Ahhh, spring — the season that sees housing boards working overtime and students lining up to fight for that one dorm room per college that everybody seems to want. Doesn’t it make you nostalgic for the summer before freshman year? Those were the days: a glorious time when a dean simply sent the student a letter and summarily informed her that she was rooming with an obsessive-compulsive neurotic. The college gave her absolutely no say in the matter. She had no way to complain. She was locked out of the housing process and stuck with whomever they paired her with, and it’s only now that she recognizes that fascist gesture for what it was: mercy.
There has always been much discussion on campus about the variety of room-draw processes that the different residential colleges follow, but the one characteristic that they all share is that their results can never make everyone in a college happy — someone will invariably end up either in an undesirable room or in a less-than-ideal roommate configuration. At a university where many student issues run singularly smoothly, it’s surprising that something as simple as picking a number out of a box generates such distress.
“I feel that the chances of ending up in the room you want with the people you want can be slim. It can seem very out of your control and simply up to chance,” Rebecca Voorhees ’07 said.
Voorhees and her five suitemates are currently in the process of devising a housing draw strategy. They will merge with another group and enter as a twelve, split into two groups of six if they cannot remain together, then perhaps add a seventh if necessary or create a forced double in a five-person suite to remain together. If this is not possible, they will split into either two groups of three, three groups of two, or a group of four and a group of two. There are endless stipulations and it’s all outrageously complicated, but a similar war tactic is being developed in many freshman suites in Durfee, which houses Morse freshmen and is currently Voorhees’ home.
“People are most concerned about living in a good room with people they like,” Raquel Kellert, a Timothy Dwight freshman housing representative, said. “The idea of ending up in a bad room with people you don’t like can make the situation overwhelming.”
Colleges and housing representatives try to minimize the pressure on students in as many ways as possible. Most colleges make students in smaller groups draw first — those who cannot get the room they want then simply add people to their group instead of having to split apart. Silliman College draws for its five-person rooms the first night, then for singles, doubles, triples and quads in subsequent lotteries. This means that students whose situations have been changed by an unlucky draw have time to regroup and reconfigure their room plans before they must draw again.
“Generally students prefer the singles or smaller suites,” said Silliman College Dean Hugh Flick. “If they don’t get the room they want, people need some time in between the lotteries to regroup.”
Colleges like Pierson and Ezra Stiles distinguish their housing draw processes from the rest by allowing students to draw their spots in line for choosing a room a week before the actual room-picking process begins. This gives students time to consider their situations and their chances for getting the rooms they would like in light of the information the draw gives them.
Kirby Smith ’05, an Ezra Stiles housing representative, said in an e-mail that the college’s particular system works “really well.” Once the order in which they will pick is e-mailed out to students, “they have some time to look at the rooms with knowledge of when they’re going to pick. It makes a lot of sense to do the lottery for picking order before the actual evening of the housing draw — [because] it allows everyone a lot more time to prepare and plan.”
In colleges like Morse, students must reconfigure their suites and plans on the spot, as room picking directly follows the draw.
Students attempt to get around the weaknesses of the system in various ways. Some enter in larger groups but subdivide them into pairs, lending the groups the flexibility to split with minimum disappointment. Some underclassmen try to enter the draw with upperclassmen, who are guaranteed better chances by seniority. Some students move off-campus. Many juniors prefer to be annexed as opposed to living in a smaller room within their colleges.
Laura Esnaola, an annexed junior in Davenport, said off-campus annex rooms give students “greater independence” and more peace and quiet when they need it. “You also see and interact with more people from other colleges when you’re not living in your college,” Esnaola said.
Many students view this as an advantage, as it can be precisely the tight community that a residential college creates, and the fact that one must choose living partners from within the college, that cause some of the housing problems to begin with.
This year, Timothy Dwight’s freshman class chose to work to circumvent and prevent housing problems rather than deal with them at the time of the draw. The college’s freshman housing representatives took the time to speak with each group of students to ensure that the configurations of the groups applying for housing matched the rooms available.
“We called people [in TD],” Kellert said. “We worked things out and made sure that each group of rising sophomores would get the type of room they needed. The real pressure that the draw puts on students is that it can mean that groups have to split up. This way, the worst thing that could happen would be that you would get a smaller room, not that you’d be split up.”
Convincing people to suit their requests to the college’s resources was difficult, but ultimately made things “a lot easier” and was more logical, Kellert said.
“It stopped the housing draw from being such a big deal. There are two factors to worry about — eliminate the larger one and there are no problems.”
Most students agree, however, that despite all the drama that surrounds the housing draw, things tend to, with a few notable exceptions, turn out well. The anguish that people express in April has often faded and been forgotten by September.
Sandra Hebert, administrative assistant to Morse’s Dean Rosemary Jones, notes that during her time working for Morse, she has always seen the housing situation resolve itself. Dean Jones is the sixth Morse dean she has worked for.
“Sure, people make new groups, or groups break up. But things work out,” she said.