Diversity Concerns Affect Possibility Of Randomization

For nearly two decades, Harvard administrators have debated an issue that will not die.

While student groups have focused on contraceptive counseling, community service and campus politics, House masters and administrators have enacted a series of housing reforms.

And each time administrators have attempted to change the system, students have protested, saying they are being denied their right to choose.

Currently, first-year students may choose four houses. Students are then assigned to houses by lottery. This year 90 percent of first-years received one of their four choices, according to the Harvard Housing Office.

The College housing office this week would not release statistics about the percentage of people randomized into five houses this year--Cabot, Currier, Leverett, Mather and Quincy. Administrators at house offices said they did not have the information or refused to release it.

Next week, Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 will decide whether to completely randomize the first-year housing lottery.

Jewett has said in the past that he leans toward a randomized system, but he has been willing to listen to a variety of proposals and points of view.

Some house masters, house committee chairs and students interviewed this week strongly support randomization, saying it promotes diversity, eliminates stereotypes and lessens stress on first-years during the busy spring term.

Others speak vehemently against randomization, saying it destroys house character, infringes upon students' right to choose where they live and prevents people with similar interests and backgrounds from living together.


When President Lowell founded the house system in the 1930s, he hoped that every house would be a microcosm of the College.

Until the early 1970s, however, each masterchose which students would be placed in his houseon the basis of student applications andinterviews, according to Secretary of the Facultyof Arts and Sciences (FAS) John B. Fox Jr. '59.

The College imposed constraints on the numberof prep school graduates allowed, as well as onthe number of students from academic Group I orGroup II allowed per house, Fox said.

In 1971, the application system was eliminatedand students were asked to rank all 12 houses.

That system was extremely unpopular, accordingto Fox.

"Not many got their first choice, but plentygot their tenth or eleventh," he said. "They livedexactly where they didn't want to." In 1977, Fox,who was then dean of the college, implemented anordered four-choice system.

In 1990, the College went to its currentnon-ordered four-choice system.

The issue of randomization came up lastSeptember after an FAS report advocatedrandomization. The Report on the Structure ofHarvard College was co-authored by McKay Professorof Computer Science Harry R. Lewis, who willbecome dean of the College on July 1, andAdministrative Dean of the Faculty of Arts andSciences Nancy L. Maull.

Randomization is one of the last issues Jewettwill confront before retiring at the end of June.

If full randomization is implemented, studentswill likely form blocking groups of up to 16people next March and hope for the best.

Last November, by a vote of 10 to two, with oneabstention, the masters said they could supportrandomization, although seven said they could alsosupport the current system. And in the past month,more than 100 students have signed a petitionagainst randomization.

The Diversity Debate

Although the debate has touched upon issues ofstudent choice, first-year stress and housecharacter, Jewett has said that his primary goalis creating a house system which represents thediverse population of the College.

"My own sense would be I'm not in favor ofrandomization per se," Jewett says. "I'm in favorof houses being a good cross-section of theHarvard community. I think the current systemhasn't produced that as much as it should."

Figures on diversity in the house have not beenreleased since a 1993 study which broke down housepopulations by percentage of ethnic minorities,athletes, private school graduates, high testscores and concentration. That report found a fargreater percentage of minorities living in somehouses than in others.

Today, diversity means different things todifferent people.

"Diversifying the houses seems to be one of theprime goals of randomization; however, everyonehas a varying opinion about what diversity is,"says Kristen M. Clarke '97, former president ofthe Black Students Association (BSA).

"Is diversity insuring that there are equalnumbers of government majors, artists and athletesin a house, or is diversity insuring that thereare equal numbers of minority groups in eachhouse?" Clarke says. "The two have very differentramifications."

Some of those interviewed were concerned thatstudents with similar interests, such as athletes,seem to group themselves in houses such as Matherand Kirkland.

"I used to be on the committee for athletics,"says Quincy House Master Michael Shinagel. "Whenwe found out [in the mid-1980s] that 90 percent ofvarsity athletes in three sports were in KirklandHouse, we didn't think that was the best way tohave the Harvard experience."

And Co-Masters J. Woodland and Hanna M.Hastings lament the lack of athletes in NorthHouse.

"I think athletes have a unique lesson to teachHarvard students--that you don't get a 100 percentwinning season," says J. Woodland Hastings.

Although some raise the question of studentsinterests, most agree the administration's goalwith randomization is to distribute members ofethnic minorities throughout the housing system.

Blocking groups, Jewett has said, are oftenmixed by race and activities, and so would stilllikely be fairly diverse.

The question remains: should members of certainethnic groups, such as Blacks, Asian Americans andLatinos, be allowed to group themselves in certainhouses through the non-ordered choice process?

President of the Civil Liberties Union ofHarvard (CLUH) E. Michelle Drake '97 says shebelieves the administration has one purpose inpromoting randomization.

"I think the University's main reason [forpromoting randomization] is to get rid of thesegregation going on in the Quad," says Drake, whosays she is speaking for herself and not for CLUH.

Those interviewed tended to agree with Drake,although they differed greatly on the solutions.

Master of Currier House William A. Graham Jr.says randomization is the best way to preserve thediversity the admissions office carefullycultivates.

The admissions office does "a terrific job ofmixing a class of diverse backgrounds of allkinds," Graham says. "Randomization gives theclosest chance to mirror that in the houses."

One Lowell resident says the effects ofnon-ordered choice sadden her.

"For a school such as Harvard that's supposedto be a bastion of knowledge to be segregated theway it is between the river and the Quad is a bad,bad thing," says Lowell House resident Alexis A.Topjian '96. "The number of African-Americans in ahouse [like Lowell] of 400 people is maybe four orfive."

A Stanford transfer student says he likesliving in Cabot House because of its mix ofpeople.

"I transferred from Stanford, where they had anAsian-American house, an African-American house, aHispanic house," says Crowan J. Roberts '97. "Ididn't really like that. I like it at Cabotbecause you have a sense of community. I think ifI had been in Eliot I might not have felt thatway."

Shinagel says that Blacks who choose to live inthe Quad "ghettoize" themselves.

"I don't think ghettoization is what theHarvard experience should be about," Shinagelsays. "You sort of engage in an implicit contractwhen you come to Harvard, it seems to me. Ifyou're African-American--one doesn't go to HowardUniversity, one goes to Harvard University."

Dean of the College archie C. Epps III saysthat in 1980, the College studied Harvard minoritystudents. At That time, Epps says, the percentageof Black students in some of the houses was fargreater than the percentage of Black students inthe College.

This year the college admitted 215 Blackapplicants out of a total of 2,112 admitted forthe class of 1999. Black students have averagedabout eight percent of the College for the lastfive years, according to College administrators.

Epps says the housing situation in 1980 shouldnot be compared with today.

"[There were] separate tables that wereenforced as separate," the dean says. "I thinkthat it's a much more fluid situation now."

By 1986, after the administration "had a seriesof discussions with the BSA and were clear in thepress that we hoped people would help us withdiversifying their choices," the percentages ofBlack students in the houses roughly matched thepercentage of Black students at the College, Eppssays.

He adds that in today's system, the phenomenonof ethnic grouping is not a system widephenomenon.

"To describe our current pattern of residentiallife, we have a system where there are someexamples of critical masses of Blacks students,but I do not think this is a phenomenon that youfind throughout the house system," Epps says. "Idon't make any assumptions about the quality ofthe interaction between Black and white. The idealis to have some balance throughout."

The latest figures available from the Collegeindicate that in 1992 the concentration of Blackswas extremely unbalanced. Two unspecified houseshad 17 and 13 percent Black populations, comparedto 12 and 11 percent in 1989. In one house in bothyears, the population of Blacks was just fourpercent.

Minority students make up 33 percent of thestudent body, but in one house in 1989 theminority population was 54 percent. The lowestpopulation was 20 percent.

Despite this apparent imbalance, which many saystill exists, some students interviewed saystudents should be able to choose to live withother students sharing similar ethnic backgrounds.

"It sounds sort of like separatism, but it'simportant to note that this is a response to thefact that the needs of students of color have notbeen met on this campus," says President of theAsian-American Students Association Irene C. Cheng`97.

"If you're a student of color and you feeluncomfortable in the presence of these old-boynetworks, final clubs, things like that, thenstudents need to be given some way out of that,some response and one response is to formcommunities of people who are supportive," sheadds. "It's not the same thing as white peoplewanting to live together."

Despite administrators efforts to increasediversity, many students say that living withpeople of different ethnicities and backgroundsdoes not guarantee interaction.

"I assume [the administration's] main goal isracial or ethnic diversity," says Adams HouseCommittee Chair William C. Gallaga '95. "In theoryI understand, although I don't understand how it'smore [diverse] to have tables in each house ratherthan a large group at the Quad."

Drake says that having ethnic minoritiesdistributed evenly across the houses just for thesake of diversity is a token move.

"I feel if [African-Americans] have commoninterests they should be able to live together,"she says. "I don't like the university's movingthem into the community so people can get exposedto them and see what it's like to live next doorto a Black person."

Cabot House resident Charlene Morisseau '95says she favors the current system and theresulting ethnic groupings.

"Having a more diverse population in the housedoesn't mean that's going to facilitateinteraction between students," Morisseau says."I'm a believer in ethnic enclaves," she adds,saying they enable easier networking and helpfoster interracial groups on campus.

And Xavier A. Gutierrez '95, former presidentof Raza, says that in a house, one wants above allto be comfortable.

"I understand what Dean Jewett is trying to sayand trying to do, but it's really difficult to saythat by throwing people together they're going tohave a better understanding," Gutierrez says."Every day [that] you wake up, you don't want tohave dialogue about [racial issues] after awhile.You want to watch TV and hang out."

Some students also pointed out that Blacks andother ethnic minorities who choose to livetogether are simply more visible than whites whodo the same.

"I think the Harvard community has a goal ofdiversification, and a lot of times when smallminority groups like African-Americans and Latinopeople are together, it appears that we're tryingto cling together, but no one realizes that thewhite people who go here also try to sit at tablestogether," says Adrienne R. W. Bradley '96, NorthHouse Committee vice chair.

"I think if people are around one race and theylike that and they feel most comfortable aroundone race, they shouldn't be inhibited," bradleysays. "The real world is similar to that."

Epps corroborates Bradley's view that minoritygroupings are highly visible; the survey in 1980,he says, found people greatly exaggerating thenumbers of Blacks in a certain house or area.

Even some of those who support randomizationacknowledge that ethnic groupings can serve a goodpurpose.

"I've been one of the strongest proponents [ofrandomization] for many years," says HannaHastings. "But I do have a concern that's voicedby some ethnic minorities who are very happy [inNorth House] because there's a critical mass here.We have, I believe, the highest percentage ofAfrican-American students of any house. They doseem to be comfortable here, and that's verynice."

One student says that the administration shouldlet students tackle issues of diversity on theirown.

"People all are randomized their freshmanyear," says Julie E. Peters '94-'95, formerco-chair of the Lowell House Committee.

"If people aren't choosing to be more diverseafter freshman year, then they need to look atfreshman year and figure out how to be morediverse [then]," she adds.

Adams House Master Robert J. Kiely sums up thesentiments of many by contrasting theory withreality.

"Enforced diversity looks good on paper, but itdoesn't work best in social terms," Kiely says.

The Decision

Whatever his final decision on the matter ofrandomization, Jewett has delayed for weeks,saying he wanted to make sure he heard fromeveryone who wanted to speak to him.

Those interviewed this week weighed in with avariety of conflicting viewpoints which the deanmay find difficult to reconcile.

When he returns next week from a trip to Japan,the eyes of Harvard students--and of the pre-froshwho will be arriving this weekend--will be uponhim to make a decision that could haveramifications far beyond a mere number in alottery.Crimson File PhotoKRISTEN M. CLARKE '97