Let the games begin! With the institution of a utopian-minded set of rules the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) has officially opened season for the housing games. With the goal to increase the interaction on campus, the group has created a set of policies to “encourage” more diversity in student housing. I would argue, however, that they have not correctly predicted the impact of these changes on the quality of residential life at Williams. In fact, its members have overestimated their ability to produce the end result they want and they fail to acknowledge the new proposal’s potential for harm. In the creation of this more complicated system, they have increased the stakes for students who try to manipulate and subvert the housing draw system.
The specific parts of the CUL proposal that I object to deal exclusively with room draw. The idea of anchors as a tool to encourage interaction among classes seems like it could be a good idea, as long as the College avoids a heavy-handed stance in the administration of these policies. I don’t harbor the same optimism about the proposed changes to the room draw system.
In a set of new conditions that govern the process of room draw, the CUL seeks to influence the outcome of the random room draw process. Their stated goal is to “strengthen the residential community and foster social development and understanding, thus increasing the opportunity for learning outside the classroom.” While this is a noble goal, I believe they have created a situation that will not deliver those results. The machinations proposed by the CUL are not strong enough to stand up to students’ determined efforts to subvert the process. My opposition to the CUL’s proposed changes to room draw rests more on the negative consequences that I believe they will bring than on my unoptimistic view of their chances for success in their stated goal.
Each specific alteration of the room draw process carries significant negative ramifications. Reducing group size will bind people into smaller, more homogenous groups, discouraging them from taking the chance of including people they don’t know as well. Fragmenting larger housing draw groups into smaller ones cannot prevent people from gathering in the same houses. In only four of the twenty-seven houses available would a group of seven compose more than half of the total house population. In twenty of the remaining houses, a group of seven would comprise less than thirty percent of the occupants. Thus it seems that multiple groups picking in would cause domination of houses, rather than single large groups.
Gender balancing in houses seems innocuous enough on the surface. The stated reason for attempting to change room draw was to create an environment where students are exposed to people whom they otherwise might not have known. However, it seems ridiculous to argue that living for one year in a house that is overwhelmingly of one gender will deprive students of an important learning experience. The Williams experience is thoroughly co-ed as is. Gender balancing would only result in fewer people getting their first choice of housing.
One of the most alarming proposals is the institution of a blind housing draw. This policy cannot prevent groups of friends or teammates from telling each other where they have picked in, and indeed makes that the only type of reliable information available. As it stands, there is little incentive to huddle with your friends if there is better housing available elsewhere. Plus, it is unreasonable for the College to expect each student to be willing to live with everyone else on campus, and the institution of the blind draw takes away the ability to avoid the few people you have legitimate reason to avoid.
Finally, the removal of the penalty for groups composed of different class years especially encourages the manipulation of the system. This clause rewards underclassmen who don’t play by the rules and gives upperclassmen no reason not to help them. It would result in the creation of groups for the sake of the draw alone, who may not have the intention of actually living together.
In the face of this known potential for conflict, the CUL, in its meeting with College Council, acknowledged that there would be a certain amount of increased friction in housing. However, the CUL argued that the plan would still benefit the student body and could be managed by the new residential life staff. To me, the idea that there is an acceptable level of conflict that can be created in the desire for a learning experience is an idea gravely misplaced in housing. Has the CUL watched “The Real World”? On MTV every week you can see one result of forced tension in housing. At Williams, with the limited availability of co-op and off-campus housing, there is no escape from the residential life system. Because of this reality, the CUL should tread lightly and give the students as much freedom as possible.
It would be reactionary to argue that the implementation of the CUL proposal would “ruin” Williams. However, this proposal has spurred a surge of negative feeling on campus, clearly touching on something close to the hearts of the student body. Williams’ greatest strength is the friends made here, the group of people you spend your time talking to at three in the morning. Williams has, by luck or planning, created a community where it’s easy, even natural, for people to find large groups of close friends. For this reason alone the CUL should grandfather in the room draw proposals, so as not to actively damage the friendships already established. And they should think carefully about tampering with the system that is already succeeding for so many people.