Diversity of leadership needed

Last Wednesday evening, representatives of the Housing Committee (HC) presented their new housing proposal to the College Council (CC) and sought the campus’ feedback. Rob Sica, Healy Thompson and many others have spent countless hours crafting this extensive proposal, and its potential for positive change is quite exciting. They have laboriously studied the systems of our peer institutions to see how Williams can improve its residential offerings. The most novel aspect of the proposal is the intriguing way in which its creators have redefined the role of house presidents. After being appointed though a self-nomination process, the new ‘house coordinators’ will undergo training for mediation, intervention and social planning. They will receive a half-TA’s salary and get first pick in their assigned houses. With such tangible benefits, those who drafted the proposal hope to entice many capable candidates. We believe that the reinvigorated “house coordinator” role could do much to build community and strengthen our residential life.

Yet, despite our excitement, some questions linger, and HC representatives have said they welcome any “positive criticism.” We harbor no doubts concerning the proposal itself but are quite worried about the selection process that will choose these house coordinators. As the proposal stands now, next year’s housing coordinators will be selected by a committee consisting of three current house presidents, an administrator and, possibly, one more student. This selection committee constitutes an unacceptable element to the process and needs to be altered in some simple ways. We feel that such a process could marginalize and exclude various segments of our constituencies and, in turn, defeat the purpose of the proposal.

The changes that the housing committee hopes to implement are designed to create a new culture on this campus, a culture in which your housing coordinator will be a student with whom you feel comfortable, and whom you trust and respect. He or she will not only enthusiastically organize events, but also will provide mediation for the problems that commonly arise in dorm living. Williams students must believe that the housing coordinators, unlike house presidents as perceived in the past, can actually provide a service for their fellow students in these situations. Students must believe that housing coordinators can empathize, understand and aid them. Therefore, it is necessary that housing coordinators represent and reflect the College community. The proposed selection process jeopardizes that possibility through its committee’s narrow composition, and thus threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the entire proposal.

The appearance, and thus the size and makeup, of the selection committee is critical to achieve student trust in this issue. A selection committee composed of a few administrators and three current house presidents is not representative of our campus. The whole campus needs to be solicited honestly – and with a careful emphasis on creating a representative committee – to be involved in improving our system. Only then will the most capable housing coordinators be chosen. In order to achieve diversity among housing coordinators, we must ensure adequate all-campus representation.

When confronted during the CC meeting about the idea of expanding the selection committee to include students who are not currently involved with the housing committee, the rigid stance HC representatives adopted surprised us. They argued that the housing committee is extremely representative of the student body and will do a fine job of choosing next year’s housing coordinators. We agree that the housing committee should lead the selection committee – it is they who designed this system and know the current system’s flaws best. The HC is a crucial group to use in the selection process (as are JAs serving on the JA selection committee). Nevertheless, we acknowledge some simple truths about HC’s current makeup. During our time at Williams, there has been a persistent campus perception that HC only represents a certain type of student. Indeed, this is no longer accurate, but the general feeling remains. Furthermore, campus apathy permits many representatives to run in elections with limited voter turnout. House presidents often achieve their positions unopposed. Also, although many house presidents, including the committee chairs, have performed in an exemplary fashion this year, others often neglect their full responsibilities. These facts severely impede HC’s claim to sufficient reflection of the diverse array of interests that comprise the Williams community. A large number of students who would bring creativity and energy to this selection committee did not even consider running for HC because of such prevalent views. Nevertheless, they must be given the opportunity to participate in, and bring their experience to the selection process.

We eagerly anticipate the more effective house leadership system that this proposal could surely engender. However, as the phrase goes, the appearance of impropriety is impropriety.

We implore the house presidents to consider our constructive criticism and improve the selection committee so that their proposal may reach its fullest potential. One can never please everyone. HC members are only human and have already done much on behalf of this campus. But to stop short now, after so much devoted work, would be tragic. HC must open the selection committee to the campus at large. Each additional member will bring a viewpoint that will help bring this proposal to its full fruition.