Why Not Let Students Choose?
Meet Yata P. Kande '04. She lives in Holworthy. As the March 14 deadline for blocking applications has now passed, there is nothing more that Yata would like than to be placed into a River House such as Mather, Eliot or Winthrop for the remaining three years of her Harvard career. Yata cites the pleasant "view from living by the river" and her proximity to classes as reasons for her preference.
Now meet David B. Adelman '04. He lives in Canaday, and as the blocking deadline passes, David would give his right arm to be placed in the Quad. Yes, the Quad.
David cites the "nicer rooms" and "better parties" of the Quad as good reasons to want to live there, explaining how he and most of his blocking group don't see the extra distance as a big deal.
The sad part about this situation is that the chances of David and Yata getting placed in the residences of their liking are just as strong as their getting placed in the residences at the bottom of their lists.
A revival of an application system that is respectful of student preferences is needed.
The housing process did accept preferences up until five years ago, when the system became completely random. The Housing Office stopped including preferences in the process because of the homogeneity that developed within each House, separating students of different activities, interests or races from one another.
Randomization was supposed to insure the diversity of the residences, but a side effect has been the disappointment and dissatisfaction among students upon receiving their assignments. Is it necessary to go to such an opposite extreme to be effective?
When I choose a restaurant, I don't expect to be randomly given a plate of food I didn't choose but nevertheless must pay for; subsequently, when I attend a university and am sent a bill at the beginning of each semester, I don't expect to be randomly thrown into a House.
When I sectioned for my Foreign Cultures course a little over a month ago, the Registrar sectioning website did not simply have me jot down my name, and then respond two days later offering me a section time that was good for them and just so happened to coincide with my 10 a.m. Spanish class. No, it allowed me to pick my top five time choices and then did the best it could to respect my preferences while fairly respecting those of my classmates as well.
I recommend a system formatted after online sectioning, where students rank the Houses and the committee does its best to meet the preferences.
Just as online sectioning isn't flawless and some people don't get their first or second choice, not everyone would get their top housing preferences.
But at the bare minimum, more people will be satisfied with their assignment.
Meanwhile, the Housing Office can still flex its muscles and promote diversity by being discreet in its assignments. It already asks for the concentrations of students. It should also ask for the ethnic background and athletic or program involvement of each applicant, too.
If the Housing Office has to sacrifice a first-year's top three housing choices to insure a mixed batch, so be it. At least that person will get his or her fourth choice rather than the tenth.
A place where students eat, sleep, work and socialize is too important and too prominent in students' lives to be random.