Williams alumni tend to speak very highly of the housing system that existed while they were students. Whether they are former frat members or graduates from just 10 years ago, they often cite their house as a vital component of their Williams identity.
Tom Smith ’88, professor of chemistry, said his “experience in the housing system was simply outstanding.” Smith, a Dodd resident in the 1980s, added “many people felt a strong sense of belonging to this Dodd community.”
The Williams housing system that Smith and other alumni fondly remember is very different from housing as it exists today. There is little question that house allegiance has declined since the implementation of an open lottery. This change has precipitated a significant shift in individual identity at the College. Williams students are now football players, singers, and ruggers before they are members of Dennett, Gladden or Perry.
Some alumni and administrators see this lack of house identity as a problem with the current residential system, and wish to return to a housing process that provides a sense of community through housing. Support for this plan has brought about a strong reaction from current students, many of whom have also greatly enjoyed their housing experience.
“The strength of the system is the autonomy of students to choose where they live and with whom,” said Garry Sanders ’02, a College Council (CC) all-campus representative. While Sanders appreciates the current housing lottery, he fears that discussions on housing reform are too linked with the concept of community.
“The unification of groups of friends, athletes and non-athletes, Catholics and Jews, etc. will only happen when our community realizes that housing is not the central issue to community,” said Sanders. He added, “The real key to building community is encourage students to interact outside of their house/suite.”
To a large extent, current students agree with Sanders that housing should not be central to building community. There has been a significant shift in priorities and allegiances on the Williams campus since the end of the house affiliation program, and many students are happy with these changes. The graduating class of ’98 was the last class to remember the old system and since then, a new definition of community has arisen. Students appreciate the change, claiming it has allowed them to define themselves outside of the house system.
“I feel strongly that the Williams community, as it is currently realized, creates an environment for the best possible sort of interaction â€“ free interaction, without the social contrivances that, to me, would undermine the quality of the relationships one builds with others,” said Hall O’Donnell ’03.
Students are not only concerned with housing’s effect on community, but they also desire variety in the physical living spaces. Federico Sosa ’04 said, “The current system allows the student the possibility of enjoying four different housing arrangements in each of his four years. It allows some degree of class cohesion and interaction.”
Williams has one of the most diverse sets of rooming arrangements of any small college. Partly because the character of rooms varies tremendously, students are concerned with the possibility of being stuck in one house for three years. Students greatly enjoy the autonomy they currently have in their housing options, and the opportunity to try different living arrangements, from suites to walk-through doubles to traditional dorm arrangements. Sanders believes that one of the major strengths of the housing system is “the diversity of housing on campus.” Students do not want to miss out on their chance to live in a large Spencer single with a porch, and they also want the assurance that they will not be stuck in Tyler Annex for three years.
“The strengths are the system itself. . . I see no weaknesses,” said Kameron Shahid ’04. While Shahid and others are great advocates of the current open lottery system, there is dissent among students. Some students agree with alumni and administrators that house unity is a crucial part of the learning experience at Williams.
“Being a senior, and having a group of friends I can count on is great, but now they are familiar, and we can always use a few more situations in which we have no idea how to react,” said Will Allen ’02, a CC all-campus representative.
Yet even Allen warns that while a change in the system would create an “opportunity to meet a new friend, or get a new perspective,” it also carries “a risk to have an awful living situation that you have to make the best of.”
Like the alumni, students tend to think that their own housing system is best. Williams has provided a great experience for students living in frats in the ’50s, house affiliations in the ’70s and random dorms in the late ’90s. Perhaps one of the reasons for the continued success of housing at Williams is that both students and administrators are willing to share their own opinions and experiences in order to create a housing system that satisfies as many students as possible.