I am entirely uninterested in rehashing the many pages of posts about Williams’s housing system, but am re-posting these articles from 2001 for people so as to inform the current discussion, especially going into next week’s forums. Note that this post does not mention anything that took place after 2001: please take comments and discussion about post-2001 history elsewhere, and let me know if anything below is inaccurate or incomplete.
Housing: The abolition of the Greek system – By Dave Glick
The College became progressively more troubled by the segregation of the student body and continuously declining GPAs of the fraternity members, and decided to take action. The prohibition of first-year pledging and the 1952 building of Baxter Hall, a $1 million student center took the first step toward reducing the fraternities’ influence.
The fraternities’ decline continued throughout the 1950s, as the College forbade them from racially and religiously discriminating in selecting its members. The College also instituted a “total opportunity” policy, whereby every student wishing to join a fraternity would receive at least one invitation. […]
The decision of the Trustees to revoke funding [thanks to a report by a well-respected group of alums/students, all of whom had been fraternity members] was not well- received by the student body. On Friday, Sept. 19, 1962, 75 to 125 students rioted in front of President Saywer’s house. In addition, close to 560 students, 87 percent of the College’s fraternity membership and almost half of the student body, signed a petition in protest of the decision. […]
The eight new upperclass housing clusters for the 1971-1972 academic year included: Greylock (including Gladden, Hopkins, Carter and Bryant); Berkspect (Fitch, Currier, Prospect); Fort Hoosac (Fort Hoosac House, Agard, West, Dougherty); Spencer (Brooks, Spencer, West, with overflow in Mission Park); Perry (Perry, with overflow in Mission Park); Bascom (Bascom, West, with overflow in Mission Park); Wood (Wood, Garfield, West, with overflow in Mission Park); Tyler (Tyler, with overflow in Mission Park).
Once assigned to a house as a first-year, virtually all students remained within their house until graduation. Every spring, there was a separate room draw within the house to determine the rooming arrangements for the following year.
Housing after fraternities: filling the vacuum – By Dave Glick
Students in a housing group ate their meals together at a set time in the house dining room. Each of the row houses had its own dining area, and Greylock dining hall was divided into four sections, one for each Greylock house. Housemates sitting down to meals together was a vital part of the house system: “in addition to activities, the most important part of social life was having meals together,” explains Wendy Hopkins ’72, director of Alumni Relations. […]
Houses did have “guest meals,” meals to which the members of a group could invite other students or faculty members to dine with them, but other than these weekly occasions, students ate with their houses. Kolesar, who was a member of Fitch House, describes “tablecloths and a served meal, with student waitstaff” every Thursday for guest meals in Driscoll — a guest meal was “special, enough so that some students would even put on a jacket and/or tie!” […]
By 1980, with the house system very much in place, increasing transfers had begun to shift the housing focus from house to class. A 1980 issue of the Record stated “the exodus of students – predominately sophomores – from Mission Park and the Berkshire Quad lends credence to the ‘typical’ housing scenario: sophomore year Mission Park or Berkshire Quad; junior-senior years: Greylock or Row Houses.” […]
Asserting that “significant changes in dining habits have taken place in the last few years and that habits are apparently continuing to change,” and “many students now gravitate to the major dining halls to take their meals,” the [Gilford] committee recommended closing the Spencer-Brooks, Garfield-Wood, Perry and Tyler dining halls and consolidating all dining into Baxter, Greylock, Mission, Dodd and Driscoll. Furthermore, the committee recommended the establishment of three meal plans: 21, 14 and seven.
Housing: The rise of [2001’s] housing system – By Dave Glick
[…] The housing system, which relied heavily on the affiliation system, was thus undercut by the lack of coherence within houses and student attempts to find every loophole possible in order to attain the most desirable living arrangement. By the end of the 1980s, students had to be expert negotiators and crafty politicians merely to obtain a single in Mission.
Early in the decade, students began to heavily use the transfer option offered by the Dean’s Office. Previously used only for serious roommate problems and special circumstances, transferring became the norm for sophomores who did not want to spend three years in Mission or the Berkshire Quad. […]
A group of friends, typically four people, would fill out a transfer sheet listing all 15 houses in order of preference. The transfer requests were then delivered not to the Housing Office, but to the 15 elected house presidents from each dorm. […]
“The transfer process was patently unfair and dominated by favoritism,” said Tom McEvoy, director of housing since 1988. “The selection meeting was almost like watching a baseball game as the house presidents winked, nodded and used hand signals to determine who exactly was in each group.” Students requesting transfers could contact the house presidents and, if they had the right connections, would most likely succeed in transferring their affiliation. If this level of corruption was not enough to bring down the affiliation program, the practice of swapping was.
Like transferring, swapping was a College-sanctioned process. Swapping allowed students to trade rooming picks for the year while maintaining their original house affiliation. This meant that a junior in Gladden could trade picks with a junior in Prospect for a year, but then both students would return to their original houses for senior year. […]
To avoid living in a double, many freshmen would go searching for those unfortunate rising seniors who, having failed in the transfer process, had been forced to spend their junior year in Mission. The two freshmen would trade their pick in Gar-Wood for the rising seniors’ pick in Mission. The trade worked because the rising seniors were given a senior pick in Gar-Wood, guaranteeing them singles, while the freshmen assured themselves rooms in Mission.
While this is the simplest of examples, swapping set the stage for elaborate plans involving seniors who intended all along to live off-campus, but who would register for the on-campus draw, swap and pull out at the last minute. These plots involved an incredible amount of planning, politics and the occasional bribe. […]
Even apart from the corruption of transfers and the chaos of swapping, another reason contributing to the administration’s 1995 decision to end the affiliation system was the corruption of intra-house lotteries. All 15 houses had different processes for assigning rooms within the house, and so the house presidents each held their own lotteries, few of which were fair.
The Housing Office inevitably received complaints, but there was little they could do because control was entirely in the hands of the house presidents. The Housing Office could not assure the impartiality of 15 different lottery systems that changed every year. As complaints rose, the housing office decided that holding on to the affiliation system without house dining was a mistake.
In 1994, a committee was formed to evaluate the housing system. Citing the absence of house unity, the lack of allegiance to affiliations, corruption and administrative problems, the Housing Office decided to eliminate the affiliations system. An all-campus lottery was deemed the most equitable way to distribute housing. […]
To [that] day, houses continue to segregate themselves along many lines, be they interest, background or class. For instance, this year, the majority of seniors in Spencer House are members of the Women’s Crew team, not one upperclassman lives in Mission and juniors dominate Greylock.
Thus, the story of Williams housing can be said to be thus: the frats were nice, but then they didn’t work, so then we had houses that ate together, but that didn’t sustain, so we closed four dining halls, which de facto destroyed affiliations, so we went to free-agency.