UPDATE Feb 2008: See at the bottom for modifications caused by the switch in freshmen housing to Mission.

I have been bombarded with requests to provide my own vision of housing for Williams. Well, perhaps “bombarded” isn’t the mot juste. In any event, if I were CUL, here’s how I would think about housing . . .

  1. Assumption: The first year entry system with Junior Advisers works well and should be left alone. First years should be engineered in to entries that are as diverse as the admissions office can make them.
  2. Assumption: Co-op housing for seniors works well and should be expanded. There is something magical about the opportunity to live communally with your closest friends senior year. It is a good thing that Williams has exposed you to a wide diversity of Ephs in your first three years. Senior year is the time to enhance and solidify the very special bonds that, if you are lucky, will last a lifetime. Co-ops do that.
  3. Assumption: Senior-only housing is special and should be encouraged and facilitated, even for those who do not want to live as co-ops. All the good aspects of co-ops apply here as well, but there is no reason to prevent those who want to eat in the dining hall from enjoying an intimate housing experience with close friends during senior year.
  4. Assumption: During sophomore and junior year, it is good to live with both close friends in your suite and Ephs different from and/or unknown to you in your house. The time for the extreme social engineering of first year is over, but the importance being exposed to a diverse group of Ephs remains. It is best that the serendipitous relationships that will arise from these interactions have as many years as possible to develop and deepen.
  5. Assumption: There shall be no theme or special interest housing.
  6. Assumption: It is hard to know ahead of time who your friends will be or where your most meaningful Eph connections will occur. It is just as likely as not that your relationships will be with people who came to Williams from very different backgrounds. If anything, the opposite is true. The more different you are from your fellow Eph, the more likely you both are to get something out of the relationship. But those relationships take time to develop and flower.
  7. Assumption: The flexibility and possibilities of junior year should be retained. It is a good thing that more than 50% of juniors do something different — from being a JA to Williams-in-Oxford — that takes them away from upperclass housing.
  8. Assumption: In the short term, the physical infrastructure of Williams must be taken as a given. No major student construction projects are on the horizon. None are needed. To the extent that there is money for housing, it should be spent on increasing the number of senior co-ops and decreasing the number of doubles.
  9. Assumption: The spaces on campus — Dodd, Spencer, Currier and so on — capable of supporting large parties are held in common for all students. The College plans on holding a certain number of parties in those spaces each year, even if the residents of those houses are not a part of the party. Students who do not like living in such houses should not pick into them.
  10. Assumption: No housing system is perfect. There will always be students who are dissatisfied. But misery should be decreased whenever possible. A housing system in which 30% are very happy and 3% are miserable is much better than a system in which the breakdown is 50% to 10%.
  11. Assumption: Student choice in housing is a good thing. It is not the most important thing but, as long as the other goals of housing policy are met, it is best to let students choose where to live.

Now, any of these assumptions might be challenged. Reasonable people may disagree. But it certainly seems like the vast majority of Ephs, including current and past CUL’s, agree with almost all of them. If anything, I have stacked the deck in favor of the use of social engineering. My argument is that, once these assumptions are accepted, the optimal housing arrangement for Williams follows quite naturally.

The Davis Conjecture: The fundamental unit of social life at Williams should be the academic class, not the physical house. Students from the same class who want to live together should be allowed and encouraged to do so. The more that students interact with a wide variety of fellow Ephs, and the more years that this interaction is allowed to occur, the better off everyone will be.

Note that the Davis Conjecture asserts nothing negative about, say, the interaction between seniors and sophomores. Plenty of such cross-class interaction will continue to occur, especially within the student organizations — sports teams, singing groups, literary publications, student governments and so on — that transcend academic class. But the reality is that a given Eph will only have the opportunity to make X number of friends, have Y number of meaningful conversations in her four years. One of the goals of Williams housing polciy is that these friends and conversations represent a fair cross-section of Williams students. The more time that a student spends with others in her class, the more likely the most (stereotypically) unlikely of relationships are to develop. Senior/sophomore interaction is not a bad thing in itself. It is a bad thing because it takes the place of greater sophomore/sophomore interaction.

How would this work in practice?

We want the 3/4’s of the sophomore class who want to live together to, in fact, live together. We are happy to let them have large pick groups and for those pick groups to congregate to some extent, especially if that congregation is along the pary/quiet dimension. Mission is the solution.

We want the 2/3’s of the junior class who want to live together to, in fact, live together. The same reasoning for sophomores applies here. Greylock is the solution.

The marvelous convenience of Greylock and Mission is that all the houses are large enough that — if classes are segregated and gender balance is kept roughly equal in each house — it is almost impossible for any house to not be diverse, regardless of pick group size. That is, it is highly unlikely that any Mission or Greylock house, under this regime, could develop into anything that looked like theme housing. Because most sorts of theme housing involve, by definition, gathering a specific subset of Ephs together, any successful attempt at theme housing requires cross class housing. Prevent/discourage that and theme housing largely disappears.

Not all sophomores will want to live in Mission, not all juniors will seek Greylock, not all seniors desire a co-op/row house for them and their friends. A select group of students will gravitate toward the Berkshire Quad, the traditional location for Williams students who see themselves, correctly or not, as very different from the mainstream and who celebrate that difference. Forcing such students to live in Mission/Greylock can only harm them.

Because of Dodd and other houses, students who actively seek out a mixed class environment will have that option as well.

In other words, the Davis Conjecture leads to a system not-dissimilar from what free agency naturally evolved into, but it grounds that outcome in a coherent theory of why class-based interaction is better than house-based interaction. If Eph A and Eph B, from very different backgrounds, meet and become friendly, we want to provide that friendship with years to flourish. If both are in the same class, this happens naturally. If they are in different classes, it may still happen, but not as often and not as deeply.

Recommended Policies

  1. No senior may pick into Greylock.
  2. No senior or junior may pick into Mission.
  3. The co-op room draw should go first, as now.
  4. Seniors uninvolved in co-op housing should be encouraged and/or have the opportunity to form groups large enough to pick entire (small) houses. A system not-dissimilar to the co-op process might be employed. Such special “house picks” would be restricted to seniors only.
  5. No doubles for upperclassmen. All housing after First Year should consist of singles. This won’t be achievable immediately, but should be part of any 5 year plan. All students need, from time to time, a private place to call their own.
  6. The stock of co-op housing should be doubled. Houses like Hubbell and Dodd Annex are natural targets. Conversion should focus on the more distant, less desirable and smaller campus houses.
  7. Room draw should be more spread out, perhaps with one week per class. Co-op housing for seniors would go first, as now, followed by senior whole-house picks (which might involve several rounds), followed by other senior picks.
  8. WSO Plans should be reinstated.
  9. No squatting. Each year is a new year.

There are, obviously, a great many details to work. No doubt my distance from campus means that some of this is quite unrealistic. But, once you accept the assumptions above, it becomes clear that no system like anchor housing will work because — with first years and seniors largely cut-off from the clusters, a housing infrastructure without close housing/food connections, and a junior class missing more than 50% of its members over the course of the year — there is no way that meaningful cluster identity will ever develop. The system outlined by CUL will never achieve that worthy goals that it lays out. It just will not happen.

As always, this is just one Eph’s view. It is up to the members of Anchors Away to decide what they want to fight for, or if they want to fight at all.

UPDATE: Thanks to comments, I have modified the above slightly.

UDPATE II: Having freshmen housing in Mission requires a few changes in the above. Sophomores would now live, as a class, in the Berkshire Quad and Morgan (about 400 odd spots) plus a few other houses. Perhaps adding in Dodd would make the numbers come out just right? No non-sophomore should be allowed in these houses. The nice thing about having 7 largish buildings for the class is that it still leads to extensive student mixing. Students have already met scores of their classmates in Mission. Now they will meet scores more. In an ideal world, you would want every sophomore to know the name of every student in her house. They might not be best buddies, but if they had shared a meal at least once during the year, that would be a nice thing. It would be nice if the class could be more geographical centered, but the infrastructure of Williams does not allow for that.

How much freedom should sophomores have in their room draw? More than they had as first years, but less than juniors and seniors have. There is nothing wrong with the administration insisting on the 7 houses having fair mix of all sorts of students even if the student groups themselves are self-selected.

The major missing piece is the lack of an Odd Quad. Fewer students were miserable a few years ago because those out of the mainstream of campus social life had a place to call their own. Williams should provide such a place. The obvious location is Tyler. Details on how to fix the rules to make that happen another day.

UPDATE III: Fall 2009 version of the plan (pdf).

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