Positive energy for CUL proposal

I was told that my face turned a bright shade of scarlet when I attempted to empathize with students angry about the CUL proposals at last week’s CC meeting. Now, with a little more time to elaborate, I hope to shed some light on the merits of the CUL proposal. Our proposal – which should be in final form by early April – is a three-pronged recommendation to the powers that ultimately decide: Morton O. Schapiro, president of the College, and Nancy Roseman, dean of students.

The change in room draw, which will indeed be in place for this upcoming spring, was actually finalized last spring. At that time, I was on the other end of the proposal as a house president and joined in the uproar by arguing that the lack of preparation time and the reduction of group size would cause problems in groups of friends and picks into Mission suites.

This year, the CUL continues to endorse the four-person figure. This room draw size prevents one group from taking over an entire small house. It also increases the probability that you will live next to or near someone that you might not have known before! Our list of goals for housing includes increasing diversity and providing a Williams experience that reflects the College standards of conduct.

Diversity includes diversity of interests – in sleeping habits, musical taste and other things that are related to creating a comfortable living situation. In the past, most housing pick groups self-selected to four or less, but we still hope that the new policy fosters social expansion and cooperation and negates the possibility of one group taking over a dormitory. As was pointed out at the CC meeting, many of these standards have already been implemented, with the housing book already gone to print.

I think that the new housing size should include a grandfather clause to allow groups of this year’s rising junior and senior classes to opt for a group of five if, for example, such a group has picked in together in the past. The CUL is divided on this, with the grandfather clause favored by a narrow margin in our committee. Still, I have the feeling that the housing booklets will not reflect this recommendation.

This brings me back to the process that at times seems hypocritical. The first time, for example, I heard of the concept of gender balancing houses was after the administration had already adopted the idea. Since the CUL agrees with gender balancing, we went ahead and put it in our proposal. But just as CC felt as though they were being asked to contribute to a decision that “had already gone to print,” so did I.

The last part of the room draw change is a move toward an anonymous room draw. This policy will not be in place this spring and is inexorably linked with the changes in the residential life personnel structure that are coming up. The idea of the anonymous room draw does not suppose that students won’t be able to link with friends and figure out a strategic plan, but it does increase the possibility of getting to know a new neighbor. I am not completely sold on the idea, and the point was well taken that in some cases you may know that living with someone is just not feasible; in that case you would want to know “where not to live.” Luckily, we’ll be able to survey the scene after new residential personnel are in place.

The next piece of the proposal is very exciting. It calls for the hiring of a dean of community life and about four Community Life Coordinators (CLCs). The CLCs will be recent college grads who will be paid a nice salary to work full-time on community building. Right now we’re looking into whether they could or should live on campus. I agree with Will Allen’s comment at the CC meeting that no CLC should be housed in the frosh quad (or in any first-year housing for that matter) as that throws an odd presence into our proven JA system. If we can get the Community Life Coordinators on board for this fall, they will work closely with the new house presidents (though I think those kids will have a new title) once the proposed changes to house governance that the current house presidents have developed goes into motion. I am not sold on some of the concepts drafted for the new house presidents, such as selection instead of election and pre-determined placement into houses, but I’m psyched to see how it will go if it can revamp a feeling of house unity.

The CLCs will eliminate some of the wasted time and energy that students currently have to invest in event planning. They will have a budget to bring to reality students’ event ideas. They will (hopefully, and I think must) be able to be involved in planning events with alcohol. Working with the house presidents, they will build the intramural sports program and community service projects. It’s great that Williams is now investing in manpower and skills to build community life.

The third piece of the proposal, the anchor affiliation system, is still in conceptual form and will not be ready for next year. Since the residential life situation will be drastically different beginning next year (four-person pick, trained house presidents, CLCs), we’ll have to see what new challenges arise. The goals of the anchor affiliation system include providing a four-year association with a group, especially because students move to different housing locations every year and thus have no long-term house pride or relationship with one faculty associate. The anchor affiliation groups would work with the CLCs and be another outlet for a running IM rivalry and an association with faculty.

If the anchor affiliation system is developed as we envision, students would be randomly assigned to an anchor house as an incoming first-year. This would provide an opportunity for first-years to meet upperclassmen; it shouldn’t detract from the JA system, but this is something we would have to monitor and respond to. The anchor affiliation system would have no bearing on housing – your suitemates could all have different anchor houses, and you would be drawn to your anchor house through food (what else?). Ideally, for a few meals a week only one dining hall would remain open and Dining Services would cater lunch inside a renovated eating space within the anchor houses.

Basically I’m saying: be positive about change! These topics have generated a lot of energy on campus, and improvement is in the air. The room draw is settled – again, hopefully with “grandfathering” – the CLCs can only make things better, and the anchor affiliation system will continue to evolve through student input as next year goes by. Get psyched!