For all those who have been left stressed out by residential college housing draws, let us offer a bit of consolation: It could be much worse. You could be at Columbia, where the unluckiest undergraduates this year faced the prospect of making the last pick out of 3,001. Or you could be at Brown, where a contest awarding first pick to the group producing the most original plea receives dozens of submissions from students begging to avoid the stress of the lottery.
Compared to the campus-wide draws at many other schools, Yale’s room picks seem downright calm. Unlike undergrads elsewhere, Yalies almost always enter the housing process with a relatively good idea of where on campus they will be living the next year. With 12 different room draws instead of a single lottery, the stakes are inevitably lower: Since a few hundred rooms are up for grabs rather than a few thousand, Yale students have less choice than students at other schools, but they also face less risk.
Still, each residential college’s draw has its own drama, its own winners and its own losers. The fact of the matter is that no housing process is going to make everyone happy. Every college has some rooms that are better than others; every year, some students who want singles but get stuck in doubles. The best anyone can do is create a system that everyone at least views as fair, and one that limits the anxiety and drama that housing creates each spring.
There’s no question, however, that some residential colleges accomplish those goals better than others. Successful policies taken for granted in one college — “clipping” between different rooms to allow them to draw at the same time, “points” to offer incentives to take rooms in an annex — are entirely foreign to others. In some housing draws, disappointment and uncertainty is the exception; in others, it seems like a built-in part of the process.
A standardized system across all colleges would be a disaster; after all, Morse’s housing is very different from Calhoun’s. But standardization is different from communication — and that’s precisely what appears to be absent at Yale. It is easy to imagine that a simple exchange of ideas could improve housing season across campus, yet Yale does nothing to facilitate this.
If the key to better housing is collaboration between colleges, there are a number of ways to go about it. An informal committee could provide a forum for students from different residential colleges to ask each other questions and share ideas. Studying other universities’ Web-based room draw lotteries could yield new thoughts about how to use technology to streamline housing selection. And at the very least, a central Web site could provide a clearinghouse for the rules of each college’s housing process, as well as the pros and cons students identify each spring about those plans.
Yale’s housing draws will never be perfect, but they could be better — especially when many of the solutions lie so close to home.