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Harvard Will Expand Spring Housing to Fill 3,100 Beds, Favoring Upperclassmen

A student walks through the gates of Winthrop House during fall 2020 move-in. This spring, Harvard will expand the number of students living on campus and prioritize upperclassmen.
A student walks through the gates of Winthrop House during fall 2020 move-in. This spring, Harvard will expand the number of students living on campus and prioritize upperclassmen. By Zadoc I.N. Gee
By Kevin R. Chen, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: December 1, 2020, at 1:30 p.m.

Harvard will expand the number of undergraduates invited to live on campus next semester, including College seniors and juniors who enrolled this fall, as classes continue online.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay announced the decision Tuesday afternoon in an email cosigned by University President Lawrence S. Bacow and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana. It fulfills and expands a July promise administrators made to prioritize the Class of 2021 in spring housing decision making.

Gay wrote that the College will use all of its 3,100 undergraduate bedrooms this spring.

Administrators will first prioritize seniors and currently-enrolled juniors. It will also favor applicants who lived on campus this semester or over winter break due to special circumstances, who live in a time zone “four or more hours distant from Eastern Standard Time,” or who are underclassmen with “learning environment needs” this spring. After it reviews petitions from those categories, the College will prefer juniors currently taking leaves of absence.

Gay wrote that the low COVID-19 transmission rates on campus this fall and Harvard affiliates’ adherence to public health protocols informed the FAS’s decison to invite more students in residence. Since June 1, Harvard has recorded just 27 positive tests among undergraduates; Gay wrote that the University tallied 38 cases among campus residents this fall.

“This decision reflects the overwhelmingly positive outcomes for the residential program this fall,” Gay wrote. “Our campus maintained a COVID-19 positivity rate well below that of the surrounding greater Boston community and there has been no evidence of transmission among members of our undergraduate residential population.”

The FAS may, however, change its planning for the spring semester depending on public health circumstances.

“For that reason, our spring plan is just that, a plan,” Gay wrote. “If circumstances continue to deteriorate across the nation, we are prepared to respond quickly with appropriate contingency plans that would reduce expected campus density before the start of the spring term.”

For the 25 percent of undergraduates who lived in the dorms from late August through Thanksgiving — including non-international freshmen and select upperclassmen — life at Harvard little resembled previous semesters. The College asked those students to sign a Community Compact promising to abide by public health guidelines, to submit to testing three times each week, and to eschew most social contact in favor of Zoom. It also established a group to adjudicate violations of social distancing rules, the Community Council, which at one point dismissed three freshmen from the dorms after they held an illicit gathering of at least six people.

While the Ivy League has not decided whether it will hold its spring sports season, the FAS’s decision not to invite all students back to campus “has implications for our Athletics program,” Gay wrote.

“While the Ivy League has not yet issued a decision regarding spring sports competitions beyond February, we recognize that any plan that does not aspire to return us to full density will necessarily place limits on what athletic activities are possible at Harvard this spring,” she wrote.

The University will offer the same financial aid and term-time work accommodations as it did this fall, granting students who receive aid a $5,000 room and board allowance.

—Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kchenx.

This is a developing story. Check for updates.

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