HBS Bans Student Cultural Shows From Burden Auditorium

The HBS experience will be harmed if the Administration bans important student events from the only suitable on-campus venue.

On the Thursday before Spring Break, like many of you, I woke up to find the following email in my inbox:

With the increasing number of requests to hold performances within Burden Hall & Spangler Auditorium, use of this space was recently reviewed by the School (Dean’s Office, MBA Program, Media Services and Operations). It was concluded that these facilities should only be used as they were intended-as academic lecture halls. These spaces are not suitable for performances, concerts, social events, etc. and therefore events of this nature will not be permitted in these locations. Please notify other members in your club responsible for organizing such events (and the incoming Co-Presidents) and be sure to keep this in mind for future event planning.

The only exception to this policy will be the HBS Show, which is a longstanding tradition at HBS.

The five sentence explanation left more to be desired, so I emailed my section senator and one of the outgoing SA co-presidents to find out more information. To my surprise, or rather in the typical decision making style (which after two years still surprises me), neither my senator nor the SA co-president knew anything about the Burden policy decision. Once again, a decision that directly impacts students had been made without asking for or seriously considering student input.

Disturbed both by the continued dismissal of student input and by the banning of three incredible cultural shows from Burden, I emailed several people in the Administration. My first instinct was to email the Dean of Students, but then I realized that we don’t have one (which may be part of the problem given that our SA has less power than those at other top business schools.) After emailing around, I was able to set up a meeting with a few of the decision makers. After speaking with these decision makers and several students, here is how I understand the situation from the Administration’s point of view:
-Burden was originally intended to be used as a lecture hall and it should remain that way
-Burden cannot handle the set-up or wear and tear associated with student shows
-There are issues of safety and security which cannot be controlled during student shows
-There have been instances of people bringing food and beverages into Burden, which is not allowed

Only four student shows have taken place in Burden during my two years here. These four shows are Diwali, Sankofa, Africa Night, and The HBS Show. Given that the concerns above apply to all four shows, it would logically follow that all four shows would be banned from Burden. However, interestingly enough, an exception has been made for The HBS Show. While I loved The HBS Show last year (which ironically included scenes ridiculing the way the Administration makes decisions), it seems neither fair nor logical that only The HBS Show is permitted in Burden. Either ban all four shows or allow all four shows. My preference is for the latter with increased restrictions on Burden’s usage to address the Administration’s concerns.

The email that many of us received that morning explained that The HBS Show would be the only exception because it is “a long standing tradition at HBS.” We must realize, however, that any decision made or justified by the idea of maintaining a static tradition is dangerous. The HBS Show began in 1974 at a time when the student clubs that sponsor the three banned shows (The South Asian Business Association, The African-American Student Union, and The Africa Business Club) were either non-existent or in their infancy. Any decision based upon a static HBS tradition necessarily excludes student groups whose members have not always been permitted to attend HBS and whose numbers had not yet reached critical mass by the early 1970s. It is my hope that the Administration sees the value of allowing student shows that reflect the current diversity of student clubs to remain in Burden and become a part of the HBS tradition.

Under the current policy, Diwali, Sankofa, and Africa Night will be forced to move off campus (probably at increased costs to student clubs and increased inconvenience to would-be attendees). As an alternative to moving off campus, the Administration suggests that the affected clubs downsize the scope of their respective shows and cater to a much smaller audience in Williams Room. Williams Room doesn’t strike me as any better equipped to accommodate the set-up associated with these shows, nor does it address the Administration’s concerns about security or outside food and beverages.

Another reason given for permitting the HBS Show and not others is that the other shows attract non-HBS students (G-d forbid we allow outsiders to infiltrate the HBS bubble). If this is truly a problem, then one possible solution could be to institute a policy which states that only the HBS community (or perhaps the greater Harvard community) is allowed to attend events held in Burden. Problem solved.

There were a number of other concerns raised by the Administration, each of which applies to all four shows, and all of which can be addressed by creating a thoughtful set of policies regulating the use of Burden Auditorium for all events. The HBS experience will truly be less rich if student shows are forever banned from Burden. I encourage the Administration and the centennial class of 2008 to work together to find an equitable solution that supports the continuation of student shows and cultural performances in Burden. This is not an issue of skill, but one of will. From my conversations, it is apparent that the student body is willing to work diligently on this issue. It is our hope that the Administration is willing to work diligently on this issue as well.

The sentiments expressed in this article are fully supported by The Harbus Editorial Board, The Africa Business Club (ABC); The African-American Student Union (AASU); and The South Asian Business Association (SABA).