The report released yesterday by the Neighborhood Review Committee (NRC) has advanced a number of long-awaited, concrete proposals after months of fact-finding and discussion. Some of these recommendations are laudable, while others are dubious. The committee’s explicit acknowledgment of widely supported issues like gender-neutral housing and greater freedom in residential selection deserve applause, but other proposals pose problems and leave vast room for improvement. In particular, quiet housing and the proposed social programming system raised questions. Evidently, part one of the report does not solve all of our residential problems.
To increase student freedom, the report recommends allowing students to choose neighborhood affiliation as rising sophomores and change neighborhoods at will. This in essence further dilutes any semblance of neighborhood pride or camaraderie. Contradictorily, the report also suggests efforts to strengthen intra-neighborhood programming. By eliminating some of the restriction in housing choice, the NRC successfully addresses students’ desires for free agency while keeping measures in place to maintain balance and diversity and to prevent large cohorts from taking over houses. While we wholeheartedly support this out- look, we find its form suspect. Augmenting liberty essentially renders neighborhoods a sham and, by extension, the superficial maintenance of neighborhood distinctions through neighborhood-centric events a waste of time and energy.
In its attempt to juggle neighborhood programming, house activities and All- Campus Entertainment (ACE), the NRC seems at risk of creating a rather convoluted social programming system, raising even more questions regarding responsibilities surrounding organization and funding. This system seems futile, considering that neighborhood events have always been geared to- ward fostering the neighborhood affiliation that the NRC appears to be turning away from. NGBs from all neighborhoods have indeed staged successful all-campus events. However, the organizational talent of neighborhood social officers would be far better suited to serving the campus as a whole. Likewise, funding currently earmarked for neighborhood-specific events should be appropriated to a centralized pool for use by campus-wide groups like ACE. We believe this scheme would still facilitate small, localized events like barbecues while better providing for larger events like parties, without forcing student organizers to navigate tentative collaborations and source funding from various bodies.
The report’s suggestion that the Baxter Fellow system be strengthened is perhaps one of its most incisive, but that strength will not stem from further entrenching them in event planning. NGBs and Baxter Fellows should not engage in social programming but should merely focus on administrative issues specific to housing. Baxter Fellows should serve as front-line dorm administrators and mediators. While this is ostensibly already their role, our residential system rarely highlights or utilizes it. The College must reiterate and reinforce the Baxter Fellows’ current, specific role as the most localized form of housing governance. Creating a system in which students have a peer point-person to assist with issues of intra-house disruptions, whether from noise levels or cranky plumbing, would probably productively address some of the feelings of discomfort in housing situations.
In an attempt to forestall future instances of students feeling unsafe and unwelcome in their dorms, the NRC has recommended quiet housing, which would arguably be the most dramatic change to the housing system suggested in the report. While student comfort is undoubtedly paramount, allocating a dorm for themed housing could set the housing system on a slippery slope toward homogeneity and enclave housing, something both students and faculty have opposed in recent discussions. In addition, the existence of quiet housing would seem to sharply delineate between the quiet dorm and “non-quiet dorms.” Students should not have to vie for positions in a particular building to claim the right to have quiet at 2 a.m. during the week. This proposal also threatens to create the illusion that anyone who has not opted into quiet housing has full license to be annoyingly loud at will. There must remain a drive for respect, not just a divisive mentality of “if you don’t like it, you can leave.” In contrast, advocating gender-neutral housing was one of the stronger points of the report, as it represents a move to further the sort of diversity and inclusiveness we would like to see.
Overall, under the pressure of students clamoring for immediate change, it was wise for the NRC to introduce changes incrementally in order to balance expedience and thoughtfulness in its revisions. A larger scale decision carried out too rapidly would have been likely be riddled with problems than it solved. Nonetheless, the commit- tee must allow the honesty, acumen and boldness that we have glimpsed in this first installment to come to full fruition in the second. It must address the large portion of the current report that is too nebulous to approach anything resembling a definitive re-imagining of our residential system – as it stands, it is simply a band-aid in the place of the major surgery needed.