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A Vision for Williams Housing

Are you the sort of person who has read 111 posts on Neighborhood Housing and still wants more? Have you been waiting for over 4 years for an update to my Vision for Williams Housing?

This pdf is for you.

Summary: Given some standard assumptions about Williams housing (entry system is sacred, 1/2 of juniors and 1/3 of seniors do something special (JA, abroad, co-ops, off-campus), no major constructions projects), Neighborhood identity is a fantasy. Given that, the best housing system would focus on the academic class, grouping sophomores (Berkshire Quad), juniors (Greylock) and seniors (row houses) together. A modified free agency is, therefore, the best possible housing system.

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#1 Comment By JeffZ On May 13, 2009 @ 9:14 am

Overall sounds pretty good to me (and unsurprisingly, I like it because it mirrors my own experience at Williams — Mission soph year, Greylock junior year, row house senior year; my least happy month by far a Williams was when I was stuck, due to a horrible housing pick and a housing shortage, as a sophomore in a lone single in the basement of a row house — once I moved to an opening in Mission, my experience dramatically improved).

I kinda of prefer an implicit understanding that the big row houses with party spaces (currently Agard, Perry, Spencer) (or in the case of the Berkshire quad, Currier House) will necessarily house more parties, and let seniors choose those space with that knowledge and history in mind, rather than some formal board or mechanism trying to distinguish applicants based on their stated intentions, that could be an absolute nightmare. That is my primary critique. But I like the idea of a junior-centric Greylock and a sophomore-centric Berkshire Quad, and the idea of increasing level of autonomy in housing choice as students advance in age. My other main concern is that some students with lower picks who want to be with most of their classmates will get shut out, but people with low housing picks get screwed every year, so that won’t change that much. Given the number of juniors abroad and serving as JA’s, Greylock might just be large enough to avoid this problem (especially since some juniors will choose on their own to live elsewhere). Sophomore year it would be tougher but if you toss Morgan and West in, which are fairly proximate geographically, that might solve that. Then the Dodd complex plus Tyler / Tyler Annex / Thompson would be two natural locations for sophmores and juniors who purposefully choose to be outside the mainstream, or just get locked out due to low housing picks.

There might have to be some shifting around of singles and doubles (should be almost no doubles in senior-heavy housing, except perhaps in some of the absolutely mega spaces in places like Agard), but that is a minor complication.

Especially with the marginal increase in the size of the student body, the college is going to eventually need more student housing (if the college is totally full this year, and there are going to be about 80 more kids total on campus within four years, this should be self evident). It makes sense for almost all of that additional housing to be in the form of coops in existing smaller buildings on the outskirts of campus that have opened / will open up due to the construction of the new academic buildings as well as a marginal downsizing of non-faculty positions (and presumably need for office space accordingly) in conjunction with the hiring freeze / elimination of certain positions.

I also think Westin should eventually be returned to its original purpose as student housing, now that the language labs and offices are (I believe?) in the new academic buildings (my sense was that Westin was becoming something else, can’t recall what at the moment, but given its prime location at the center of the row house stretch, this absolutely should be student housing with a large party space on the ground floor; especially once the new library is constructed which has room for all sorts of academic programming faclities).

#2 Comment By JeffZ On May 13, 2009 @ 9:19 am

quick addendum: I misspelled it, actually Weston Hall, and I checked, it houses the OCC. The OCC should DEFINITELY be elsewhere as it hardly warrants such a central location when few folks utilize it outside of senior year. Weston should definitely become housing with great social space (and it may need to in an year or two anyway due to larger student body), and the OCC could be housed virtually anywhere (and eventually, should probably be in the new library complex).

#3 Comment By hwc On May 13, 2009 @ 2:21 pm

Why not go one step further and move the freshmen to an entirely different campus like Duke does? Bennnington may go under before long. Williams could buy their campus for pennies on the dollar and move all the freshmen there for bonding!

#4 Comment By Ronit On May 13, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

OCC is in Weston? Wasn’t that formerly the language lab?

OCC used to be in the remotest sub-basement cellar of Stetson Annex. I remember sprinting across campus in a suit because I had 10 minutes between the end of class and the start of an interview.

#5 Comment By JeffZ On May 13, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

yes, I believe, Ronit, that was formerly the language lab, classrooms, and offices, but I believe all of those were incorporated into the two new academic buildings (the language lab definitely was). Again, as a central building in the midst of row houses, it should be student housing rather than offices that 3/4 of the campus only utilizes sporadically. It is bad enough that Bascom, which used to be the best student housing, was turned into admissions, but at least I can see the important of putting an impressive face on the first building applicants and their families encounter. There is no reason, however, for Weston to be used as offices that could be placed anywhere on campus.

I heard a story in college that Weston could never be housing because the frat who used to reside there has some restrictive covenants or something like that, but that sounds either apocraphyl, unenforceable, or both.

#6 Comment By frank uible On May 13, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

The College circumvented confrontation with the covenant by refraining from using Weston for lodging.

#7 Comment By Diana On May 13, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

Weston has a swastika on the outside. Maybe the frat that donated it to Williams was EVIL! See the discussion about this issue on this photo ID photo and a Record article about it here.

#8 Comment By JeffZ On May 13, 2009 @ 4:20 pm

That is what I had heard Frank. But if the covenant, as the rumor goes, is indeed one intended to exclude housing of minority students, while perhaps legal at the time it was drafted back in the middle of last century, is now almost certainly illegal and unenforceable, so presumably it could be converted back to housing.

#9 Comment By rory On May 13, 2009 @ 4:27 pm

and who, exactly, is going to bother suing if the college breaks the covenant?

#10 Comment By Ronit On May 13, 2009 @ 5:25 pm

I’ll volunteer to file the lawsuit, just for entertainment value.

#11 Comment By frank uible On May 13, 2009 @ 5:29 pm

The College has prudently found a way to stear clear of controversy.

#12 Comment By JG On May 13, 2009 @ 6:26 pm

Since lots of people won’t read it – based on the Record article, the existence of the alleged covenants appears to be in doubt anyway. But a few things would probably answer that: was the house owned by the chapter or by the national org? The chapter violated the national rules by being *more* progressive/open and admitting non-Aryan students. They eventually went independent in the 50s after being suspended by the national org, so if they owned the building when it was sold to the school I doubt there are restrictive covenants. The article seems to say that the local chapter deeded the property to the school, but I could be wrong.

If it was owned by the National frat, perhaps such racially restrictive covenants were attached in accordance with the f-ed up racial/ethnic membership rules, but I dont’ think they could be enforceable now given that they’re in violation of twelve different kinds of fair housing and anti-discrimination laws. If the covenants do exist, having the building used as classrooms might have made sense initially, but now if the school wanted to make it housing, racially restrictive covenants wouldn’t be a viable way to prevent it.

If the covenants are a more general “not as a dorm” restriction, that’s a different story…but the Williams lore that I’ve heard generally relates to racial/ethnic restrictions sleeping overnight (as opposed to being in it to work I suppose).

And sorry Ronit, unless you’re a secret member of the frat, you don’t have standing to sue.

#13 Comment By rory On May 13, 2009 @ 6:29 pm

i also expect that converting weston to dorms would have major renovation costs. I’d bet that’s the real reason it hasn’t been/won’t be converted any time soon.

#14 Comment By also.ran On May 13, 2009 @ 7:08 pm

Dave-

Williams students will find, and will continue to find, good friends in all class years.  Don’t make the (restrictive) assumption that students have to live with the same five hundred people — after all, that’s the approximate size of the clusters now!  Ninety percent of students will want to pick in with other students of the same class — but it will make all the difference in the world to that other ten percent.   Otherwise, the ties that you are trying to foster between students and Williams will atrophy on graduation; developing friendships between classes helps to keep students coming back and staying involved in the broader Williams community.

Furthermore, if you were to let a free agency process develop naturally,  the class-area restrictions would even be necessary.  Your document basically suggests a move back to the campus housing system prior to before anchor housing was put in place.  Sure, the proposal swaps the Berkshire Quad and Mission for other assorted housing, but other than that your rules would simply enforce what had been more or less going on.  Two shakes in three says that it’s not even necessary to put that restriction in place — take away the clusters, and it would just develop.

#15 Comment By David On May 13, 2009 @ 8:04 pm

also.ran,

1) You are correct that my new plan looks a lot like Free Agency, with the sophomores now in the Berkshire Quad. And that’s a good thing! Free Agency worked very well and was, if you care about student opinion, far and away the most popular housing plan at Williams since the elimination of fraternities.

2) But Free Agency had flaws which my plan attempts to fix. First, it prevents self-segregation. You may have no problem if all the African-American students want to live in one house and all the football players want to live in another. But the College will never put up with that. Once you accept that assumption, you need to change Free Agency in some way to prevent that. My restrictions do that while still maximizing student freedom and allowing student sorting on other dimensions. No other plan does as well.

3) Also, my plan fixes a lot of the more subtle flaws with Free Agency, things that the College did not like (Morty used examples like this in various forums) but which were not as troubling (to him) as racial self-segregation. A classic example involved orphan rooms. A bunch of senior partiers pick into a row house, but leave three rooms open. No other seniors/juniors/sophomores want to live with them (reasonably enough!), so low pick sophomores get stuck there. The example that Morty used was quiet sophomore females feeling bullied by big football players.

And don’t know if this is a fair statement, but there is no doubt that we want to force students to self-sort as accurately as possible. So, for seniors, we want every house to be filled with a group of people who made an affirmative decision to live together. That is a key change to the old free agency. This matters much less for sophomores/juniors because the vast majority of them will be living in large houses.

4) “Williams students will find, and will continue to find, good friends in all class years. ” Of course! Who would deny such a thing? But the main mechanism by which this occurs (and has always occurred) is via some shared activity (sports, singing, Record, whatever). There was a lot of blather about the importance of Sophomore/Senior interaction during the run-up to Neighborhoods. But this was a) A cover for the racial stuff, b) Unnecessary because the vast majority of sophomores know “enough” seniors via activities and JA-connections and c) Unlikely to increase the amount of sophomore/senior interaction.

5) I would not frame things in this way:

“Don’t make the (restrictive) assumption that students have to live with the same five hundred people — after all, that’s the approximate size of the clusters now!”

I specifically list the assumptions. Do you disagree with any of them? Given those assumptions, I think that my plan maximizes student satisfaction. What alternate plan would you propose?

Now, it is true that the Davis Conjecture (originated by Diana Davis ’07) plays a central role in the analysis, but it isn’t really an assumption that I start with per se.

6) I don’t deny that “developing friendships between classes helps to keep students coming back and staying involved in the broader Williams community.” But the point is that the Administration won’t allow all the male helmet-head athletes to live together. Period. So, we need a system that prevents that while allowing as much choice as possible. The best way to do that is to “force” students (except for odd quaders) to live with only their classmates. If you have a better solution, tell us.

#16 Comment By hwc On May 13, 2009 @ 9:13 pm

Let me see if I’ve got this straight?

1) Morty believed that the members of two helmet sport teams were negatively impacting housing, to such an extent he was willing to ramrod through a wildly unpopular system to address the issue.

2) The Committee on Alcohol cites the members of two helmet sports teams as contributing disproportionate to the negative aspects of campus life caused by alcohol abuse.

3) The Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on Athletics cites members of two helmet sports teams as negatively impacting admissions and the classroom experience for the faculty and students.

I wonder if Morty ever considered the obvious solution?

#17 Comment By David On May 13, 2009 @ 9:32 pm

HWC: You should know that this is a misleading summary.

1) No. Morty has always emphasized the racial self-segregation as being much more important than the team self-segregation. Even if athletes were evenly distributed among rooming groups and houses under Free Agency, Morty would still have rammed through Neighborhoods.

2) Your 2) and 3) are true, but they are misleading because they are dated. At Morty’s insistence that has been a dramatic tightening in athletic admissions. The football players that Williams is letting in today are much smarter than the ones that it was letting in a few years ago. Are they having/contributing to the problems cited at the beginning of the decade? Perhaps. But, I would guess, not at the same rates as their predecessors. But, in any case, we don’t know because the College has not released (gathered?) the necessary data.

Finally, wouldn’t you say that this was fairly off-topic?

On a side note, I would be eager to read a long comment (which I would probably post as a new thread) by you on freshmen-integrated housing. What schools do it? (I only know Smith.) How does it work? How long have they done it? What articles have been written about it? Did they move from an freshman-separate system? If so, why? And so on.

It would be fascinating to read several hundred words (with all your usual excellent linkage) on this practice as it happens at other schools. I agree with your assessment that this would never happen at Williams, but it sure would be interesting to learn more about it.

#18 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On May 13, 2009 @ 9:38 pm

David:

What you present is a political vision based on economic principles– in short,  ideology.

I believe it was a Supreme Court Justice who declared,  some time before,  that the course of men and nations should not be determined,  no limited by,   economic theory.

Submitted,  then,  that this vision is distopian– “My Williams,”  David,  “My Marines,”  “My Rome.”  No Roman would choose to live in the economic nakedness of the ——–;  to be a Roman citizen,  to be a citizen,  has always been to have an inheritance,  a common ownership,  a responsibility–

this is the fundamental contradiction in modern conservatism– its Ideals are those of a self-regulating,  Republican society,  almost military in its social order;  its economic theory is almost the unrestrained,  all-consuming neoliberalism of Marx and Keynes;  the two cannot survive,  side-by-side.

One is destructive of the other,   or both. 

So David– choose.   You can’t have “My Williams” unless you have ‘paterfamilias,’  ‘my House.’   You can’t have that without the social processes of initiation– without things that are neither for sale,  nor determined by the processes of the market.

So — choose.

#19 Comment By David On May 13, 2009 @ 9:51 pm

Ken,

Thanks for the comments, although I may have misunderstood them. You highlight the importance of “an inheritance,  a common ownership,  a responsibility.” I agree. You write (by the way, I can’t get blockquote to work)

“You can’t have “My Williams” unless you have ‘paterfamilias,’  ‘my House.’   You can’t have that without the social processes of initiation– without things that are neither for sale,  nor determined by the processes of the market.”

1) There is no “market” here, no buying and selling. We need a process for assigning students to rooms. We have Neighborhoods now, we had Free Agency before, we had the House System during my era. My claim is that the rules that I propose above would be better than these. Students would be happier.

2) One of the reasons that students would be happier is precisely because there would be more ownership. You’re talk of ‘my House’ is exactly right. Over the last 30 years, the most common place where the ‘my House’ attitude has been found (leaving aside entries) has been in co-ops, especially co-ops filled with a single group of friends. It is precisely this feeling of common ownership and fellowship that I seek to extend to almost the entire senior class.

Imagine if the 28 seniors in Wood or the 25 in Spencer had all agreed and planned to live together, had organically formed a group at the end of junior year of like-minded Ephs eager to spend their senior year together. It wouldn’t be a fraternity, but it would be the next best thing.

You ask for “common ownership,”  and I give you the greatest amount of common ownership that Williams has seen since the 50s. If there is a better plan, I have yet to hear of it.

blockquote added –93kwt

#20 Comment By frank uible On May 13, 2009 @ 10:37 pm

Why do I get a sinking feeling that there exists a consensus herein in support of the proposition that a way to improve the College is to frequently and harshly limit students’ opportunities in their seeking of alternatives and other freedoms to greater degrees than are absolutely necessary?

#21 Comment By kthomas On May 13, 2009 @ 11:06 pm

Well: if we go back to pragmatics: when then-Dean-of-Housing Monica Martinez implemented “free agency,” via a fiat that makes Angevine look wholly democratic– and purely for her own administrative convenience– with narry a thought for tradition or history– not to mention, no idea of “student input” — the standard student complaint, as much anyone had any time to complain, was that free agency prevented them from doing what they wanted to do.

With respect to David’s argument above, what is most interesting about David’s vision, are all the things it prevents from happening– what it prevents students from doing (not that we entirely disagree on some of his points).

Any chance the Class President for ’97 is reading this, and would like to repeat some of what he said, on Cole Field over reunion, about Dean Martinez?

#22 Comment By JeffZ On May 13, 2009 @ 11:24 pm

Are you referring to the current President of my class, Ken?  Or the first President?  (I was the second, and I know it wasn’t me …).  Because I have no idea what comments on Martinez you refer too, and I’m quite curious …

#23 Comment By kthomas On May 13, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

Jeff:  that would be the President during the summer of ’07… who may be the previous President now? (P.S.: the exact comments don’t really matter; in this case, I am being snarky).

#24 Comment By hwc On May 13, 2009 @ 11:47 pm

Finally, wouldn’t you say that this was fairly off-topic?

That depends on what Morty’s motivation for cluster housing was. I’ve only read him beating around the bush on that topic. I know that he felt self-segregation was deterimental to the college, but I’m heard him reference athletes more than race.

On the issue of self-segregation and de facto theme housing, there are many room draw policies that can effectively blunt that, but I don’t think Williams is looking for room draw ideas.

At the end of the day, it takes two to tango — students trying to game the system to self-segregate and a campus that is willing to forgo choice o certain rooms to allow others to self-segregate. To the extent that you have the second prong of this equation (a campus community that views self-segration as acceptable), it is very hard to legislate it out of existence. Many colleges and universities (including, for example, Amherst and Stanford) tout their racially segregated housing as a positive selling feature.

#25 Comment By JeffZ On May 13, 2009 @ 11:49 pm

Hmmm, maybe I am missing something in the snark, because I was the outgoing Pres that summer, and I don’t THINK I said anything about Dean Martinez (considering the state I was in that evening, of course, anything is possible) … so I am guessing it must have been my successor.  She was not, ummmm, a particularly popular figure among the student body as I recall (although my memory is very hazy as to why), so nothing would surprise me …

#26 Comment By JeffZ On May 13, 2009 @ 11:51 pm

Oh, and on David’s last point, in today’s Record article, Morty actually lists the changes in athletic admissions as one of his proudest accomplishments — were the differences not substantial, he certainly wouldn’t list that as one of a small handful signature moments of his Presidency …

#27 Comment By hwc On May 14, 2009 @ 12:32 am

The Record article was the first time I’ve ever seen a Wiliams official acknowledge that athletics is a top priority and defining characteristic of the school. It’s stating the obvious, but it is stating it for the very first time.

#28 Comment By Vermando ’05 On May 14, 2009 @ 6:07 am

Small note on the goal: the focus here seems to be to prevent self-segregation.  That was indeed one goal of clusters, but, from President Schapiro’s perspective, at least if I remember correctly from talking with him about it, another related and very genuine goal was to address the lack of community many people felt at the school.

We lump this goal with self-segregation because it is connected to it – the community most people do feel is with their cliques, as the athletes have their teams, the a capella groups their groups, the minority groups theirs, etc. – and because self-segregation is sexier: athletes, minorities, booz, oh my!

However, the point was not just to prevent this self-selection from turning into self-segregation.  It was also to encourage bonding and a spirit of community with something larger.  The observations were that first, while some students had a clique, many didn’t, and second, all students missed out on something by not having a slightly higher attachment.  Clusters were thus designed with this more idealistic goal in mind, and here, I think almost everyone would agree, they failed. 

Personally, I don’t see how such a bond can be built on the back of housing unless we abolish freshman housing and / or bring back a Greek system or the equivalent, in other words never.  Still, the goal was a good one, especially as to the first point that the students who don’t play sports or have another equally strong clique really don’t have the same social experience as those who do, there’s a lot of alienation and it can be quite sad.  So, if you want to shoot for the coup de grace of housing, you should try to address that in your plan.

On the rest of David’s proposal, I’m still digesting and will comment when I have given it some more thought.

#29 Comment By rory On May 14, 2009 @ 11:39 am

disjointed thoughts while i avoid re-writing an literature review on embeddedness vs. social capital to appease a reviewer who didn’t quite understand our article’s POV:
-sophomores didn’t so much look to live in mission as much as they were forced into mission during free agency. As the last picks (along with an unrenovated mission) across the years, sophomores had no other real option unless they wanted to live in doubles and/or surrounded by seniors. nit-picking, i know, but important to be honest.

-one thing my mom always got frustrated by (I know, I’m about to make a swarthmore comparison!) is that a student @ williams could go three years in a row with a bad pick (swat had a system to avoid that). There was no assured leveling out of pick value within class. I’m not sure (and I wasn’t then) that it matters. but it is an interesting thing to consider.

-while houses can be relatively diverse in berkshire and greylock, more granularly, it can still be a problem. I was in a greylock dorm with a large athletic presence and they dominated the entire 1st and 3rd floor (I can’t remember the exact floors). As such, while we were a diverse enough dorm, the athletes were an overwhelmingly strong presence…for good (some of those parties rocked) and bad (the time they chanted my named at 2 am because they thought, mistakenly, that I had called security on them the night before).
-free agent pickers who went into the row houses knew what they were getting into.

this sounds like a slightly managed version of free agency…which isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s a free agency with slightly different housing situations (mission for sophomores is now the berkshire quad. dodd is now the berkshire quad, etc.). I’m of ambivalent mind as to spreading out room draw–it allows for less stress in the moment but more stress in the planning stages. The perfect analogy seems to be ripping off a band aid.

i was one of those students who didn’t really understand why we were so frustrated by free agency, in that I couldn’t imagine a better system to replace it. I still kinda cannot. i do agree that more co-ops = better housing. I also commend the effort to outline a possible path.

#30 Comment By lgeorge On May 14, 2009 @ 12:04 pm

I worry a little about any area, other than the JA/frosh entries, becoming mostly one class (I think it works well with the frosh set-up because that is a tradition at Williams and lots of people, from the deans to the JAs and their friends, work very hard at making it successful). I would be concerned that overly clumping a class in a particular area might set up an uncomfortable minority there of those from one or both of the other two classes, and that there would be less general casual mixing amongst the classes than if there were strong contingents from each of the three upper classes in each area. But it is a small school and it may well not be possible to carry out the ideal situation. I would not the ideal to become the enemy of improvement, and there is much room for improvement right now from what I can tell from talking with (an admittedly small sample of) current and recent students.

#31 Comment By hwc On May 14, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

-one thing my mom always got frustrated by (I know, I’m about to make a swarthmore comparison!) is that a student @ williams could go three years in a row with a bad pick (swat had a system to avoid that). There was no assured leveling out of pick value within class. I’m not sure (and I wasn’t then) that it matters. but it is an interesting thing to consider.

Swarthmore has a new improved 2.0 equalization system now. This year’s senior class is the last one operating under the old cohort system to equalize picks over the course of three years. The new system is a computer program written by a group of students who studied the housing lottery. The system adjusts picks so that the average value of lottery numbers over three years is essentially the same for all students. This provides much more fine grained equalization than the old system that ensured each student was in the top third of his class’s picks one year, the middle third another year, and the bottom third another year. The downside of the cohort system is that, while it did equalize, one student could still be at the bottom of each cohort and do worse than a student at the top of each of the three cohorts. The new system literally equalizes the average of the three lottery numbers. The students wrote the computer program and brought it to the housing office, which worked with them to adopt it the following year.

The new system even has a built in penalty for students who successfully “block” — a separate selection process for groups of students picking together held before the main lottery. Blocking tends to result in better housing for a given lottery number, so the computer program now takes that into account in assigning subsequent year’s lottery numbers. They somehow figured out an average advantage of blocking and built in an offset.

#32 Comment By JeffZ On May 14, 2009 @ 12:51 pm

OK, that is one Swattie idea I’ll wholeheartedly endorse stealing.

#33 Comment By hwc On May 14, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

BTW, if you want to prevent housing segregation in a free agency system, the specific details of your group block selection and gender balance rules are key tools. And, while we all know that it can’t be used at Williams, the ability to assign freshmen to dorms is a powerful tool for busting up de facto theme housing or even to change the “culture” of a dorm over time.

#34 Comment By rory On May 14, 2009 @ 1:11 pm

i’m not sure if i want to steal it…here’s why i’m not sure, taking david’s basic model of who lives where as my hypothetical:

Greylock dorms are all practically identical is quality. So, for incoming juniors, picks 10 and 150 get you basically the same room…and 150 might be better because by then you have a sense of who is already in the dorm. at 10, you’re hoping that future picks are people you like.

when mission was the sophomore dorm area, the difference between 10 and 150 was equally unimportant. I’m not sure that would be true for berkshire quad (prospect is substantially worse, imo, than the other dorms there).

senior year, however (and i’m not even factoring in co-ops), the difference between pick 10 and pick 20 is about equal to the difference between pick 10 and 150. If it were me, I’d game the HELL out of the system (add people to my group if i were likely to have a low pick/drop low picks out of my group if i already had a good shot at a high pick) to try to get a higher pick as a senior as opposed to earlier in my career. basically, the system best works if people are committed to picking in with the same group each year. Then again, that’s generally true of housing decisions…so perhaps it wouldn’t be a big deal. I don’t know.

Swarthmore’s housing may or may not have the same problem, but this seems to invite gaming the system (there might be ways to avoid that in the swat system…i think blocking might have something to do with it). If, for example, there are 8 of us who want to live together and groups can only pick as foursomes in total, we might jigger our group makeup to get bad picks as juniors and good picks as seniors.

Or is swarthmore’s system that you pick as an individual if you don’t get a block? I do remember it seeming unduly complicated to me, but i only heard details third hand.

i will say that i like the student initiative @ swat. When we did the lottery, there was an unspoken conspiracy theory that friends of the housing office “randomly” got high picks year after year and they wouldn’t share the code of the randomization program to us :P

#35 Comment By JeffZ On May 14, 2009 @ 1:13 pm

Oh and Rory, re: comment 29, who are you kidding (“mistakenly”), we at Ephblog all know that you are a narc :) ….

The best feature of Mission in my experience was that you could call random numbers and say “Hot Tomatoes” and, inevitably, some confused looking person would stumble down to the front door expecting a pizza that they didn’t recall ordering, and end up even more perplexed when no delivery guy presented himself. Let it never be said that I was not a paragon of maturity and dignity when in college …

And for those who remember Mission as the nuclear fall out bunker hellhole that it was in the 1990’s (hence one reason for its unpopularity despite being all singles and having its own dining hall), it is now an immeasureably more pleasant living environment …

#36 Comment By hwc On May 14, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

Swarthmore’s housing may or may not have the same problem, but this seems to invite gaming the system (there might be ways to avoid that in the swat system…i think blocking might have something to do with it). If, for example, there are 8 of us who want to live together and groups can only pick as foursomes in total, we might jigger our group makeup to get bad picks as juniors and good picks as seniors.

You have to apply for blocks before you have received your lottery numbers. You can only apply for blocks in one group. You apply for up to six different blocks as that group and list them in desired order from first choice to last choice. The later choices can be smaller blocks, but they have to be subsets of the initial blocking group. So you could apply for a 6 person block as your first choice and a 4 person block as your second choice, but the 4 have to be a subset of the original group and the other 2 orphans would be jettisoned back into the regular lottery. After you have submitted your block choices, lottery numbers are randomly generated and your block group will be assigned a block based on the average of their lottery numbers.

One of the ways that self-segregation is prevented is that there is typically only one block available on each hall. The only way to “take over” a hall is to win a block and then have friends happen to draw lottery numbers that allow them to pick on the same hall. But, each hall has to be 50%/50% male/female, there are signficant numbers of freshmen on many halls, and there is enough variation in housing that people aren’t typically going to pass up a choice dorm to accomodate your desire to self-segregate.

As a pratical matter, sophmores don’t have high enough lottery numbers to control their own destiny that way. 40% of juniors who study abroad are scrambling for one semester housing. Seniors have some control over their own destiny, but are often not willing to sacrifice a great situation for a small group to accomodate a larger group. My daughter blocked with two friends senior year for a three-room floor with a private bath in a dorm where their fourth friend was the RA downstairs. They knew they would get their block based on all three of them being “due” first cohort numbers. Other friends were left out of that equation, but it just wasn’t worth diluting up their sure-bet high lottery block.