But in the midst of midterms and with Spring Break fast approaching, the topic of housing hadn’t taken precedence until yesterday when “Housing Selection 2000” books appeared in every student’s S.U. box. Housing is now a hot topic, but in this year’s discussion where to live and with whom are not the only issues at stake.
In an effort to increase the diversity of campus living situations, Tom McEvoy, director of housing, in coordination with the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL), has amended this year’s room draw policy in two ways. First, upperclassmen can no longer squat. Second, the CUL is considering whether to recommend the removal of names from Williams Students Online’s (WSO) housing plans.
Undeniably, the CUL’s desire to create a more integrated student body and more heterogeneous dorm life is a laudable goal. However, this proposal to reach that goal is flawed. While the elimination of squatting is a legitimate way to increase diversity in campus residences, prohibiting WSO from posting the names of students picking into campus houses is not. If enacted, the second proposal will do more damage to the overall atmosphere of the campus than it will increase diversity in Williams housing.
As the CUL rightfully pointed out, there is a residential divide on campus. That divide is most evident in the stratification of housing by class year. The majority of sophomores live in Mission, juniors in Greylock and seniors in row houses. The Berkshire quad is a campus anomaly: it, and Prospect in particular, remains the most heterogeneous area on campus in which to live. This proposal does not attempt to change the current fairly inevitable system of housing by class year that has developed.
However, the committee’s suggestions, in one regard at least, attempts to create greater equity in the housing draw. In previous years, upperclassmen were allowed to waive participation in the housing draw and live in the same room for two or three consecutive years if they so chose. Eliminating the squatting option ensures that all students of the same class year will have an equal chance at receiving a low pick in the random room draw.
Squatting has also made it possible for large numbers of people to exempt themselves from the lottery and take root in a particular house. Although the College does not endorse theme housing, that is inevitably what would develop if large numbers of people were to squat together repeatedly. Theme housing, whether tacitly accepted or widely endorsed, would dramatically alter the campus residence system, leaving it regimented and segregated. The potential for this to happen is reason enough for squatting to be eliminated.
In contrast, the goal of greater diversity in house residents would not be served by removing names from the WSO housing plans. When a person can no longer make informed decisions about his or her housing situation, the line between a beneficial heterogeneity and a detrimental randomness has been violated. Where students live affects their quality of life more directly than any other factor and while living next to people of different backgrounds and interests is beneficial, no one should be forced to live in an inimical environment. (Let us not forget that this was, in effect, the CUL’s reason for endorsing substance-free housing, a concept to which we objected because of its themed nature.)
When deciding on a room, a student should be able to make an informed choice, and whether it slightly lessens the randomness of the draw or not, a student can only make that informed choice if he or she is aware of who would be living nearby. The knowledge that the WSO plans provide prevents many arguments from occurring later on. Students will – with some justification – still try to find out who lives where, either by circumventing the system or by spending an inordinate amount of time choosing rooms when they are slotted to make their picks at Mission.
Not only would taking away the WSO information slow the entire process of housing draw down, but it would also make those minutes more excruciating and, for those picking in with a large group, complicated. And with the information ultimately available onsite anyway, the proposal only serves to delay students’ acquisition of information, which helps no party involved.
The CUL and Housing Office are taking admirable steps to acknowledge the imperfect world that is campus housing, and for that we commend them. But it must also be acknowledged that students deserve a degree of effective latitude in making housing decisions and being aware of their implications. To suggest otherwise would be simply patronizing.