Though Harvard's campus has come to life again this fall as students and faculty return to in-person classes, one defining presence in Harvard Yard remains elusive: tourists and prospective students.
As Harvard's gates remain closed to non-affiliates and the coronavirus spreads, Harvard tour groups continue to lead modified tours, virtually or on restricted paths around campus.
The College first restricted in-person tours – which typically ran free of charge and were open to all visitors – at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, when students left campus to learn remotely.
The Harvard Visitor Center will continue to suspend official in-person tours due to ongoing concerns about Covid-19. Though it declined to comment on when it plans to resume in-person tours, the center said it will start up virtual tours later this month.
Other tour groups have had to shift their policies to adhere to the College’s new protocols.
The Crimson Key Society – a student organization whose members lead Harvard’s official historical tours – ran three tours daily on weekdays and Saturdays prior to the pandemic, according to its president, Charles D. “Davis” Bailey ’22.
Since then, Crimson Key Society has led in-person tours for students at the First-Year Orientation and for visiting scholars through the Harvard Marshal’s Office, but tours for the general public remain banned.
Though organized group tours in Harvard Yard are prohibited due to coronavirus precautions, Trademark Tours – an agency known for its “Hahvahd” tour that will merge with Harvard Student Agencies – runs in-person walking tours around Harvard Square.
Trademark Tours CEO Daniel A. Bodt ’07 wrote in an email that Trademark Tours has taken precautions against Covid -19 during their in-person tours.
“We have added audio headsets that connect wirelessly to a tour guide microphone. This allows guests to practice social distancing and keeps the guide's voice from straining when wearing a mask,” he wrote. “We've also capped group size and encourage wearing of masks based on city and state regulations.”
While Bodt said Trademark Tours has not yet received word from Harvard about when the Yard will reopen to tour groups.
Crimson Key Society tour coordinator Kathryn L. Hodakowski ’22-’23 said the organization is currently collaborating with the Visitor Center to resume tours once restrictions are lifted.
“As ambassadors of Harvard College, crucial to our identities and organization is we want to spread our love and joy being students at Harvard with others,” said Hodakowski, who led tours prior to the pandemic. “I think that it does help significantly to interact with the students and share their personal experiences.”
Bailey said he believes in-person tours are important for portraying Harvard to prospective students as well as “the outside world.”
“There's a long history of this place being a bastion of academic elitism – and, as such, a lot of people hear about Harvard, and they have this image that at this point is not very accurate,” Bailey said. “So we really try to dispel some of these preconceived notions that people might have.”
Bailey said he believes Harvard should be a "welcoming and open and accessible place for people who aren't yet or aren't ever affiliated with the school."
“The in-person tours are a vital piece of that puzzle, and I hope they can return soon," he added.
—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.