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Undergraduate Council Releases Survey Results and Spring 2021 Recommendations

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Harvard’s Undergraduate Council released the results of a questionnaire on student concerns about their college experience in the coronavirus era Wednesday.

A number of house and freshmen yard representatives collaborated to analyze the 669 student responses and compile them into a report, entitled “Harvard At Risk,” in anticipation of the coming spring semester.

“The goal of the survey was to capture how students feel about COVID, how they feel about online school, how they feel about reopening in spring,” co-author Jack M. Swanson ’22 said.

The report concluded that students faced “severe challenges” due to the College’s switch to online learning after the coronavirus crisis escalated last spring. The survey specifically found that over a quarter of undergraduates reported feeling symptoms of depression so severe that it was “difficult to function”.

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“Many students were frustrated by a lack of mental health support, and students frequently reported that professors were not understanding with students’ mental health and COVID-19-related challenges,” its authors noted.

Students also reported being dissatisfied with their social life.

“I'm on campus, and the on campus atmosphere is a recipe for poor mental health and general unhappiness,” the report quoted one respondent as saying.

The authors made a wide variety of recommendations to improve the student experience as the spring semester approaches. To alleviate feelings of isolation on campus, they recommended the College permit students to socialize indoors and also allow students to form social pods of up to six people who can interact without social distancing restrictions or masks.

Other recommendations targeted academic concerns and sought to foster increased flexibility. One advocated for the College to extend the pass/fail deadline — a proposal favored by the majority of survey respondents.

Finally, the report urged the College to invite back as many students as possible to live on-campus next semester. This fall, only freshmen and select upperclassmen were invited to live in dorms.

Samyra C. Miller ’21, a Lowell House representative on the Council, was the only member to dissent from releasing the report to the student body.

“I think we can be a little more critical of things that students want, especially when other people are involved in certain decisions,” Miller said. “Our recommendation to open up common spaces — what I felt wasn’t considered was the custodial workers who would have to be more exposed to the virus and also have to work overtime, because those spaces would have to be cleaned more regularly.”

Other students not involved in the creation of the report also voiced opposition to some of its language.

Jara A. Wilensky ’24 said she disagreed with the case the report made for the College to bring more undergraduates to campus next spring. This case was premised on the fact that a number of peer institutions have successfully brought large cohorts back, but Wilensky pointed out that the other universities cited, such as Cornell, have much lower population densities than the greater Boston area.

“This is not a fair comparison. It just makes the whole report look less valid and less researched,” she said.

However, this dissent was certainly not universal: some students said the report captured the general public opinion and that they approved of its recommendations.

“It does a good job and it says what a lot of people are thinking,” Hayden Teeter ’24 said.

—Staff writer Hannah J. Martinez can be contacted at hannah.martinez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinezhannahj.

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