Hi. I’d like to use the opportunity of my first real post to introduce myself. I am Brad Polsky ’12. An Art History and Practice major, I like playing jazz and eating Italian food, amongst other things.

I am writing tonight about the housing system. If you’re reading this post, you probably already know about David Kane’s Housing Plan. If not, take a look at the posts entitled “Housing Seminars.” Dave’s plan is very detailed (18 pages long) and a good read.

However, as a student currently at Williams who is interested in the outcome of the housing debate, I cannot recommend Dave’s plan. My two main points are:

1) Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke
2) What may work in theory may not work well in practice.

I will then talk about what should be done to fix the current housing issues.

Everything’s Just Fine

In Dave’s executive summary, he gives a list of assumptions we have about housing. One that he neglects to include is that he assumes the housing system now is bad/inefficient/[insert other negative adjective here]. David says there is evidence for this: “students recognize this.” Which is funny, because he says a sentence later that he doesn’t know this but he’s sure that if students were polled they would surely agree with his view.

I’m not so sure about this. I live in Currier Neighborhood. I have friends in all other neighborhoods. Almost all people seem happy with their neighborhoods and houses, or, at the very least, are not miserable (I strongly agree with Dave on one goal of housing to minimize misery). One of my biggest issues with the system had been that it really locked you into your neighborhood, and you were penalized for trying to get out.

This has changed. There are no longer penalties for switching out. I know many people who have switched, to be closer to their friends, to get (in their eyes) better housing, or for other reasons. As I said, most people seem happy with the system and their individual situations, and if they are not they can easily switch.

And despite some of the neighborhoods not really being neighborhoods (i.e., Wood), the system has its own way of working. In Currier, the housing is rather homogeneous; there are no spectacular rooms or under par rooms. Dodd is acknowledged to have the worst sophomore housing, but housing junior and senior year in that neighborhood makes up for it. Spencer has Morgan (it used to have West; I’ll get to that later), and Wood has the beautiful row houses. As a Williams student in the neighborhood system gets older each year, she has a better pick of rooms in more locations. There is a logic to this system.

The Problem with the Kane Plan

To the point: Williams does not have the physical infrastructure to support the Kane plan to its potential.

Last year, I attended the neighborhood forum sessions because I did not like certain aspects of the current neighborhood system and thought it should be abolished. As I previously stated, the main issue I had with the system was addressed adequately (there are others I will discuss later). At one point the school proposed having all the sophomores on the Berkshire Quad.

Almost all of the students at the forum disliked this idea.

It may be possible that this is a case of bad sampling. The people at the forum were those that cared enough to go (not many, by the way), and Williams currently is not known for having a very political campus. But even amongst the people who attended there was a wide variety of views on housing; yet almost all agreed that using Berkshire Quad as sophomore housing was a bad idea.

In theory, I agree with Kane’s plan and values. Most of the contact I have had with upperclassmen has been a result of activities, not living with/near them. I think it would be great if the whole sophomore class could live on one quad.

But that’s the big IF: Williams cannot, and probably will never be able to, house the whole sophomore class on the quad. And if the goal of a housing system is to minimize misery, housing 2/5 of the class elsewhere will not achieve that. That’s the reason the students voted it down last year: nobody wants to be that 2/5. Perhaps the group living in Morgan, as they would under Kane’s plan, wouldn’t mind, since Morgan is close to the quad and they’d probably eat at Driscoll anyway; but to put all the others in Tyler and hope that some sort of “Odd Quad” dynamic happens? I think that is unrealistic and unfair. The people at Tyler now know that in future years they will have better housing, where in Kane’s plan, they would get the same housing (Greylock quad) as everyone else a year later.

It’s worth mentioning here that Kane’s plan only really works as a whole, since the plan hinges upon keeping classes together on the quads and giving them a huge amount of choice senior year. Using only one part of the plan or taking out a part is, in effect, not using the plan and defeating its purpose.

Seeing as how Kane also wants students to have more say in housing matters, and that they had their say when it came to a part of the plan, the matter should be settled. Although I think it would be great if the juniors on campus could live together and all eat at Greylock (get to that soon) since it is such a strange year, I don’t think the benefits of that situation outweigh the costs and misery of the sophomores living on Berkshire quad. Even if a plan like Kane’s were introduced, I don’t think it would go over well with students, despite the greater choices one would have senior year (more on this later).

How to “Fix” Housing

I entitled this post “…It’s the Economy, Stupid” because there are issues with the housing system currently in place today, but those issues are a result of the recent financial downturn. Greylock and Dodd dining halls have been shut down, and the effect on students across campus has been huge. (I would say dining is a much more pertinent issue on campus than housing.) In addition, the college has been increasing class (year) size, so that common rooms and large singles all around campus have been turned into bedrooms and doubles, respectively. A result of the neighborhood forums last year was that quiet housing was instituted in West, affecting Spencer neighborhood and causing issues with too many people in the neighborhood.

It is tough to know when these issues will be resolved. Greylock is closed indefinitely. It is unknown whether quiet housing will continue. At this point, the college seems to be on a trend towards admitting more people, so there is no apparent solution to the “overcrowding” occurring.

One suggestion I have is to make more co-ops. Currently, there are two unused houses on campus: Seely and Kellogg. Plans for the addition to Stetson would require Kellogg to be bulldozed or moved; I am unsure if Seely would be affected. Although it may be physically impossible and financially slightly irresponsible, if the college were to move these houses nearer to the Dodd circle (I envision Seely across from Goodrich house, near the parking lot to Hollander Hall and Kellogg being moved in Seely’s place or near there), a lot of problems would be solved. (It has also come to my attention that there is a nice house in Morley Circle being used to hold WOC equipment. Maybe the college’s resources would be better spent turning that into co-op housing too and moving the equipment somewhere else?).

Firstly, the demand for co-op housing would be met by the supply. Around 160 seniors applied for co-op housing this year, and only 100 received it. The space provided for those 60 seniors could most likely be met by the addition of these two houses to co-op housing.

As a result of having more seniors in co-op housing, more rooms would open up in the neighborhood system, reducing crowding and returning the system to its normal stasis. 60 may not sound like much, but the college’s space resources are stretched tight and housing is a game of very small numbers.

In an ideal world, I think it might make sense for the College to build a small building for quiet housing and return West to Spencer neighborhood. Since I don’t see that happening any time soon, I must recommend that quiet housing be eliminated for next year. It is too disruptive to the system as a whole, and while I respect it’s goals (I even considered applying for it) I don’t think the college should be moving ahead with it at this time.


This may be a weird way to conclude, but Williams is a college that is afraid of its past. One of the arguments given for keeping the neighborhood system is to prevent from reoccurring the pseduo-frats, etc. that formed in the free agency era. While that is not to say that this does not occur to some extent to the neighborhood system, it is much less disruptive (as people who have been through both tell me).

Although Daivd Kane’s plan would also perhaps prevent the same problems, it is unlikely that the college will change course so abruptly. After all of the neighborhood review forums and committees and meeting, very little was changed (though what did change was for the better).

In any case, Kane’s plan works in theory but not in practice. Williams has definite physical limitations and cannot expand much due to its physical location and monetary situation (I would call the building programs Williams has pursued as “infill,” taking open space within the pre-existing campus and building there, rather than expanding the borders of the campus).

Considering the relative success of the neighborhood system in preventing misery and giving students choice, it makes sense to continue with the system. Expanding the co-op housing system as I stated could enhance the success of the neighborhood system.

(I am in Stat 201 semester. It might be an interesting project to try to get info from current students and alums from before, during, and after the switch from free agency housing to the neighborhood system. I don’t know how the alumni system works and if I would be able to send surveys to specific classes. Thoughts?)

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