CUL plan finds ally in Theater construction

The groundbreaking of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance marked the official beginning of construction at the site, although as we all know the bulldozers and jackhammers have been going for quite a while. Ignoring whatever feelings students, faculty and staff may have about the design of the building or the building process, the construction does present an exciting possibility: the chance of further diversifying student housing on campus.

One enormous problem with the new complex is that it effectively cuts the Greylock quad off from the center of campus and such buildings as Baxter, Sawyer and Stetson. Students living in the quad must take circuitous routes on Route 2 or past the parking garage and the Carl Vogt ’58 House (63 Park St.). In addition to this long term problem with the building, the unpleasantness surrounding any construction site – dust and loud noise – affects students’ living and dining experience in the area.

These factors, however, do serve to potentially alter traditional housing arrangements. There have been indications that some rising juniors and even seniors with low picks may opt to pick into Mission at this year’s housing draw, a decision which would then reverberate through the rising sophomore class. Indeed, if a number of juniors lived in Mission next year, the College would have inadvertently accomplished much of what the CUL tried to craft with its proposal last year: Houses with mixed classes, coupled with gender balancing and a four-person pick size could redefine living at Williams.

The question, of course, is whether possibly cutting off the Greylock quad permanently, which may happen depending on how appealing walking through the finished complex will be, could be outweighed by the new housing arrangements. This is highly doubtful; the flow of traffic to Greylock from Baxter remains a fundamental flaw with the new complex.

Alternately, of course, next year upperclassmen may realize that, after its renovation this summer, Mission offers superior housing to the Greylock quad, which would mean a permanent change, construction notwithstanding. New common rooms and glass doors meant to encourage interaction among students highlight some of the planned changes in Mission.

Additionally, Dean Roseman should be applauded for fine-tuning the process for upperclassmen picking into doubles. By requiring that students have a partner when they pick into a double, the College has effectively maximized its available bed space and prevented the tension that often exists between seniors who pick into doubles individually and the underclassmen who are then forced into the doubles when they have no other option.

The new requirement works well for students who still have some housing options, but it might pay to go the opposite route with sophomores who have low picks. Because having a low pick in sophomore year means one has few options, the College should consider lifting the gender-balance limitations once the bottom picks are reached, which would help prevent situations of women living in an all-male suite, or vice-versa. There is no reason to enforce gender-balancing at the expense of students who are already being forced to split their housing groups.

Again, of course, this new doubles policy only provides a partial fix for a broader problem; the College has anticipated less students studying abroad, which means more beds on campus will be used. The crunch became acute this year during the Winter Study transitional period when students returning from abroad and those planning on leaving for second semester were both on campus. This year’s large freshman class, which has already overcrowded some entries, particularly in the freshman quad, will only exacerbate the situation as they move upwards. The strain placed on housing for upperclassmen in turn places more pressure on the admissions office to avoid another large class (a goal which should exist regardless of the housing situation).

The easy solution would be to ask the College to build more housing, so as to maintain the same number of singles that exist this year. However, with financial commitments to a number of large projects and a difficult fundraising atmosphere because of the poor economy, it is doubtful the College would commit to expanding its housing options significantly. If the College chooses not to address the situation by adding new rooms, the quality of housing here will diminish. And while the College may still provide superior housing options, the move towards less exceptional housing may be a situation students will just have to learn to deal with.