Harvard undergraduates are notoriously extracurricular. When the books close, the lights come up on student-sponsored concerts, plays, operas, or house formals.
“It’s part of the Harvard experience to go to these events,” said Rohit Chopra ’04, of the Undergraduate Council’s (UC) student affairs committee. Yet for students of limited means, that experience could be out of reach.
Until now. Chopra, former UC President Paul Gusmorino ’02, and Kate Richey ’03 have joined forces with the Office of Financial Aid and the Office of the Dean of the College to launch the Student Events Fund, which distributes free event tickets to 500 of Harvard’s most financially constrained undergraduates. Since the program began in mid-February, the Harvard Box Office has distributed nearly 300 free tickets.
The student trio began work on the fund about a year ago. They secured $10,000 each from the Office of the Dean and the Office of Financial Aid, which selected 500 students to receive the free tickets.
Maintaining the confidentiality of these students was of paramount importance, so Gusmorino developed a Web site that seamlessly and secretly connects eligible students with their desired tickets via the Harvard Box Office.
“It turned out to be a lot of hard work,” admits Chopra. “But the response we’ve been getting has been fantastic.”
Efrain Guerrero ’04 took advantage of the fund last month to hear a Harvard a cappella ensemble at Sanders Theatre; he anticipates utilizing it about once a month to attend events that would otherwise squeeze him financially. “It will mean that price won’t be a consideration,” he said.
The Student Events Fund rates praise from its benefactors as well. “For us, it’s been such a wonderful program, in large part because it was really initiated by the students,” said Sally Donahue, director of financial aid. “The fund has been used a lot more than I thought it would be,” she added, because of the ease and confidentiality of the Web site.
“This is helping our neediest students feel as if they can continue to be a part of the community without any constraints,” said Donahue. For students whose Harvard education is funded by a hefty mix of scholarship awards, loans, and work-study, she said, even a relatively inexpensive ticket can trigger a trade-off: Should I go to the orchestra concert or should I earn money at my work-study job? The result could foster what she calls an “upstairs-downstairs” attitude between students of different economic backgrounds.
Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71 noted a secondary benefit of the fund: It increases and diversifies audiences for student performances and events, which rely on ticket income to meet their budgets.
Buoyed by the fund’s initial success, the UC is seeking a donor to permanently endow it. “Harvard prides itself on being so socioeconomically diverse,” said the Undergraduate Council’s Chopra. “This is one area that’s not part of tuition but it’s certainly an expense of life here.”
That’s a sentiment that echoes the College’s broad goals of need-based financial aid. “All students, once they get here, should be able to participate in the vibrant life of the college,” said Donahue.