This is the fifth (and final) installment of our one week seminar about my plan (pdf) to fix Williams housing.

See the full pdf for all the details on implementation, none of which matter that much. The central insights of the plan — a Student Housing Committee, the Davis Conjecture (class-year segregation) and the Uible Lament (large, self-organized, diverse pick groups) — are independent of the messy specifics. Below are my preliminary thoughts on how CUL might organize things in year 1. Comments welcome!


Sophomores

We want the sophomore class to live together, just as they sought to live together in Mission during the era of Free Agency. We are happy to let them have large pick groups and for those pick groups to congregate to some extent, especially if that congregation is along the party/quiet dimension. The Berkshire Quad, with 332 beds, is the natural (and historical) home for the sophomore class. We might try grouping the rest of the class together as well, perhaps in Morgan (111), West (54), Spencer (25) and Brooks (28) or perhaps in Dodd and its associated houses (136). The key is that sophomores live with other sophomores. The nice thing about having most of the class in 5 largish buildings is that it still leads to extensive student mixing. Students have already met scores of their classmates in Mission and the Freshmen Quad. Now they will meet scores more. In an ideal world, you would want every sophomore to know the name of every student in her house. They might not be best buddies, but if they had shared a meal at least once during the year, that would go some distance toward providing exposure to a wide cross-section of the Williams community.

My recommendation would be the Berkshire Quad (332), Morgan (111) and Tyler/Tyler Annex (74). The total in this plan (517) is probably a bit too low because there are typically around 525 sophomores in residence. Given that this is sophomore housing, the College might turn some of the singles into doubles, especially given the recent rise in enrollment. But the key is that we have 8 houses, each with a critical mass of students. It is almost impossible for any individual house to be dominated by one group. Tyler/Tyler Annex might even naturally develop into an off-beat Odd Quad-type arrangement, providing a natural location for students less interested in the mainstream party scene that will almost certainly dominate the Berkshire Quad.

Juniors

We want the junior class to live together, just as they sought to live together in Greylock during the era of Free Agency. The same reasoning for sophomores applies here. Greylock, with 297 beds, is the solution. Given patterns in study abroad, there are approximately 400 juniors in residence at any point in time, but 52 of those are JAs. This means that 50 or so juniors will need to live elsewhere. The best options would be to turn one or two of the nearby row houses with decent party space into a juniors-only house, with students living there with the knowledge that it would be a center of class socializing. Wood (30) and Perry (28) are the obvious candidates.

The marvelous convenience of the Berkshire Quad and Greylock is that all the houses are large enough that — if classes are segregated and gender balance is kept roughly equal in each house — diversity is inevitable, regardless of pick group size. That is, it is highly unlikely that any Berkshire or Greylock house, under this regime, could develop into anything that looked like theme housing. Because most sorts of theme housing involve, by definition, gathering a specific subset of Ephs together, any successful attempt at theme housing requires cross-class housing. Prevent/discourage that and theme housing largely disappears even if Williams does not ban it per se.

Because rooms are of mostly uniform quality, housing in Greylock also minimizes the disruption caused by junior year abroard. Students can come and go without worrying too much about the quality of their rooms or the distance from their friends. The large pick group size might be different for juniors than for sophomores to account for the standard arrangement of Greylock suites. It might also make sense to have a pre-round of room selection that would allow a single very large group to pick into Wood. Imagine a group of 30 friends, men and women, members in all sorts of different groups in campus, choosing to live together in Wood with full knowledge that Wood was to become the center socializing for the junior class. Nothing could be more conducive to the party scene at Williams than placing students who want to throw parties into a house suited to the task.

It would also be useful to allow students to form pick groups that took account of study abroad plans. (For this reason, junior room draw should occur as late in the spring as possible while senior and sophomore draw can happen much earlier.) A group of 5 students might pick a 4 room Greylock suite, having committed to having one student away in the fall and a different one in the spring. It might also be useful to favor groups of size 4 over groups of size 3 since we want Greylock suites to, as much as possible, contain students who want to live together. For example, all groups of size 4 should be allowed to pick before all smaller groups. Further details left as an assignment to the Student Housing Committee.

Seniors

Seniors want to live together, especially in small groups with their closest friends. Moreover, after three years of social engineering by Williams, it is time to let them make their own choices. If all the senior women on the soccer team want to live together in Susie Hopkins, then let them. If all the seniors in the Black Student Union want to live in Brooks for their last year at Williams, then give them this freedom. Williams has done everything it can possibly do to convince these students that they should be close friends with Ephs from a variety of backgrounds and that their living arrangements should reflect that cross-section. If, for whatever reason, these students disagree, then let them be. Williams, as an institution, should not try to force seniors into being something that they are not. Instead, we should focus on binding those seniors to each other, and to Williams, for the rest of their lives. Allow seniors to sort themselves into senior houses so as to minimize conflict and maximize bonding.

Such freedom does not violate the restrictions (at least in spirit) against theme housing for two reasons. First, these are senior-only houses. No underclassmen are allowed to live there. So, even if group X is living together in an unhelpful fashion (from the point of view of the College), their decision does not necessarily leak down to other classes. Almost all the sophomores and juniors in group X are still living in thoroughly integrated dorms in either the Berkshire Quad or Greylock. Second, even if Susie Hopkins is the soccer house one year, it will not be the soccer house next year. If every single year there is a house dominated by group X, then this is not so much a problem as a signal that Williams is doing something else wrong. With luck, this won’t be an issue. But, if it becomes one, we are better off facing the problem squarely than averting our eyes via housing randomization.

One aspect of senior housing involves the social scene. Williams should do a better job of matching Ephs who like to throw parties with housing that makes throwing parties easy. Several houses (e.g., Dodd, Wood, Spencer, and others) make for great parties. Right now, we make no effort to ensure that the students living in those houses want to throw parties. We should reserve specific houses as “party houses,” places where the residents are expected and encourages to throw parties.

There will be conflict among seniors over housing. A key aspect of that conflict will revolve around actual (and dishonest) preferences. Why should students who want to live in a co-op receive an advantage in getting, say, Milham, over seniors that want to eat in the dining halls? And, to the extent that the College wants to meet that preference, what is to prevent students from lying, from saying that they want a co-op when all they actually want is Milham? More than 300 students in the class of 2010 applied for co-ops. The vast majority have no particular interest in cooking for themselves or shoveling their own sidewalks. Once this new plan is in place, thereby allowing seniors to live with their friends, I expect the demand for co-ops to plummet.

The same difficulty arises with party houses. Here, at least, the College has an incentive to place students who want to throw parties into houses that make parties fun because the parties themselves contribute to the social life of everyone on campus. Yet not wanting to throw parties should not doom a group of seniors to sub-standard senior housing. And, again, there will be fakes, students who claim that they will throw parties but who either don’t really mean it or don’t follow through. Again, the members of the Student Housing Committee are best placed to ensure fair and accurate placement of students into houses.

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