructing a student center when the Porcellian already serves the same basic functions.
The Porcellian (or P.C. as it’s sometimes affectionately called) has been a campus staple since 1794, and centuries of experience have taught members that less is more. Instead of the sprawling compound of lecture halls, meeting rooms, and social spaces, the club makes do with a narrow little enclave nestled between Yenching and J. August. The top two floors are an Elysian garden, wisely restricted to members-only so as not to overwhelm mere mortals with its unearthly pleasures. Select guests can still visit the ground floor of the club’s Massachusetts Avenue address, which the Olympians in the P.C. have generously made accessible.
And here is where their wisdom is apparent. Years after the construction of the SOCH, that building lays fallow except for the offices of a few student organizations. The lobby’s flat screen televisions remain black and the billiards table silent because Harvard students are addicted to exclusivity. Other common spaces on campus are flooded with the flotsam of countless lesser organizations on campus. Take a meal in any dining hall on campus and you risk subjecting yourself to the members of the Model United Nations team, the local House Committee, or even (god-forbid) the Crimson Business Board.
The members of the Porcellian are aware of this basic truth and it shows. As for those deemed unworthy of that hallowed old barn, it’s really for their own good. Rejection is the fount of ambition. Both Franklin D. Roosevelt Class of 1904 and John F. Kennedy ’40 failed to be elected to the P.C. The former would later refer to that event as “the greatest disappointment in his life.” Both men later went on to become President. Coincidence? I think not. If a non-discriminating social space had existed while these men went to school, this magazine could very well have been written in German, under the threat of a nuclear Cuba.
A new, open student center presents a dangerous threat to the status quo. Without the guiding influence of the Porcellian to teach us the sting of being an outsider and instilling a need for acceptance in our hearts, the next batch of America’s leaders may very well graduate well-adjusted. I shudder for the future generations.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: Oct. 26, 2013
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the class year of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In fact, he graduated with the Class of 1904.