Luck of the neighborhood draw

I’m a senior set to graduate this spring and I consider myself lucky. One of my classmates has to live in a basement room while literally hundreds of underclassmen had the option this same year of living in aboveground, well-ventilated and centrally-located housing. My friend has recently been able to move out of his room only because he protested his housing situation on extremely desperate grounds.

Way back when, my friend truly appreciated his single in the Frosh Quad, and during the following two years, he lived in a comparable room in Carter House. However, when he showed up this past fall, he found that his basement room was dangerously isolated in a dingy subterranean corridor and located beneath twin toilets whose plumbing (and its contents) ran nosily through his room at all hours. He eventually pursued off-campus housing at extra expense.

I was also shocked to find someone residing in what basically amounts to the College’s biggest closet. The room is in Wood House and, though opening to a spacious common room, it has absolutely no windows. The resident of this room will surely find it necessary to leave his door opened if he expects any sort of ventilation while asleep. This could compromise his safety and privacy. Moreover, hours on end of working without natural light can cause optical trauma as well as mild depression.

An upperclassman faced with such dismal housing might at least indulge in the support system offered by his glorious cluster – right? No dice. During my own forays into campus life, I discovered that my College Council neighborhood representative didn’t even know that I lived in her constituency, nor did my Baxter Fellow connect with her respective house. I also figured out that neighborhood-sponsored events, aside from drawing members of other neighborhoods, do little else than run up debt. And absolutely nobody – nobody – cares about the Cluster Cup.

And so I ask: What kind of a residential system makes certain upperclassmen choose from rooms that are not as well situated or – dare I say it – as humane as rooms to which underclassmen in other neighborhoods have access? Without a doubt, Spencer Neighborhood offers the best housing in terms of location and room quality, while Dodd and Wood neighborhoods include some awkward housing choices. When Spencer Neighborhood sophomores have access to spacious singles in West Hall, while some Wood Neighborhood seniors get stuck with far-off, hermetically sealed or basement rooms, there’s got to be a problem.

If you are a first-year and can’t afford either the cost of apartment housing or abandoning your meal plan, you’re best off in Spencer Neighborhood, with Currier being a close second. For those members of the remaining neighborhoods who are uninterested in either roommates or co-op housing, I advise the following: Wood members should avoid Agard House and Garfield House. Otherwise, you’ll be more than several minutes away from the nearest dining hall, and if you’re taking classes anywhere east of Hoxsey Street or just want to get to a library, expect the snow-covered marches you’ll be making in the winter to take up to 20 below-freezing minutes. Same goes for the Dodd unfortunates who end up housed in Tyler House or Tyler Annex, which are even farther off.

If you’re an upperclassman already housed in these far-off locales, I guess the founders of the neighborhood system figured that your neighborhood pride should have you all smiles as you walk pass by those lowerclassmen in Spencer Neighborhood who live in Morgan and West Halls, which are centrally-located and mere seconds away from Paresky Center and Spring Street.

My point exactly? If anyone knows anything about Williams, it’s that our friendships and not our physical location inform our social circles. Neighborhood housing’s biggest enemies remain our abilities to associate with our teammates, to choose co-op or off-campus housing and to access methods of social networking like cell phones and Facebook. That is, I have yet to meet an upperclassman rely on his neighborhood when selecting his own social circle. And even though my subterranean friend is extremely unlucky, I’d nevertheless say his case remains emblematic of the inequities that many of us have faced because Williams’ neighborhood system is imposed on housing that wasn’t originally designed with such a system in mind.

If my parents pay the same money for housing, why should I be at a disadvantage when compared to underclassmen? College administrators should be aware that word will get out to prospective students about these sorts of avoidable housing inequities. If you want an architecturally equitable neighborhood system, you’re still better off at Yale.

Andrés López ’09 is an English and philosophy major from El Paso, Texas.

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