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There is probably no aspect of undergraduate life as defining as where one lives. The college years are formative ones for many of us, and the environment in which we spend these years will undoubtedly have lasting repercussions on our thoughts, habits and character.
It is for this reason that the question of whether to randomize housing is perhaps the most important issue facing Harvard undergraduates today. People who doubt the importance of environment need only reflect upon the anxiety they and their friends felt as first-years awaiting their housing assignments.
The main concept behind the housing debate is essentially that of segregation. As a university, Harvard is torn between the dual responsibilities of preparing its students for the real world, and of exposing them to new and different aspects of life which hopefully will allow them to grow and to better the society which they will enter.
The University must make the difficult decision of which responsibility to favor. Should we lean in favor of the former by allowing students to segregate themselves, to live with others who share a similar heritage or personality, as so often happens in our larger society? Or should we take the path of stringent morality, in which we try to create a more just and equitable society by forcing students to come to terms with individuals different from themselves?
These questions are vital ones which the university is in the process of trying to answer. Unfortunately, the issue at stake here is so large that we feel the current method of dealing with it is insufficient and excludes, to a large extent, the individuals most directly affected: the students.
The individual with the power to make the final decision, Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57, indicated recently that he is leaning towards randomization. His decision, which is expected in a matter of weeks, could have immediate repercussions for the incoming Class of '99, as well as indirect repercussions for upperclass students who would find the demographics of their houses changing as randomized blocking groups of rising sophomores settle in.
Admittedly, Dean Jewett will not make his decision in a vacuum. He receives input from different sources, such as the Committee on House Life and the Committee on College Life, which include several house masters and student representatives as well. The problem is that these student representatives are appointed by the Undergraduate Council and tend to be members of the council, a body by which many students do not feel adequately represented. Essentially, there is no comprehensive and fair representation of the student voice heard in the debate on this issue.
With a view to solving this problem, we would like to set aside, for the moment, our opinion on randomization itself and instead make recommendations as to how the Administration can improve the decision making process. We would particularly like to call these ideas to the attention of incoming Dean Harry R. Lewis '63.
The first step is to provide students with the voice that they currently lack. The best way for the Administration to do this would be to form a special committee comprised of selected undergraduates who would agree to devote time to studying and discussing the issue. Additionally, a campus-wide survey of students might provide the administration with valuable feedback about current sentiment. Finally, we would like to urge all students who feel strongly about this issue to write to the Dean's Office.
The second step is more fundamental and also more problematic. It involves allocating the power to make the final decision. Ideally, we would like to see this power rest at least partially in the hands of our fellow students. The aforementioned committee of random undergraduates, if allowed to make the final decision on this vital matter, would more than likely reach a conclusion which would be to the benefit of generations of incoming first-years.
However, we realize the extreme improbability of the administration relinquishing any iota of power to the undergraduates in this manner, and we are not holding our breath for the moment when undergraduates are given veto power over the decision of the Dean of the College.
But we do feel that it is practical, feasible and necessary for undergraduates to be given a much more intimate and involved role than the one they now play. Harvard students have the intelligence, maturity and insight to help the Administration reach a more just and equitable solution than it can by itself. If the Administration does not give students this opportunity, it will have failed regardless of the success of its final policy.
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