In October 2012, as part of a gift made by the Hutchins Family Foundation at the direction of Glenn Hutchins ’77, J.D. ’83, M.B.A. ’83, to support the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) at Harvard, a fundraising challenge was established to encourage alumni and friends of the University to join him in supporting the Harvard Houses — the foundation of the undergraduate experience — through House renewal, one of the priorities of The Harvard Campaign for Arts and Sciences.
Home to dining, advising, and student programming, the Houses are hubs for academic and social learning at Harvard. They bring together undergraduates, faculty, graduate students, and mentors in communities that encourage exploration beyond the classroom, expand opportunities for collaboration and discovery, and allow students to experience the full breadth of Harvard’s liberal arts and sciences education.
“I am pleased to support Harvard leaders in fostering the world’s finest undergraduate education,” says Hutchins. “To my mind, the Houses form the vital core of the college experience at Harvard. This is why we created the Hutchins Family Challenge.”
The result of the challenge, now completed, was more than $50 million for House renewal from 40 generous gifts. Through this initiative, Hutchins and his family showed that there are many others who feel just as strongly about the important role that residential education plays in the lives of Harvard undergraduates.
“Winthrop was my home while at Harvard, the place where I discovered new things about myself and met lifelong friends. The challenge was a great way for us to be a part of this new vision for the Houses,” said John D. Avery ’86, who made a gift with his wife, Jill, that will name an advising community in Winthrop House, the next slated for renewal.
In the late 19th century, the growth of Harvard’s student body was fast outpacing its dormitory capacity. This meant that by 1900 only 27 percent of undergraduates lived in University housing, and living in nearby apartments was considerably more expensive.
In an attempt to provide a more robust residential College experience and remove the social barriers that came from the variety of local housing options, President A. Lawrence Lowell embarked on an acquisition and building campaign that inaugurated the Harvard House system. Since their inception, the Houses have become models for residential life. Today, 97 percent of upperclassmen live in one of the 12 undergraduate Houses.
Some of the Harvard Houses are now nearly 100 years old and, while they have served generations of Harvard students well, they are in need of improvement to better meet the social, technological, and programming demands of 21st-century students. Seeking to enhance academic and social support, planners are designing spaces that maximize community interactions and include everything from “smart” classrooms to art rooms, music practice spaces, and areas for socializing.
“House life provides truly transformative experiences. Our Houses are special places, communities second to none, where learning becomes understanding,” said Michael D. Smith, Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
To date, portions of Quincy House (Stone Hall) and Leverett House (McKinlock Hall) have been completed, and Dunster House — the first complete House to undergo renewal — welcomed its newest residents at the start of this academic year.