Cluster system proposed for housing

Williams is considering altering its housing system from house-by-house representation to a cluster system. Still in the planning stages, the cluster system aims to promote inter-class unity, heighten faculty-student relationships outside of the classroom and improve the effectiveness of the house governance system.

The Residential Improvement Committee (RIC) was assembled in order to examine the current housing system and propose improvements. The committee is chaired by Housing Committee President Phil Swisher ’01 and consists of Junior Advisor Mayur Deshmukh ’01, College Council Co-president Bert Leatherman ’00, Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) member James Moorhead ’01, Student Activities Council (SAC) President Carrie Ryan ’00, Jackson Professor of Religion and CUL Chair William Darrow, Frederick L. Schuman Professor of International Studies and CUL member Peter Frost, Director of Housing Tom McEvoy and Assistant Dean Wanda Lee. The committee has met three times this year and has begun to examine concerns about residential life.

Preliminary plans for the clusters would group together three to five dorms into each of eight or nine clusters. The first-year entry system would not be affected by any proposed cluster plan. Neither the housing lottery nor the room draw system would be affected by this proposal, and students would still be free to choose into any available room on campus.

“Williams students are extremely protective of their freedom of choice in selecting housing options and nothing being proposed will impinge on those freedoms,” Swisher said.

Each cluster would have an elected president who would represent the cluster on the Housing Committee. In order to ensure that all houses are still represented, each house would have a vice-president. The responsibilities of the cluster vice-presidents would include responding to residents’ concerns, managing cluster finances, planning social events and working with Security, the Housing Office and the Dean’s Office on matters of importance to the cluster.

“It is just the structure that is the problem,” said Swisher of the present system. “We have great people who want to do lots of things, but students aren’t being represented in the most effective manner.”

Another important goal of the proposed cluster system would be to heighten interclass interaction. By including sophomores, juniors and seniors in each cluster and encouraging cluster events, the plan seeks to provide students with the opportunity to meet other Williams students not within their class.

“Right now the housing structure is pretty amorphous and generally stratified by class year,” McEvoy said. “But if each cluster is energized, the opportunities are exciting – friendly competition through intramurals, civic programs, blood-drives, energy contests…will provide a different dynamic and allow students of different classes to get to know one another better.”

Additionally, an interested faculty member would be chosen by each cluster to increase faculty-student interaction. Not only would this faculty member serve as an advisor to students in the cluster, but it is hoped that the faculty member would heighten the intellectual air of the cluster and serve as a mentor to the students.

“We need to foster more of the learning that takes place outside of the classroom,” Swisher said.

One concern with the proposal raised by McEvoy is that there would not necessarily be a person in a leadership position physically living in each house. “However, the committee is advocating that each cluster have a vice-president in each house who will deal with the nuts and bolts of that house and give students a person in the building to help troubleshoot the inevitable problems that arise in community living,” he said. According to Swisher, the vice-president would be able to focus on the needs of his or her house by deciding who gets to use the social spaces in the house and allocating the HEF funds to activities.

The RIC will be soliciting feedback from all students, faculty and staff, as well. “Right now, we are looking at the system and examining what are the weaknesses,” said Ryan. “It may include starting from ground zero or working with the system for what will be best for the short term and the long term.”

Addressing concerns raised by students Swisher said, “I would like to emphasize that these plans are all preliminary and nothing will change until all students, faculty and administration have had the opportunity to provide input and share their opinions.”