The release of the Second Interim Report from the Neighborhood Review Committee (NRC) earlier this month was followed by an open forum on Tuesday, Jan. 12, in Baxter Hall, during which the NRC presented four proposals and opened the discussion to student attendees, who voiced their concerns with the proposals and offered ideas of their own for going forward with discussion on the neighborhood system.
The NRC has not finalized a timeline for implementing a new or revised system, but Dean Merrill noted that committee does plan to meet in early February to discuss new developments. According to Professor Colin Adams, chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL), minor changes to the system could possibly be made in time for this spring’s housing draw.
The first proposal involves preserving the neighborhood system with modifications. Those alterations could include allowing groups of up to six students to live together without incurring penalty in pick order if they chose to switch into a different neighborhood, allowing seniors free-agency housing, allocating first-years to neighborhoods by an end-of-year lottery and re-engineering the geography of the neighborhoods to smaller divisions.
The second proposal suggests eliminating neighborhoods as a housing system. In this case, residency would be seniority-based by class year, and the neighborhoods would exist only for social programming.
The third proposal has the sophomore class living together in one geographical area, such as the Currier quad, and allows free-agency housing for juniors and seniors.
The final proposal integrates individual entries into various residence halls with upperclassmen, instead of placing first-years in Mission and Frosh Quad. This aims to encourage neighborhood allegiance from the beginning of the first-year experience.
Other proposal-independent models discussed included: the possibility of substance-free or quiet housing; theme housing based on a shared interest in food, music, politics, etc.; and a strengthened co-op system, in which housemates would be expected to cook and clean together.
Some common concerns addressed in the report and at the forum include whether, under the free agency proposals, juniors and seniors must have affiliation with neighborhoods in order to sit on the governance boards.
Another discussion topic was whether theme housing should be introduced and, if so, how the College community should validate identifications appropriate for residential groups.
Broader questions about whether students are willing to compromise desirable housing in order to live with friends, or whether the neighborhoods could continue to function if each cluster were dispersed geographically, also received attention.
Fittingly, student opinions have colored the debate about residential restructuring. Michaela Morton ’12 expressed thoughts on how to adjust, rather than completely throw away, the new system. “If we’re going to keep the neighborhoods, we need to define them,” Morton said. She added that deciding whether the neighborhoods exist for social planning, proximity or just a convenient way of dividing up housing remains a question that deserves an answer.
Morton elaborated that she thinks of neighborhoods as a “community of proximity,” and while she has no problem with cohesive groups living together, she is unsure how she feels about total free agency, although she would prefer it to the current situation. She added that she would not like to see fraternity-like structures form on campus, and thinks the College could avoid such a situation by reallocating different types of housing so as to prevent concentrated demand in one area.
Free agency appears to be a provocative idea that has prompted many students to reflect on the nature of the campus. Pat Chaney ’10 understands that the College’s previous free agency system led to homogeneity in housing, but believes that a free agency system offers the most utility for all students overall. “There could be a senior who would love to live in Tyler and can’t because he’s in a different neighborhood,” Chaney said. “That’s a serious lack of utility right there. If there’s no good reason not to, I think we should have free agency housing.”
In response to the proposal to group sophomore housing, Ifiok Inyang ’11 suggested that students should have the choice to opt-in to such a system. Zach Padovani ’11, president of Dodd neighborhood, thinks many students support the idea of shared sophomore housing because it resembles the entry experience, but underscored the lack of a space large enough to house the sophomore class. He also noted that such a system would foist less desirable “sophomore housing” upon juniors.
“Bad housing doesn’t just go away,” Padovani said. “You’re just moving it to different people.”
As a Junior Advisor, Inyang was strongly against the disaggregation of the entry system, as outlined in the fourth proposal. “I think that’s a terrible idea to integrate the entries into other dorms,” he said. “Entries already become isolated to start off with; to have one entry be the only freshmen in the dorm … would weaken the entry system.”
Padovani sees appeal in having first-years pick into a neighborhood at the end of the year, as well as in allowing students to switch neighborhoods at random without penalty. He went on to say, however, that he does not advocate for any drastic changes to the housing system. “I think the neighborhood system is still in its infancy and still has room to grow and improve,” Padovani said. “I don’t think we should abandon it.”
According to Dean Merrill, who is chair of the NRC, the NRC met in December and decided to proceed through Winter Study and the spring semester with student discussion on the neighborhood system. After the CUL drafted proposals that had the potential to generate good discussion, NRC members read the proposals and the CUL finalized the list.
Merrill explained that the proposals are not the only options for going forward, and that there are other residential models that could work as well. “Just because we’ve picked these four models, those are not the only possibilities,” she said.
Adams also explained the committee’s mindset. “It would be crazy to implement a system that everybody hates,” Adams said. “If students don’t buy in, it’s not going to work, and we know that.”
Merrill echoed this sentiment of flexibility. “The committee hasn’t wanted to set an absolute timeline [for wrapping up the neighborhood discussion] because we’ve wanted to be sure that we’ve allowed a thoughtful process to happen,” Merrill said.
To let campus dialogues mature as much as possible, the NRC will reconvene in early February to talk about possible recommendations. “We’ll have a better idea once those discussions happen about when the endpoint for our committee’s work will be,” Merrill said.
In addition, Adams highlighted the openness of the process. “We’ve already gotten some ideas that we haven’t heard before,” he said. Adams noted that the NRC is certainly open to additional ideas from students. He believes that the four concrete proposals will generate more student participation in the review process. “When you get more specific, as we are doing now, it’s much easier to get responses. It’s very hard to speak about intangibles,” Adams said. “My guess is we’ll get a better response.”
Doug Schiazza, director of Campus Life, said the attendances at this year’s open forums were significantly higher than they were in 2004-05. During that period, the CUL held open meetings with students in the residence halls to solicit their ideas for residential life. “However, I had hoped the turnouts would be larger this year than they turned out to be, considering how important this process is to student life at Williams,” Schiazza said.
According to Adams, the NRC is to put forth another student survey with the four proposals in mind, and emphasized again that student input is key.