As we move closer to the implementation of Anchor Housing– and as of each of David’s posts on the issue remind me of Alex Woo expressing his frustration, which in turn causes me to raise my frustration…
I thought I might offer my own sketch of the history of Housing (and projects to change it) at Williams:

Background: In the 1950s, after their freshman year, Williams students by-and-large lived in a system of privately organized “fraternities”– housing and dining institutions formally independent of the College. Each operated according to rules and traditions– principles of governance– determined by each House.


Freshmen who wished “inclusion” into the society of a particular (fraternity) House underwent a series of social rituals in the Spring semester– according to the traditions of each House– through which they might be granted “preference” by each House.
Those who did not gain preference– or who did not choose to seek it- by and large lived and dined in the Commons Club, a series of housing arrangements organized around a College dining facility in the current Currier House.
Of great note– many of these fraternities also owed formal allegiance to national organizations, which claimed the authority to set local policies and rules. Rules which also excluded members of racial minorities from “inclusion.”
Also of great note– at Williams– one of these Houses choose to “include” a “racial minority” in its community– igniting a doctrinal dispute that would… but we are skipping too far ahead.

1963: The Angevine Committee and the abolition of Fraternities. In response to the exclusion of an Asian-American student by a national fraternity, students petition President Sawyer and the Administration for the abolition of fraternities, as institutions “fundamantally opposed to the educational purposes of the College.”
The petition is ultimately granted– for far more divers reasons. While formal authority for Housing, Dining and House Life elevates to the Deans’ Office, an explicit idea(l) is that the fraternities’ structure of self-governance will be re-created in an “open” housing system run by the College.
Student “inclusion” in the social life of the College is thus imagined as a process in which, after a year in Freshman Commons, students will (under College authority) follow the fraternity process of “preference” into an upperclass “House” which will be their “primary social unit” for the next three years.
In the background, President Sawyer, the Administration and the Student Body are attempting to respond to enormous social changes in our world, from the considerations of racial equality and “free speech” then coming to a head, to President Kennedy and others’ call for a re-visioning of American education, to the Thirteen Days of the October Crisis.

1968: Transition to Administrative (State) Control; first failure to re-establish House Governance. The Deans’ finalize the transfer of day-to-day Housing and Dining operations to administrative units: B&G and Dining Services emerge as the umbrella of student housing and dining.
At the same time, an inchoate clustering system begins, and the Deans unveil and attempt to implement plans for a uniform and formal system of house governance– and, for instance, to devolve disciplinary and similar matters to House officers. The system is, functionally, a flop, and openly refused by some House officers (who remain elected by individual House rules and traditions).

(1973-) 1975: Revitalization, and renewed failure. Mission is constructed as a supposed architectural [re-]embodiment of the “House” system at Williams, with its four entry-like “Houses” purported as ‘modern,’ ‘public’ and ‘open’ re-creations of the idea[l]s of the fraternity House– minus the downsides. Mission is thus the true origin of the cluster system.
In ’75, Dean Roosenraad uses this model to establish clustering as a part of the fundamental process of “preference” and “inclusion” into upperclass life at the College, and re-attempts to devolve formal responsibilities onto House officers and create a uniform model of “democratic self-governance.” The latter [leftist] idea doesn’t stick.

1982: The Gifford Committee, and the abolition of Row House dining. In response to growing concern that campus life is “fragmented” by social group, and that the Row Houses represent exclusive and elitist reincarnations of fraternity “exclusion”– and in response to the financial concern of the disproportionately high cost of Row House dining– the Gifford Committee abolishes small “House”-based dining facilities.
As well, in response to the Committee’s year-long study of student life patterns at the College, Gifford personally concludes that the fundamental social unit at the College is not the “House,” but groups of three or four friends who come together in their first year and spend the rest of their years together. Gifford persuades his Committee to give such groups the ability to engage in room draw as a single unit, and this become the path to “free agency.”
Gifford also thinks about re-asserting structures of house governance. But by this time, it seems the idea(l) is dead enough not to need addressing.

1988: Room Swaps and effective “free agency.” Fresh from management school, Dean Hernandez arrives and sees a system with excessive inefficiencies– and a darnright headache for him. At this time, individual Houses and/or pieces of Housing clusters each operated by their own room draw rules– a vestige of their diverse fraternity origins– wherein Perry, for instance, gave each “draw” up to 24 hours to choose a room– creating weeks which required Andy’s intense involvement, and in which he misses Grateful Dead concerts.
Hernandez proposes an open all-campus room draw and is laughed at. However, he implements open room swaps and other end-runs around the affiliation system. These mechanisms around “inclusion” effectively open the way to the end of the system: Mission transforms into an effective “sophomore ghetto,” as a great portion of the sophomore Student Body prefers living their their room chances in other clusters, and juniors and seniors with Mission affiliations prefer their picks in other clusters.
And those who prefer a sophomore option other than Mission– or inclusion into a House– begin to pay an ever-increasing price for their preference.

1993[-4]: Proposed reform, and formal “free agency. Fresh from management school, Dean Martinez arrives and sees a system with excessive inefficiencies– and a darnright headache for her. Not only are the diverse and time-intensive house draw processes still in place– combined with the recently implemented rights of students to band together (across classes) into a single draw, with open swaps, and with other tricks and forms of pure corruption– room draw is a political nightmare of 60-hour weeks for Monica (and others), in which little else is done, and she can’t get to Northampton.
At roughly the same time, the Trustees look at the state of Housing at Williams and declare that the “Housing System” is “dead;” at least, they believe that they see no resemblance to the idea(l) that the House should be the primary unit of social affiliation and inclusion. They send a message to the Presidential Search Committee and the Deans that Williams needs to “rebuild the Housing System.”
Martinez then performs a fiat: if the housing system needs to be rebuilt, why not dismantle the current mess and inefficiency with an all-campus room draw? Hernandez’s laughable visions becomes fiat accompli.

1997: Pseudo-Houses with Pseudo-Governance: Interestingly, other than the further entrenchment of the sophomore ghetto at Mission, the free room draw does little to change the existing housing identities and choices at Williams.
A portion of students chooses the path of the Sophomore Ghetto at Mission– and then to push sophomores down in the room draw order at Dodd, the Row Houses, and elsewhere in coming years. Others affiliate immediately with the explicitly identity of the “Odd [Berkshire] Quad,” and the subtle distinctions between residence in Currier, Prospect or Fitch; still others choose immediate affiliation with the implicit and effuse characters of the Row Houses and Dodd, playing the subtle distinction between being a resident of Garfield or Agard in a particular year.
The ideal form of fraternal inclusion into a singe House with a unique tradition and identity remains; and it also falls apart. A student chooses Currier– and yet chooses to be “odd.” A student chooses Dodd– and perhaps chooses to be “prep.” Between the first choice, membership in an institution– and the second choice, assertion of a personal identity– arise enormous contradictions.
Gifford’s ideal of small and tightly bound groups of friends remains– and students are also forced to choose between those affiliations, and life within one cluster, House or identity– and such groups fall apart. Larger groups (such as a series of entrymates) bemoan their inability to secure upperclass housing together, to prefer their personal bonds above other forms of society, inclusion and identity.
And as for the long-dead idea(l) of self-governance, no one seemed to be truly interested. Under pressure from the Trustees and others to make a show of it, in this and surrounding years Dean Martinez filled the requisite slots of many of her “Houses'” Officers by personal recruiting, by the twisting of arms and the proferring of incentives such as higher room picks and preferential parking– incentives that Andy Hernandez, a decade before, had to work to stop House Officers from giving themselves.

2001 [-2]: Changes and Grumbling, on a Global Scale. Another Housing proposal is forwarded– and not implemented– details having already been reported in this forum.
As in 1963, it comes at a pivotal moment in history and in our understanding of ourselves. Change is deferred to “further study.”

2005 [-6]: [Insert your own title here]. [Insert your own explication of current events here].

The above is my quick recitation of events and choices, as I have known them, and as they have been told to me. I am more than sure that those of you who read this can correct me in several places– in facts and in interpretation– and that, collectively, the readers of this forum possess more historical knowledge and insight that I alone.

I thus hope each of you will add to this history, and to our understanding, and we will emerge with a better understanding of what we are doing.

I will not now add my own reflections and suggestions and wishes– though the above is clearly an ideologically and personally biased documentation. After speaking so much, I’d like to listen.

What is happening here? David’s Harry Potter metaphor is indeed interesting– as it raises the question of “including” students into House and social structures which match their personalities, their needs, and their ambitions. Are we taking a step in that direction– or away from it?

How do we read the current proposal in the terms and intentions of these previous proposals?

Regardless, the above is not a history of stability and stable course, and I see no reason to see the current “corrections” of our course as different from the past– or as anything but the ultimately fatal overcorrections of an inexperienced pilot.

Why?

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