Editorial: A call for transparency and planning in the housing process

Editorial Board

On May 3, the day that the 2022-2023 housing general lottery was supposed to start, the Office of Campus Life (OCL) suddenly announced that it would delay the process. At the time of publication, students have still not received further information about when the lottery will take place. 

For many students, this came as no surprise. Due to the pandemic, last fall’s general housing lottery was chaotic. Not only did the selection process begin while many students were away from campus for the summer, but OCL also introduced Thompson Hall midway through the lottery to serve as overflow housing. Now, after delays and inconsistent communication, it seems likely that the 2022 general lottery will be marked by similar uncertainty. 

Going forward, we ask the College to increase the frequency of communication with students about important changes to the housing selection process, consider students’ housing concerns in the campus planning project, and try to finish the general lottery before many students leave campus for the summer to make the selection process as equitable as possible. 

In an email to the Record on March 14, OCL reported that it received twice as many House Coordinator (HC) applications this year — a huge increase from the 70 annual applications it usually received in past years. Some of this change can certainly be attributed to the fact that HCs now receive compensation for their role, perhaps in addition to an increased desire for community spaces on campus after isolating restrictions that students have faced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But it would be remiss to ignore the simultaneous swell of anxiety that has characterized students’ experience with the housing lottery in recent years. These days, students apply for the role with the hope of guaranteeing a level of security for housing that they no longer expect from the general lottery. 

Additionally, students now look to housing accommodations with increased frequency. The housing accommodation process, according to OCL’s website, “is intended to support students who have true and significant needs that cannot be accommodated through regular processes or within the college’s policies.” This year, 274 students applied for housing accommodations, a sharp increase over past years, reflecting that more and more students are concluding that the general housing process will not meet their needs. 

This high number of applications places a heavy logistical burden on OCL, the Office of Accessible Education, and a host of other departments responsible for thoroughly reviewing accommodations requests, which diverts staff and resources from the other important programs these offices run. 

There is a better way. Right now, accommodations serve as an escape valve from the general lottery for some students. But this is not sustainable. Housing accommodations would not be so frequently utilized if the lottery process was less risky and confusing. 

Considering that this year’s undergraduate population has around 115 students more than those of past years, and the Class of 2026 is likely to be a record size, we understand the difficulties associated with providing housing to the College’s expanded student body through its typical lottery process. 

However, these evolving circumstances do not excuse the College from communicating. Right now, students are left on their own to interpret vague, unhelpful, and sometimes misleading messages from OCL. They are forced to seek information about the status of the general lottery from any source that they can find, leading to rumors and greater confusion. The College should provide consistent, transparent updates about the process so that information comes from a clear and reliable authority. 

In the immediate future, we ask that the College conduct the housing lottery before the end of this academic year. Not all students who leave campus for the summer have the same access to the internet, and some might live in time zones that make certain pick times infeasible. If this is not possible, and even if it is, we ask that the College communicate with students to minimize their stress and allow them to make housing plans that meet their pick groups’ needs. 

For the longer term, the College should consider these housing woes within its campus planning project, which will guide future building initiatives and incorporate the input of the College community. As Keenan Chenail, the project manager for the College’s Office of Planning, Design, and Construction, told the Record in November 2021, “It’s really important to note that the physical environment on campus is one of the largest tangible shapers of someone’s experience.” As such, we ask the College to consider the gap between students’ housing needs and its current supply of quality housing when finalizing this plan. 

Editorials represent the opinion of the majority of the Record editorial board.