In housing, the luck of the draw

Jake Cohen ’12 studies a Silliman floorplan in what was an unusually stressful room draw for Sillimanders, with several students expecting to be annexed.
Jake Cohen ’12 studies a Silliman floorplan in what was an unusually stressful room draw for Sillimanders, with several students expecting to be annexed. Photo by Cora Lewis.

In the tangled logistical ordeal of assigning on-campus housing, each residential college has its own game of chance.

In Silliman and Jonathan Edwards, students draw playing cards to determine the order in which they select rooms. In Branford, the dean picks numbered Ping Pong balls from a jar. In Berkeley, students fish strips of paper from a cowboy hat.

Jake Cohen ’12 studies a Silliman floorplan in what was an unusually stressful room draw for Sillimanders, with several students expecting to be annexed.
Jake Cohen ’12 studies a Silliman floorplan in what was an unusually stressful room draw for Sillimanders, with several students expecting to be annexed.

Over the years, each residential college has developed its own room draw methodology. The undergraduate housing process, which takes place over several weeks in March and April, has little formal oversight and almost no standardization. But while students in each college face routine stresses during housing draws, college deans said they are generally content with their own systems and see no need to change.

John Meeske, associate dean for physical resources and planning, who oversees undergraduate student housing, said he does not foresee any standardization in the housing process any time soon.

“There’s a lot of what we call ‘local option’ at Yale, where each college does its own thing,” he said. “We’re very reluctant to say, ‘You must do this or that.’ ”

A GAME OF ‘SURVIVOR’

At Silliman’s housing draw last Wednesday for rising juniors, McKaye Neumeister ’12 faced some tough luck. Having lost two consecutive draws for different configurations, Neumeister had to readjust her living plans for next year on the spot. At one point, she stood up on a table to ask if anyone wanted to room with her and her roommate.

“First my roommate and I decided to go for singles, and we didn’t get them, so we paired up and tried for the double, and didn’t get that. So we picked up someone to go for the triple. We don’t know her at all, by the way,” Neumeister said.

Silliman uses playing cards to determine the order in which students pick rooms for each configuration. Based on this order, students take turns picking which rooms they would like, and then the entire process is repeated for a room of a different configuration. As in the other residential colleges, the uncertainty of the process can cause anxiety and frustration for some students. After all, they will be living in these arrangements for an entire academic year.

In Silliman, the stakes were especially high, given that this was the first time in recent memory that the college has had to annex rising juniors. Overcrowding at Yale has become a problem in recent years following renovations to the residential colleges, as more students choose to remain on campus during their junior and senior years.

But when it comes to annexing, the differences among residential colleges’ housing draws can be advantageous. By holding the draws at different times, colleges give Meeske breathing room to respond to requests for annex space, he said. If all the draws were held at the same time, he would be overwhelmed with the colleges’ different needs for space, he said.

For Neumeister, and other students who did not like their odds, the housing process can feel hectic and stressful, like an episode of a bad reality TV show.

Making light of the situation, Neumeister suggested that next year Silliman should play a game of “Survivor” to determine who gets housing.

“How about a game of assassins?” suggested Kate Carter ’12.

“Is it too late to transfer?” Neumeister joked.

A STREAMLINED APPROACH?

At the initial numbers draw in Berkeley College this past Thursday, students picked numbers (to determine the order in which they would choose their rooms) out of a cowboy hat, which Berkeley Dean Kevin Hicks introduced to the process five years ago when he became dean. The reason? The glass jar that had previously been used seemed “inadequate to the task,” he said.

At the final housing meeting in Berkeley, after students have picked their rooms, Hicks conducts a ceremony in the Berkeley common room. In a commanding voice, the dean asks students to “lay their hands on the Staff of Commitment,” an official-looking scepter that is used in the college’s Commencement ceremony.

During what would be their final housing draw, rising seniors Anna Urdahl ’11 and Allison Tjemsland ’11 had their photo taken with their hands on the Staff of Commitment.

“We got our second pick, so it was quite a bit less stressful than past years,” Urdahl said. “Knowing the process makes it less scary, and as a senior, you get your pick of the top rooms.”

While many residential colleges make use of the Internet in some capacity during room draw, such as by posting the floor plans of each college for students to view, Berkeley, like Calhoun College, uses a completely automated online system.

Hicks said his college’s Web site — designed by Eli Luberoff ’08 and Stephen Schwink ’08 — has made the process much less anxiety-ridden than when an old-fashioned piece of poster board was used. Prior to the housing draw, students indicate the size of room they would like on the Web site, allowing all students in the college to see their odds of receiving a room of a given configuration. Once students have selected rooming configurations, they hold a “pre-lottery” to decide rooming order and determine if they can get the configuration they want. Students who do not get their desired configuration must pick a new suite size based on what types of room are not oversubscribed.

“It has become part of the culture in a very productive way,” Hicks said, citing improved communication and transparency in the housing process.

Katherine Woodfield ’10, the student chair of the Berkeley housing committee, said the Web site uses students’ official net IDs so it can make sure every student is accounted for and no one is left out. She said the Web site also helps to keep all dealings with housing fair and authorized, by discouraging students from forming Facebook groups to coordinate housing with friends that might exclude other students in the college, which she said had happened in the past. She added that the Web site might help discourage deals between students, such as if a student were to agree to give “$50 and a futon” to another student who drew a better housing number in order to get a specific room.

‘I ACTUALLY LIKE THE CHAOS’

In Branford College, the housing process is democratic — at least for one suite.

“We do have to slow down our housing process because we have one suite that’s elected — the ‘God Quad’, ” Branford Dean Daniel Tauss said at the draw for rising seniors on Thursday.

Tauss estimated that the members of the God Quad have been elected since the mid-’90s, and he said this year’s members fortuitously ran uncontested. Similar processes are held for Pierson College’s Lower Court and Davenport College’s “Cottage.”

At the housing draw for rising Branford seniors, Tauss drew numbered Ping Pong balls from a glass jar to determine which students got which rooms. He said he inherited this process from his predecessor.

“I don’t think there’s a substitute for the in-person draw,” Tauss said on Branford’s decision not to switch to an online system yet. “I think there’s something to be said for having people get together in a room and discuss the implications of living together.”

In a similar gathering, at the Jonathan Edwards housing draw for rising sophomores this past Thursday, students swarmed around poster-board floor plans, talking animatedly among themselves about which rooms they hoped to get.

“I actually like the chaos,” Jonathan Edwards Dean Kyle Farley said.

Given the stress of the housing process, he said the intimacy of the residential college community can be comforting.

“I’m a fan of the face-to-face contact,” he said.

As students received the rooms they wanted, some cheered. Others hurriedly discussed re-configurations among themselves. At Jonathan Edwards, students use playing cards to determine the order in which rooms will be selected. An ace is the highest card, and a two is the lowest.

Farley said an online system is “under consideration,” but many students seemed to appreciate the excitement and elements of luck and chance.

Elena Light ’13 also said she liked the housing process the way it is, calling it “exciting” and adding that it “builds camaraderie as a class.”

“I like it better this way,” said Susanna Koetter ’13. “Things can change so abruptly. I prefer having the housing draw held in person.”

Comments

  • Dean Kevin Hicks

    The BK lottery and draw do in fact take place face-to-face, as your reporter witnessed. The on-line system does not take the place of any community ritual. Rather, it eases communication between students in the weeks prior to those events in ways that give them added value and comfort.

  • Frederick Miller

    What’s not clear in the article is whether students are able to keep their current rooms for the next year or semester.

  • PC

    You neglect to mention the choosing of the TNC suite in Pierson, which looms over every year’s lottery…

  • real world

    Housing is some of the best real world prep you will get. People often do not hesitate to kick one person off the island if it means the rest are safe. Two lessons: learn to work well in a system with bad incentives by navigating its twists and turns AND learn how to retain your dignity and kindheartedness amid the temptation to join in the byzantine backstabbing and machiavellian manuevering

  • @#3

    No they didn’t…read the article again.

  • Hieronymus

    @#4

    Oh yeah!

  • ’11

    Inaccurate reporting…

    The BK process is not “completely automated” as Dean Hicks notes. We have plans of the college online, and an online board where we can post our intended configurations (and compare the number of prospective suites in a configuration to the number of available suites of that kind for our year). It mostly helps us to assemble ourselves into suites such that we don’t have to do reconfiguration. In my freshman and junior years, my class has successfully avoided reconfiguration bc of the website. In sophomore year this is not possible bc we have to annex, but we solved this with a configuration pre-draw, which does not determine order of room picked but guarantees your right to a suite of that configuration. Anyone who lost the configuration pre-draw changed their suite slightly (i.e. added 1-2 people) and went to annex space.