Discussion examines housing issues

Another “discussion starter” meeting held yesterday at the Log saw students, administrators, faculty and staff expressing strong opinions and raising difficult questions about housing issues at Williams.

Specific questions included whether the housing draw leads to stratification within the student body and whether house presidents and the co-op housing system adequately meet housing needs.

Director of Housing Tom McEvoy suggested that students’ names should not be displayed on the rooms they pick during the housing draw. McEvoy and others attested that the current process often allows a sports team or one gender or one type of student to dominate a house.

“One of the ironies of Williams housing is that the college takes great pains to create diversity in first year entries, but in the room draw that becomes less important, and I’m not sure why,” McEvoy said. “When students are taking facebooks to the housing draw, that is getting away from the spirit of what Williams is trying to do.”

Jackson Professor of Religion William Darrow described the housing process as “an open book, where everyone has the script,” the script being the displayed names at the housing draw that inform students of where different types of students choose to live.

But students at the meeting were divided about whether the script is a divisive or an empowering tool for them during the housing draw. Although Chin Ho ’03 argued that a blind room draw would promote diversity and eliminate one type of student from dominating a house, Carrie Ryan ’00 and Sarah Connolly ’00 both believed that knowing where other students were living gave them more control over their residential experience.

Ryan and Connolly cited negative experiences during their first two years with housemates who had been assigned rooms or had picked in around them. Armed with the “script” and the advantage of being upperclassmen, they were both able to live in supportive and cohesive houses during their last two years. “I think houses should be communities, and the uncomfortable learning can take place outside of the house,” Ryan said.

Ryan and Connolly’s horror stories about being unable to resolve conflicts in the residential setting quickly led the meeting to the topic of residential self-governance.

Most of the group expressed strong interest in restructuring the role of the house president and the process of house governance to better address housing issues. Phil Swisher ’01, chair of the Housing Committee and the Residential Improvement Committee, claimed that he is in the process of redefining the house presidents’ role in his committee work.

While students wanted house presidents and residential governance to offer tools for mediating house conflicts, staff members and administrators had their own wish list.

In light of last week’s fire at Seton Hall, McEvoy expressed concern that the roles of house presidents and Junior Advisors did not include accountability for fire safety and public safety.Similarly, Assistant Director of Security David Boyer saw the need to change the house president position, pointing out that when houses do not resolve their own issues, Security often has to take care of them.

The last major issue the group addressed was the co-op housing system. Ethan Plunkett ’00 claimed that having the regular housing draw to fall back on and the option of using the 50-block meal plan while living in a co-op encouraged students who were not really interested in cooperative living and cooperative cooking to enter the co-op draw anyway.

“I would like to see the co-ops administered so that houses can be matched up with groups who want to use them as they are set up,” Plunkett said.

Aya Reiss ’00 agreed, suggesting that perhaps forbidding co-op residents from buying a meal plan would discourage people who did not want to live cooperatively from taking the coveted few co-op slots.

The meeting, facilitated by Jonathan Plowman ’00, Sophia Kuo ’00, Drew Sutton ’00 and McEvoy, is part of an ongoing campus discussion on issues related to student life. The housing topics were first raised at an open brainstorm meeting held in December, also chaired by Kuo and Plowman. Kuo, Plowman, Sutton and McEvoy plan to make a report on the meeting to the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL).