‘We just want to be heard’: TAPSI decisions leave students frustrated, confused

Megan Lin

Wood House, the current home of Eban House, was assigned to the Performing Arts House for the 2023-2024 academic year. (Lena Kerest/The Williams Record)

The Theme/Affinity/Program/Special Interest (TAPSI) Review Committee released housing decisions for the 2023-2024 academic year on Feb. 1 to TAPSI Community Coordinators (CCs). Eight groups applied to become TAPSI houses, all of which were approved. Four are returning houses from the 2022-2023 school year: Eban House, which was placed in the first floor of Morgan Hall; the Sustainable Living Community, placed in Garfield House; Williams Interfaith Dialogue in Prospect House; and the International House in the first floor of Gladden House. The four remaining houses are new. La Casa, a house for Latinx students, was placed in Spencer House; Triple A Space, a house for AAPI students, in Sewall House; the Performing Arts House in Wood House; and International Diplomacy and Global Finance House in Goodrich House.

To apply for TAPSI, groups were required to find both a faculty and a staff advisor, recruit two CCs, garner at least 50 signatures of interested students, and write a proposal.

The TAPSI Review Committee — which determines houses’ placements — consists of seven staff members from the Residential Life & Housing team from the Office of Campus Life (OCL); one member of the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and two students on the Residential Life Team.

The TAPSI Review Committee gave houses until Feb. 10 to accept their placements. Four have accepted, but Eban House, Triple A Space, Interfaith Dialogue, and the Performing Arts House have appealed their decision and are currently awaiting more communication. Though the TAPSI Review Committee told TAPSI CCs that they could expect final decisions on Feb. 10, no CCs had heard back from the committee by the time of publication. 

In an email to the Record, Area Coordinator Zach Cramer, on behalf of OCL, wrote that because so many groups have requested meetings, the TAPSI Review Committee has had to delay finalizing its decisions. “We will make and announce decisions as soon as we are able,” he wrote.

Yoyo Feliz ’26 and Amirah Parker ’26, the incoming CCs for Eban House, received notice that their house was placed in the first floor of Morgan rather than Wood, the dorm Eban House occupies now. Feliz and Parker said that Morgan’s layout and singular common space across all four floors is not conducive to fostering the community that they seek to provide. “Putting us in Morgan feels like we’re just an entry of Black students,” Feliz said.

Parker said that her experience this year as one of the few women of color in her entry reinforced the importance of having a space to turn to for safety and understanding. “My housing situation this year was really unfortunate,” she said. “I didn’t feel at home in a place that was literally assigned [as] my home … so I turned to Wood.”

“I know that that will happen to a lot of people next year,” she added. “There will be several entries where you may be the only person of color, and it sucks.”

According to Feliz and Parker, the TAPSI Review Committee provided students with a few reasons why they were placed in Morgan instead of Wood, including Morgan’s newer furniture and more central location, its greater housing capacity given the over 100 signatures of interest that the 2023-24 Eban House received, as well as the emergency room units in Wood that went unused this year due to its status as a TAPSI house.

The committee also told them that it wanted safe spaces to be created all around campus rather than having one house maintain the status of a safe space for years, an assertion with which Feliz and Parker disagreed. “I think having a space where you can create safety — and the safety being established and consistent — is important,” Feliz said. “You can’t really create safety on the move.”

Parker added that the policy requiring current houses to reapply to exist each year contributed to that disruption. “[Saying] ‘Sophomore year, I’m going to live in the Black house’ and [then having to ask] ‘Oh wait, are we going to have a Black house?’ [is] just very frustrating,” she said.

The TAPSI application asked CCs to specify what features they wanted in a house, but Feliz and Parker said they were not given an option to rank which specific dorms they preferred. If given the option, Parker said, “Morgan would [not have] been ranked.”

Along with multiple common spaces, Feliz and Parker requested a house that also had a kitchen and a lawn for outdoor events. In the TAPSI Review Committee’s decision, it said that it assigned Eban House to Morgan for its “multiple accessible common rooms,” kitchen, and dorm layout that “allows for more applications to be accepted and approved.” The email also noted that though Morgan does not have its own front lawn, it maintains proximity to Science Quad, “one of our largest green spaces on campus.”

Feliz and Parker said that Morgan has only “one common room for all four floors” and that access to Science Quad was not a satisfactory replacement for a lawn.

“We prioritize the requests in the application and these criteria whenever possible when looking at locations,” Cramer wrote. “However, sometimes we find that the material as written is not the material that is most important once the proposed locations are presented.”

Shoshie Hemley ’25 is one of the CCs for the Performing Arts House, which was placed in Wood. For years, student performance groups have spoken out about a lack of performance spaces available to them on campus. Therefore, when applying for the TAPSI house, Hemley conceived of it as not only a nucleus of creativity and community among performers, but also a convenient performance space for student-run arts groups. 

The group’s top placement choices for its house were Currier Hall and Perry House, Hemley said. Instead, it was placed in Wood. She characterized Wood’s basement — though technically a performance space — as a venue that is best for bands playing at parties rather than a space for performing arts, making it unsatisfactory for the group’s needs. Hemley also expressed discomfort about being assigned to Wood, as she said that the group does not want to take the space away from Eban House. 

“We felt that we were put in a very uncomfortable position by the people who made this decision — we simply did not agree with kicking Eban out of Wood [all while] not consulting students in the relevant houses on this decision,” Hemley said. “Even though they had a student perspective, those students were never at any of our meetings with the committee, and it was never made clear to us that they were involved in the decision. It felt like administrators just telling us the way it was going to be whenever we spoke with them.”

Cramer noted that the committee would take lessons from this year into account for future revisions to the TAPSI application process. “From our experience working with TAPSI applicants this year, we’d like to create more opportunities for fluid dialogue between the committee and the placement process,” he wrote. “While there are many dimensions to the housing process, we want to make sure we’re setting our Community Coordinators up for success.”

Hemley added that some students on campus saw TAPSI housing as a “binary” of theme and affinity, and she felt that the Performing Arts House was receiving blame for a decision that it had no control over. “People are questioning whether or not the Performing Arts House should exist, which is really frustrating because performing arts houses exist all across the country,” she said.

Dylan Safai ’26, a CC for the International Diplomacy and Global Finance House, also said that he received student backlash for his house’s placement in Goodrich, though he himself did not ask to be placed there. In the future, he said the TAPSI committee should take into consideration houses’ status as either affinity or themed housing in order to make decisions about where they should be placed.

“They should definitely have some type of ranking system where affinity groups are selected first for the preferential housing followed by themes,” Safai said. “Affinity [housing] is necessary. Theme [housing] is not always necessary.”

Safai added that his group’s desire for TAPSI housing was not meant to detract from the available spaces for affinity houses. “If there is an affinity group that wanted Goodrich, we’d be happy to give up Goodrich,” he said. “Our goal is not to take away space from affinity groups.”

Though Arlett Cabrera ’26 and Grace Rivera ’26, the CCs for La Casa, said their placement in Spencer House “exceeded” their expectations, they expressed concern about the mere 26 rooms Spencer offers — since they received more than double the amount of signatures than rooms available.

An integral part of La Casa’s mission is to create a safe space for Latinx students, but the limited number of spaces restricts who is allowed to live there and have access to that space. As CCs, Cabrera and Rivera choose which applications for La Casa are accepted and may have to deny interested Latinx students. “It’s like saying who deserves to live in the house,” Rivera said.

Cabrera mentioned that first-years may be especially nervous about admittance to La Casa, as upperclassmen typically have priority in housing allocations. “That discourages people from even applying,” she said.

Cramer emphasized that the number of signatures on a TAPSI application does not always correspond with the number of students who would end up living in a specific house. “We ask students to present more signatures than the total number of spaces,” he wrote. “We do this because we want to ensure that the spaces are as full as possible and that students can meet the challenge of filling the spaces that we set aside for them. Last year, despite all groups getting 40 or more signatures, we didn’t turn a single student away.”

As first-years, Cabrera and Rivera said they felt “clueless” about the TAPSI application process and were granted an extension by the committee to complete their application. 

Cabrera said she was grateful to the committee for the extension and for meeting with them to walk through the application, but she still felt hindered by informational gaps. “[The process] was a lot of emailing, which is off-putting,” she said. “On the website, some of the things are outdated, so we were like, ‘Oh, did we miss the extension?’”

Rivera said she initially thought their confusion was due to their status as first-years new to campus, but later realized that upperclassmen friends knew just as little about how TAPSI worked. “[The College] promotes safe spaces at the school and the ability to make those safe spaces, but there’s no actual promotion or active support about it,” she said.

Hemley critiqued what she characterized as a lack of consistent updates and transparency throughout the application process. “You submitted your application and then you got your decision [on Feb. 1],” she said. She added that she received no confirmation that her application was received until she emailed to follow up.

To Parker, the lack of communication from the TAPSI Review Committee was indicative of a lack of organization from the TAPSI Review Committee. “We’re constantly reaching out, and it’s as if they don’t care enough to reply or reach out to us, or if they do reply it’s through a third party … without any information at all,” Parker said. “The actions are showing that we’re not prioritized.”

“We just want to be heard,” Feliz said.