Thump. Thump. Thump. The beating of one hand signals the beginning of the event. One by one others join in the tapping and soon a steady drum roll envelopes the room, swelling to an almost ear-splitting crescendo that silences all voices and other sounds. No, this is not a sporting event or a class rally or even a especially raucous a cappella spring jam — this is the Davenport rising sophomore housing draw. The star of the show: Dean Ryan Brasseaux, whose bellowing voice fills the room from his perch on a dining hall balcony 20 feet above the freshman class. He introduces the event with gloriously over-the-top gusto, leads the class in the cultish chant of “All Decisions Are Final,” and begins the evening’s ceremonies.
Every spring, all of Yale’s residential colleges commence their formal housing processes for the coming year. Since the colleges face little University-wide regulation, this process exemplifies the way different colleges develop unique traditions and practices along parallel yet separate trajectories. Some use online databases while others stick to hallway whiteboards, but all face the disorder and pandemonium of the annual draws.
THE PROCESS BEGINS
While the housing process varies with each college, preparations typically start at the beginning of the spring semester. In Davenport, the College Housing Committee first meets in February to discuss the tentative dates and policies for the rising sophomore, junior and senior class draws. Nicholas Friedlander ’17 has served on the Davenport College Housing Committee since his sophomore year, when he joined to become more involved in his college’s community. The committee, led by “Dean B” and one or two senior Committee Chairs serves as a liaison between the Davenport administration and students. This year, Davenport and Ezra Stiles piloted Vesta, a new college housing system. In Davenport, rising sophomores, juniors and seniors configure themselves into suites throughout February and early March, finalizing their configurations in the system after spring break.
From blackboards to spreadsheets to online systems, the different residential colleges vary greatly in their incorporation of technology into their housing processes. Vesta is the third new program in the last four years following a series of consecutive system changes, Friedlander said. “From what I can tell, at least from the administrative side, it seems to be working well. But since I don’t personally use the system, I don’t have any personal feelings about it.”
Also a first-year counselor, Friedlander notes that the configuration process can be stressful as students must communicate with their suites about future living configurations. While many suites aim to address these questions early, oftentimes decisions can come as a surprise to unsuspecting suitemates and cause tension.
“The most important thing is to try to remember that it’s not personal,” Friedlander suggests. “The best way to go about is a way in which you’re all open with communication.”
Like Davenport, Timothy Dwight College’s housing process experienced a significant amount of systematic turnover over the past three years. Since retiring its highly complex point system in 2014, a system in which sophomores and juniors acquired points from living in annex housing and then used these points to land more spacious suites senior year, Timothy Dwight has used the online system StarRez. However, this year’s smaller class sizes, caused by an unexpected number of students transferring to the new colleges, forced Timothy Dwight administrators to send out Google Forms to all students interested in living on campus rather than adapt the online system to the reduced class sizes. Hopper College also uses Google Sheets to organize its housing configurations.
LUCK OF DRAW
After months of planning, open houses, online forms and reconfiguration lotteries, the housing process finally comes to fruition at the residential college housing draws.
This past Wednesday, Davenport College held its housing draw for rising sophomores and seniors. At 9 p.m., over 100 students gathered in the dining hall for the spectacle, a culmination of many months of work by both the students and administration.
Brandon Camp, a freshman transferring to Hopper College but in attendance at the Davenport draw as a proxy for his current roommate, giddily remarked, “In one moment, your next year is decided. It’s crazy how it can move so fast.”
Numerous students compared the event’s atmosphere to that of the Hunger Games or other dystopian novels. Cheers and groans could be heard throughout the ceremony as suite representatives chose numbers designating picking order, and were either heckled or welcomed by their suitemates based on their numbers.
Since Davenport forces students to discuss reconfiguration and room assignments before the draw, once their numbers are called, suites are given only two minutes to choose their suite and five minutes to assign bedrooms before signing an official campus housing form.
Following the randomized draw, the dining hall was overwhelmed with a plethora of conflicting emotions. In response to my inquiries about his experience with the housing draw, Davenport first-year ECR Chen ’20 explained, “It went a little worse than expected. We thought we would be third or fourth when we were tracking the numbers [called out during the draw]. We wanted the [suites] with four singles but we got one with two doubles.”
Conversely, Ananya Indwar ’20, who got her first pick, simply replied with a sigh of relief, and remarked, “I am so happy.”
In Davenport, to prevent confusion during the room selection process, oversubscribed suite types hold a preliminary lottery in order to be able to enter the actual room number lottery. Other colleges like Timothy Dwight and Berkeley College, however, do not require oversubscribed suites to reconfigure prior to the housing draw. Because of this, if a suite pulls a high number, they are often forced to break down into smaller room configurations on the spot.
Kristen Wright ’18, a rising senior in Timothy Dwight, admits, “It’s a little awkward because right then and there you have to sort of figure what you’re going to do. It can be a lot.”
But while the housing draw signals rising sophomores’ arrival into their residential colleges, juniors often face a different story. In previous years, due to limited space in the residential colleges, juniors run the risk of being annexed to other residential buildings on Yale campus.
Wright lived in Rosenfeld Hall, Timothy Dwight College’s annex housing unit, for the past year. Unlike some other residential colleges which are forced to annex their students far away from the colleges themselves in places like Old Campus and Swing Space, Rosenfeld Hall is located directly across the street from Timothy Dwight.
Of her experience, Wright notes, “I think TD is very lucky in terms of where the annex is. We’re right next door so we never feel like we’re too far away and are still part of the TD community. We just live in a different building.”
Wright adds that oftentimes almost the entire junior class lives in Rosenfeld Hall, creating a sense of community despite their annexation.
NEW COLLEGES, NEW SYSTEM
Unlike the other residential colleges, the new Benjamin Franklin College and Pauli Murray College have yet to establish unique housing traditions. The new college housing draw occurred in two phases to correspond with the two-stage housing application process for the colleges. Transferring students applied as preconfigured suites and those accepted participated in a room draw in either early February or early March.
Of this system, Charles Bailyn, head of Benjamin Franklin College, explained, “We made sure that there was an available suite of the right size for everyone who was accepted.”
The new colleges also plan on creating student housing committees to further develop their housing processes next year.
Additionally, Bailyn expressed interest in getting to know the members of the Yale community who transferred to Benjamin Franklin College.
“Unlike other colleges (and unlike Franklin and Murray in the future) the students are not randomly selected — instead, we got those who actively wanted to move in,” he said in an email to the News. He also noted that international students and athletes appear to be overrepresented in Benjamin Franklin.
The addition of the new colleges has impacted the housing processes of the other residential colleges, as large quantities of students transferred to Benjamin Franklin or Murray colleges. For example, according to Wright, nearly one-third of the total Timothy Dwight population transferred to the new colleges. Furthermore, due to the recent spike in off-campus housing options for juniors and seniors, only 34 or 35 members of the TD rising senior class will remain on campus next fall.
Based on these changes, the future of the housing process at Yale remains up in the air. As the systems of the different colleges become increasingly similar, one wonders whether the process as a whole will become standardized in the next decade and eliminate inefficiencies. However, while the housing process initially appears a bureaucratic necessity, the housing traditions of many residential colleges are shaped by their individual cultures. So until then, the housing process lives on as a unique vestige of residential college pride and history complete with a healthy dose of a chaos.
Contact Ryan Howzell at firstname.lastname@example.org .