CUL decision: in your hands

The Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) has spoken. It even thinks it has made a final decision.

In response, I guess I could write a calm letter to the editor in opposition to the CUL’s room draw plan, laying out my points one by one. But I think CUL has ticked a lot of us off. It has pretended to “listen,” but it hasn’t heard anything that we’ve said. The bottom line is that unless we do something, the room draw size is going to go down to four this year. So I encourage the quiet majority of students who like the current system to write the CUL e-mail, even if letters are just three lines long. The address is cul@williams.edu. Heck, for the frustrated activists out there looking for a cause, here’s something to protest. If you can’t think of enough reasons to oppose CUL’s proposals, here are mine:

Its ends simply aren’t worth the pain that the means will cause. I mean, what is “community” anyway? Two thousand students aren’t going to hold hands and sing “Kum-ba-ya,” whether you make them live together or not.

When I was a freshman, I didn’t learn a whole lot from the guys who sprayed beer all over the place and never seemed to aim very well when they had to throw up in the bathroom. My perspective wasn’t changed much by the Caribbean girl who was always away from the entry hanging out with other people from the islands. Nobody has to get to know the people they happen to live near. We don’t have a lot of time to socialize, so we’re going to spend it with people that we’re already friends with.

And why shouldn’t we? Why shouldn’t the housing system help us to get closer to people we already like or have gotten to know on our own? Our thoughts and perspectives are influenced more by a few deep friendships than by many shallow ones. Besides, there’s a lot more diversity in friendship groups than the CUL seems to think. No two Williams students are clones. If the group size gets dropped to four, people will choose to live with those of their friends who are most like them and lose meaningful diversity: diversity within their network of friends. That’s what’s going to happen to my housing group and I suspect to lots of others as well.

Aside from educational value, there’s our general welfare. We’re happier if we get to live with our friends. Earlier this year, I asked my friend Josh Kelner ’01 what he thought the best part of college had been. He said, without a moment’s hesitation, “having all my best friends living right down the hall.” There’s not much out there that’s worth trying to achieve if we have to damage the best thing about college to do it. And I can’t imagine what would be so great that it’s worth putting groups of six good friends through the agony of choosing who’s in and who’s out. The CUL’s fragmented “community” of four -person housing groups who live with a random set of new people every year certainly doesn’t cut it.

I thought that the CUL had realized this. When they proposed the housing cluster system, it seemed that even if members hadn’t realized that freedom works, they had at least discovered that coerced yearly atomization isn’t community. And maybe there was a scrap of logic to a pick size of four and a cluster system working together.

At least there’d be something there to replace your self-made community of friends. But what good having a pick size of four next year without a cluster system does is beyond me. Apparently throughout this whole year-long debate, the CUL has been there to “listen,” but members haven’t heard much that we’ve said.

The CUL keeps telling us that we’ve got to stop teams from taking over the row houses. Well, guess what, I’d rather have a sports team party in its row house than in my suite’s common room. They’d be happier and I would be too. Or maybe the professors and staff on the CUL would be kind enough to offer a team their living rooms. They’d have a great time. After all, there’s really no social mixer quite like having strangers spill beer on your couch. You’ve gotta love that diversity!

Besides, even if we’ve got to split the sports teams up, why not just cap the number of team members who can live in any given dorm? And if the CUL is still exorcized about gender and racial balance in dorms, they can cap that too if they must. They don’t have to tear everything down in the name of reform.

Another obvious problem is the blind room draw, in which you don’t get to see who you would be living next to. There really are students on this campus who are incompatible; they should have enough information to protect themselves from a year of conflict. If the CUL gets its way on this one, I hope that College Council will nullify its decision by setting up a student-run website with the housing plans that allows students to sign in and register where they’ve picked so that we’ll all know. We are not powerless.

I suppose I could finish up by talking about our right to autonomy. After all, we can vote, sign contracts and be drafted. What right does the CUL have to nanny us? I could close by demanding that the CUL give us a binding vote on the fate of our housing system. They keep telling us that we’re going to be trusted with the fate of the world; surely they can trust us with the fate the college’s residential life. Not to mention that these are the best conditions democracy could ask for. We’ve got a population of smart, well-informed people making a choice about something they care about.

But the CUL isn’t really interested in any of that. The only way to get through to them is by weight of e-mail. They need to know that we will not tolerate what they’re doing. And that’s where you can help.