Freshman year, my friends and I started talking about housing in January. The draw wasn’t until April, but negotiating the size of our group and parsing our chances of doubles, singles and clusters somehow took the full two months. Last week’s co-op draw for the Class of 2009 brought back all of those anxieties, and reminded me how our class has been on the wrong end of most of the housing changes in the last few years.
The Class of 2009 is the first class to go through Williams with the cluster system fully in place. We lived in Morgan, Fay and East freshman year; a lot of us lived in doubles sophomore year; and we’ve had to struggle to negotiate the co-op draw and re-entering neighborhoods that don’t have room for us after we return from being abroad. Over and over again, the Class of 2009 has gotten screwed over by the housing system.
Fortunately for my group, obsessing paid off and our luck held for sophomore year. We were able to pick into Spencer Neighborhood, the cluster with the lowest percentage of sophomore doubles, and got a nice suite in Mark Hopkins. This year I’m a JA, and next year (again fortunately) I’ll be living in a co-op with all the same kids. We got lucky.
Look at what we were up against: Probably two-thirds of the class lived in doubles our freshman year, and a similar percentage did during sophomore year because of our mistimed entrance into Williams. We missed out on the important sophomore bonding experience of living in Mission Park, which most older students point to as critical to the formation of future friendships. Any new friendships we made during sophomore year were impossible to act on because of the spread-out cluster system â€“ at least current freshmen get to live with those in neighboring entries.
A friend of mine once wryly remarked that we are attending Williams five years too early. The improvements to the physical plant of the school, from the Weston Field project to Stetson-Sawyer, will drastically improve housing by freeing up houses like Siskind from temporary uses, making the College a more sustainable place and improving the circulation around campus with the new Sawyer lawn.
The cluster system, which might still pan out in the next couple of years as houses diversify, hurts the sophomore class, the most vulnerable class at Williams, to the greatest extent. First-years have entries; juniors have JAing or studying abroad; and seniors have the best housing. Sophomore year, when you’re firming up friendships, picking a major and realizing that nothing’s new any more, can be really tough, and the cluster system doesn’t make it easier by isolating you across campus. This school simply isn’t big enough to sustain social compartmentalization. The cluster system’s principal failure is that it was designed as if all clusters are equal, which is clearly not true. These criticisms aren’t new â€“ at various points, people have written about them when opposing cluster housing or asking for support for the sophomore class â€“ but they affected ’09 the most and the earliest, because the responses came too late for us.
Last week’s co-op draw starkly brought home the plight of ’09. The co-op system is an opportunity to get across cluster barriers, which appear increasingly arbitrary and inconvenient. The list of available houses â€“ clearly the sweetest set-ups on campus â€“ has been slowly dwindling since the implementation of cluster housing, while demand for these spaces has been rising for the same reason. After losing Goodrich, Sewall and Parsons to Dodd Neighborhood, the co-op list was already growing thin (even with the addition of Woodbridge, which was meant to make up for those losses). This year, there were only six houses, after the Rectory fell by the wayside. With Poker added in there were 101 available beds, which included several doubles. Two hundred eighty-five ’09ers applied for those 101 spots. With 50 groups in the lottery, that meant you had approximately a 20 percent chance of living in a house.
I suppose it’s too late for 2009, but it’s too bad that Campus Life hasn’t found replacements for the co-ops taken by cluster housing and renovations or responded to seniors’ desires to live together. Perhaps if they found a way to make the cluster barriers a little more flexible for seniors, or allowed larger pick groups in the senior room draw, life would get a little easier for our class. Of course, it’s always important to take these matters into perspective â€“ senior class housing is probably not the most pressing issue facing the College these days â€“ but it’s also important not to let one class graduate feeling like they got a raw deal.
Jay Cox-Chapman ’09 is an American studies major from Hartford, Conn.