Our question today is “community” at Williams and the effect that different housing systems have on it. In particular, would an affiliation system strengthen or weaken community at Williams as compared to the current lottery system?

To make sense of this debate, we need some simple, yet specific, measures of community. Let me propose three.

First, “community” can be measured by how many fellow students the typical Williams student knows by name (and, conversely, how many know her name). Call this aspect of community “breadth.”

A second aspect of community might be termed “depth.” How many students does the typical Williams student know very well, how many close friends does she have? Reasonable people will differ about whether it is better to have two extremely close friends or ten moderately close friends, but depth is probably as important as breadth in judging the health of the Williams community.

Third, “community” can be measured by how varied the students within a given student’s know-by-name circle are. Different people will care about different aspects of variedness, but most would agree that a Williams students would be well-served to know Ephs of both genders, many races and religions and nations and orientations (sexual and political), from a variety of class backgrounds and with a wide ranging interests, both academic and non-academic. I think Mike captures some of this when he writes:

Houses would truly become diverse as a group of four theater majors might be randomly assigned to live in a house with WUFO players, chemistry majors, board game aficionados and varsity athletes.

Cater House in the late 1980’s certainly had all of these (with the possible exception of the board game people, although perhaps foosball was the period equivalent). Does Carter House today not have similar diversity?

Call this aspect of community, “variety.”

I suspect that most everyone would agree that a community with more “breadth” and “variety” and “depth” is better than one with less. Of course, there are all sorts of measurement issues involved here (although I am sure that one of David Zimmerman’s thesis students could do a fine job with it), and we will have trouble making sense of how these measures have changed over time at Williams. Yes these criteria — breadth, depth and variety — provide at least one framework within which we can discuss the choice between an affiliation and a lottery system.

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