It is impossible to understand the present state of Williams housing without studying the past. Consider this Record article by Drew Newman ’04 from April 2002.

In past years, students could log onto the Williams Students Online (WSO) website to see the names of students who had picked into rooms in real time throughout the room draw process. However, WSO was asked by the administration not to post the room draw results online this year. Instead, the names of students who have picked into rooms will only be posted inside the Mission Park Lounges where the room draw takes place.

According to last Wednesday’s CC minutes, the WSO representatives said the administration “made it quite clear that somebody will be punished if they try to get around [the prohibition of online room draw posting] in any way.”

1) For more background reading, here is some history from David Ramos ’00 (here) and Josh Ain ’03 (here). Highly recommended.

2) The College, even before Morty’s arrival in 2000, but especially thereafter, did not want students to self-segregate, especially the African-American students and male helmet-sport athletes. (Morty mentioned both those examples explicitly.)

3) Administrators hoped that if they just banned WSO plans, students would not be able to self-segregate so easily. It is not clear if they thought (stupidly) that this would work or hoped (reasonably) to give it a try. Needless to say, it failed. Even worse, it may have worsened the housing situation because it became harder for students to self-segregate along the quiet/party dimension. I think/hope that everyone involved in the debate agrees that, all else equal, it is good to have rooming groups with similar lifestyles (Thursday keggers, 3:00 AM loud music, whatever) living near each other.

The debate concerning blind room draw has escalated to the highest level; the College’s Board of Trustees recently supported a blind room draw during their discussions on residential life at the College.

“Overall, there is tremendous support among the Trustees for the changes we are making,” said Nancy Roseman, dean of the College. However, Roseman added that some members of the Board of Trustees believe the College should take a more active role in the allocation of rooms in the housing system.

“Many trustees come from a time when the College assigned everyone to their dorms and rooms and, in their memory, that worked really well,” said Roseman. “It created a random distribution of students across campus and there was no segregation by class year, or any of the other ways students now segregate themselves.”

How to read this? There are several possibilities:

1) Roseman could have been exaggerating the depth of trustee feeling on this issue, the better to come off as “reasonable” in her discussions with students.

2) Roseman’s description of trustee opinion could be accurate, but the Administration may have been providing the trustees with incomplete/biased information. (The Administration did this, at least to the Williams community as a whole, on numerous occasions in later years.)

3) Roseman could be providing an accurate version of the trustees feelings and those feelings could be based on accurate data. If so, silly trustees! There was still plenty of racial segregation, at least by rooming group, during any period in Williams history. Now, in the past, that self-segregation did not rise to the level of the house, but that was not because the students did not prefer self-segregation. Also, if the trustees thought that a “blind room draw” would actually impede self-segregation, they were wrong, as should have been obvious at the time.

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