In the spring of every academic year, Yale students are forced to sit down with their closest friends and have “the talk.”
Within each residential college, deans, heads of college and older students bestow upon first years the same advice: be honest, open-minded and find the best possible option. Yet, not everyone leaves this process happy. Rather, friendships are damaged, people are left unsatisfied, and there seem to be few ways to avoid issues or pave way for change. I am, of course, talking about housing.
Students and administrators have both found the housing process stressful to say the least. Friend groups are forced to evaluate their friends under a variety of qualifications. How close are the bonds amongst your friends? Do my friends and I have similar living styles? While many students survive the housing process unscathed, a great deal of their peers have seen friendships dissolve, and suites of disgruntled students are forced into their second or third living options.
The housing process, in all its variations across residential colleges, leaves students unable to effectively call for reform in colleges with more inefficient housing procedures. So, we are left with a few questions: How does the housing process work? And how do people feel about it?
The Housing Process
The first seven residential colleges, founded in 1933, were funded by William Harkness, who saw the residential colleges as a counterpart to Harvard’s college houses. The first seven colleges were Calhoun (now Hopper), Trumbull, Pierson, Davenport, Jonathan Edwards, Branford and Saybrook, followed throughout the next eight decades by the remaining seven colleges. Each college manages their individual housing process differently, with distinct methods, varying technology and overlapping but independent timelines.
But, Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin Colleges have invigorated potential reform in the housing process. The students who transferred into the new colleges last year did not benefit from having access to student representatives: the deans and heads of college generally took over the show. This year, however, the new colleges have incorporated the best pieces of housing legislation and methods from the other twelve colleges. The result is a smoother, more efficient process, according to Max Sauberman ’18, a Pauli Murray first-year counselor and co-chair of the housing committee.
“We were not only able to streamline the process with new technology, but we also streamlined the processes by using what worked across different colleges,” he said.
Furthermore, the new colleges presented better living amenities and conditions than some of the other colleges. To some, this was why they transferred. John Lager ’19, a football player living in Pauli Murray, said that he was able to live with his friends in an octet, and they were all given singles.
In the face of these advancements from some colleges, other colleges have remained more traditional in their methods. Timothy Dwight College, for example, still insists upon draws numbers on lottery day.
The pinnacle of stress during the housing process is lottery day, which is generally uniform throughout most of the colleges. Colleges generally have multiple lottery days, arranged by class year. Rising seniors get their assignments first, leaving first years to pick last. Students gather in their residential college dining halls and publicly pick numbers in front of the entire class. The lowest numbers pick their housing options first, the highest numbers pick last. Most colleges also use an online program called Vesta, which shows the housing configurations, such as how many rooms of each type are available.
The Transfer Process
Students transferring out of a residential college is required to meet with their current dean and head of college and explain why they want to transfer colleges and what their housing plans are for the next year in their new home. Furthermore, each transfer needs three students in destination college to sign a form saying that they plan to live with the newly transferred student.
According to data for 2018 from the Office of Yale College Dean, 222 students applied to transfer colleges, and 185 students, about 83 percent, were accepted.
There does seem to be a great taboo around students who transfer colleges. Three students declined to comment. One student worried that their housing draw would be affected if they publicly spoke about the transfer process, while two others clammed up because they wanted to try transferring again next year. They thought that their comments would be a disadvantage if they try to reapply.
Yet, earlier this month, Head of Pauli Murray College Tina Lu told the News that the greatest hindrance for transfer students is the space available in the colleges.
“When we talk about who we end up taking it’s a pretty soulless process because there are physical limits to the architecture and none can lose too many or gain too many,” Lu said. “People end up getting impacted even if it’s two unrelated colleges because of the cascade effect. Ultimately it’s not about who the heads of college love. We know that we can only have, say, a junior class that’s this big and no college is bleeding too many people.”
This exact issue has actually helped students in Timothy Dwight immensely. Due to a mass exodus of the TD sophomore class last year, there are many more options than ever before, particularly for first years, who have to scrap the bottom of the barrel in housing options.
“Because the current sophomore class is so small, first-years do get rooms that are usually picked earlier in the draw process,” said Xavier Ruiz ’21, a member of the TD housing committee.
Students’ reasons for transferring colleges vary immensely. Tyler Harmon ’21 said that Pierson’s poor dining hall amenities were a reason he decided to transfer into Morse College, whose dining hall has more food options.
“Hot breakfast,” Harmon said. “That is a serious reason why I left.”
Other reasons span from proximity to Science Hill, to central location, to athletic commitments. And unsurprisingly, the most prominent reason tends to be social relationships. Neelam Sandhu ’21, a student in Pierson College, said she noticed that students generally transfer so that they may live with their close friends.
“After talking to a few of my friends who are transferring, the majority of people who are transferring are doing it for their closest friend groups,” Sandhu said.
Yale College Dean Marvin Chun acknowledged the inefficiencies of the transfer process at a town hall talk on Thursday night. When questioned about the early deadline, he said that the growing number of students transferring colleges has forced the administration to face flaws in the transfer process.
The Future of Housing
The residential college system faces backlash from rejected transfer students, people abandoned by their friend groups throughout the housing process and, most recently, students living off campus: a 2017 Yale College Council report found that a whooping 17 percent of undergraduates live off campus.
Among conversations about dining hall subsidies and comparative value of living in New Haven, Chun floated the idea of mixed-college housing during Thursday’s Yale College Council town hall. He theorized that McClellan Hall, an unaffiliated residential hall, could be used to house students across the colleges.
“Students want to live with their close friends, but transferring colleges is a burden,” Chun said.
Furthermore, Chun addressed the desires of many upperclassmen to live off campus. He emphasized the need for social events for seniors and conveyed the value of living on campus to the student body.
“We have to make living on campus cool again,” Chun said.
Chun also touched upon the idea of all seniors inhabiting Old Campus. Despite his support for the idea — which is echoed by Amelia Nierenberg’s opinion piece published in the News — he said this idea has generally been put down by those to whom he has proposed it.
When questioned about the next twenty years for the residential college system, Chun said he hopes students will always have a positive sentiment towards their colleges.
“I want it to be a source of pride of what it is to be at Yale,” Chun added. “I don’t want to wait 20 years for that.”
Despite general student dissatisfaction with the housing process, some students believe that the process will naturally be difficult, despite any reform. Sauberman said that the issue is institutional within the residential college system.
“[The college system] fundamentally gives you fewer options of who to live and to form suite groups with,” Sauberman said.
Sandhu agreed, saying “I can’t think of any particular changes that I would see happen.”
This leaves us with uncertainty: What will be the future of the housing process? And when will its problems be resolved?
Nick Tabio | firstname.lastname@example.org