HCs, CLCs must recognize campus values

This month, a committee composed of the four Community Life Coordinators (CLCs), several current Housing Coordinators (HCs) and a few students at large will select next year’s group of HCs. As next year will be only the second year of the HC program, in selecting the HCs for 2003-4, the committee must evaluate how successful the program has been thus far and accordingly refine the role and ethos of the HC system.

Confusion still prevails over the exact function HCs are meant to fulfill. Required to host six house activities per semester, HCs are intended to encourage interaction between housemates. This initiative accompanied the changes to the room-draw process last year, which attempted to increase residential diversity by limiting the housing group size to four and instituting gender-balancing and a half-blind pick-in process.

The HC system is analogous to the JA system in the sense that it assigns an individual to each living group who can organize activities for house members, facilitate house interaction and mediate disagreements. However, there are several key differences between the two systems.

First, while JAs introduce first years to college and residential life, HCs live with upperclassmen who have already gotten to know the College and know what they hope to get out of the housing system. While students may not depend on HCs the same way many first years look to JAs, the HCs still have great potential to improve residential life and house unity.

Yet despite the clear potential of the HC program, many would still identify the HC position as purely organizational. While most students might consider a JA’s primary job to be befriending a new group of students, many see HCs as people who take care of the organizational legwork of a house without getting to know all the residents.

Ideally, HC applicants would be attracted to the position primarily for the pleasure of fostering interaction between disparate groups of people. In the HC program, the JA standard seems indeed improved by nature of the fact that HCs need not bother with acclimating those in their house to campus life and can instead focus on promoting intra-house relations. The best HCs this year have capitalized on the natural solidarity which comes with living with people of their own class year – cohesion which comes more genuinely and lastingly with spontaneous, casual contact than with the required number of contracted events.

The issue of payment is another question in the debate about the role of the HCs and their motives in applying for the position. While JAs are volunteers, HCs are rewarded with guaranteed housing for themselves and three friends – allowing them to bypass the stresses of the housing lottery – along with a generous salary. As the CLCs have little means of ensuring that HCs conscientiously carry out their jobs once the coveted rooms are assigned, the selection committee must strongly consider the motivations of applicants in the selection process.

HCs who are motivated merely by the housing and financial perks of the job will be less likely to fulfill the goals of the program by organizing events that bring the whole house together. There is nothing – save the selection of HCs who are indisputably motivated by the spirit of the program and dedicated to furthering its goals – to ensure that the six events each semester do not consistently appeal to only one segment of the house.

Equally concerning for the success of the HC program is the lack of understanding the CLCs have shown in how the housing system at Williams works. As the furor over last year’s changes to the room-draw process illustrates, housing is an issue about which the students are extremely sensitive. Students accept the hierarchical room-draw system, with seniors picking in before juniors, who in turn draw before sophomores. As a result of the seniority system, certain houses are clearly identifiable as predominantly senior, junior or sophomore housing.

Yet the CLCs claim they see no reason why a sophomore cannot act as an HC in a row house. Here is why: the residents of that row house – predominantly seniors – will resent that sophomore and his or her three friends who are occupying rooms that they believe should rightfully be occupied by seniors. Lacking any respect or cooperation from housemates, such an HC will be utterly ineffective in mediating disagreements between housemates or promoting house unity, except insofar as the members of the house unite against their HC.

This argument applies generally to any mismatch in the class year of an HC and his or her house. Obviously, the situation is complicated if too few students of a particular class apply to be HCs. However, if the HC program manages to improve over the next few years, this problem will most likely be alleviated.

While the attempt to diversify housing is commendable, the CLCs and the current HCs must continue to refine the system in order for it to reach its maximum potential. The selection committee needs to strongly consider the motives of the applicants, and must also make every effort to match HCs with houses where students of their class year traditionally live. If the selection committee takes these issues into consideration, perhaps the campus at large will have more respect for the HC program, and thus contribute the enthusiasm necessary for the HCs to do their job well.