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Going Random

By Beth L. Pinsker

With a plan for altering the non-ordered choice lottery system on the docket, the Undergraduate Council and the Committee on House Life should use this opportunity to evaluate the performance of the non-ordered choice lottery system in its fourth year of operation. All upperclass students are now products of this plan which was supposed to foster diversity while preserving student choice.

The system has resoundingly failed on both counts.

Instead of putting forward the proposed preferential plan for 29 garden Street residents which would guarantee one of their four choices for blocking groups with more than 75 percent Garden Street residents, the Undergraduate Council and the Committee on House Life should recommend a full randomization plan to the administration.

Associate Dean for the College, Thomas A. Dingman '67 has said that he wants to hear student opinion concerning the complaints from first-years at 29 Garden Street. But wider reform is needed. The Undergraduate Council should take this opportunity to make a recommendation for change.

Three years ago, the administration did make moves toward full randomization. At that time, Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett released data that showed a frightening lack of diversity in the house system. In one house, 67 percent of the students were athletes, in another, 48 percent had graduated from private schools.

The plan was not endorsed by the Undergraduate Council which chose to endorse the status quo. The House masters and the administration came up instead with the compromise plan we have now--non-ordered choice.

In these three years, house stereotypes have not been fixed. In fact, they might have gotten worse. House character, which may not be bad in itself, now alienates some students who think they will not be comfortable. Whether the hostility is there or not, perception keeps them from choosing houses that make gays, or minorities, or inveterate studiers uncomfortable. It is distressing that housing distinctions are drawn on racial lines as well as by extracurricular activities and family background.

Students chooses houses for all sorts of reasons--the quality of the pianos, the lighting, the size of windows, the location. But it would be wrong to ignore the place house character plays in student's decisions. No matter how little weight we give the issue, it is still the only factor in the housing differences that we have any control over. Harvard can't move the Quad closer to campus and it can't make the rooms in Winthrop any bigger.

Harvard can, however, make all the houses equally hospitable to all types of students. And if Harvard can make everyone comfortable here, the school has the responsibility to do so.

Students don't have much choice under the current system either. A percentage of the first-year class is always randomized, while the rest of their peers get into their "choice."

What kind of choice is getting to select one-third of the available houses? By the time students eliminate one or two of the houses that they don't want to live in, they don't have much selection left.

The most damaging aspect of the non-ordered choice system is that is breeds intolerance. Instead of choosing a house they like, a blocking group has to pick which houses they definitely do not want to live in. In keeping away from the "jock house" or the "arty house", stereotypes are only enhanced.

One factor most people ignore when it comes to the lottery system is that Harvard has no obligation to give us the choice of where we should live. We get a special deal from Harvard in that they guarantee us four years of on-campus housing. Most other schools don't even offer that much.

At other universities, housing is doled out by availability. Harvard's house system has always had commitment to creating a community in each house. But this could just as easily be achieved if we adopted a system similar to Yale's college system. They assign their first-year students to a college at the same time as a first-year dorm. That way, the students can spend a whole year getting to know the environment in the house where they will spend their next three years. The community becomes just as strong.

Full randomization is unpopular with undergraduates because they want as much control over their housing situation as possible. It is time, however, to create a system that is good for the University as a whole, and not for individual students.

Harvard prides itself for its diversity, but if one looks further than the faces walking through the Yard, we are not a very integrated bunch. The first part of diversity is getting the students here; the second is getting them to live together. The kind of diversity Harvard needs will not come until we have full randomization in the housing lottery.

The experiment with changing the system three years ago failed. Randomization got pushed aside because Harvard caved to undergraduate pressure. And non-ordered choice has failed because it promotes self-segregation and unfairness.

This year, the administration and the Undergraduate Council should have the strength to make a proposal that is good for the student body.

The stakes are higher today. Instead of one house graduating too many athletes, we may soon see ceremonies where one house graduates no minority students, no international students, no science concentrators or no artists. Is this the kind of Harvard we want in the future?

As Ross Perot said during the presidential campaign, there are a million good plans just lying around waiting to be implemented. Full randomization is one of the plans lying around Harvard just waiting for someone to have the energy to make it work.

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