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Within the next few weeks Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 is expected to make a ruling on the issue of House randomization. The conventional wisdom now is that he will decide to implement a plan of full randomization of blocking groups into houses and take away one of the few ways in which we can define our college experience.
We have all heard the arguments for randomization; we need to have maximum diversity and the stress of choosing houses disrupts many a first-year's daily life. But these arguments need a closer look. Let's look at the second argument first.
Some people have pointed out, in these pages and elsewhere, that the painless process of first-year housing is the ideal. First-years have no control over their roommates or their housing when they first arrive here, and thus are spared much of the worry that comes along with upper-class housing. These arrangments often turn out very well. So, the argument goes, why not allow randomization and have this worryfree, stressless housing process for all students?
The problem is that the College has no intention at all to randomize students into houses, only blocking groups. So, sorry future Harvardians, you still need to choose your roommates, and all the rivalries and backstabbing will still continue under randomization. The stress of actually choosing your houses is extremely minor compared with the stress of choosing rooming groups.
But should the college take away our choice of houses just because it is a stressful choice? Many decisions in life are hard and have results that we will feel for years to come. It is not Harvard's role to make these decisions for us. They should be confident that we have the intelligence and maturity to make the best decisions for ourselves.
However, the main argument for randomization is the furthering of diversity. I will agree that in many cases, more diversity of interest, talent and opinion is a Good Thing, but there are some cases when having something of a concentration of people with the same interests can be good for them and for the interests that they have. One example that is often cited is Adams House. There is an active theater program in Adams, in large part due to a relatively large concentration of actors and artists. If true randomization is implemented, these actors will be scattered throughout the campus; proponents of randomization say this will cause other houses to begin to have more active theater programs. This will not be the case. Suppose that there are, say, 100 students in Adams House who are active in theater. If these students are split evenly among all 12 houses, the will mean an addition of less than 10 actors to each house (with a reduction of more than 90 from Adams). This will hardly cause a burst of new plays.
And of course, Adams is not populated only by artists. There is still a wide diversity of people within Adams and even within the artistic community. It is demeaning to imply that all artists are somehow the same, or that they should be denied the right to live together simply because of a common bond. The current system provides for a good mixture of diversity and character to each house; each house has some uniqueness to it, but it is still home to a diverse range of students.
This brings up an interesting question: what exactly is diversity? As a buzz-word, it is usually applied in terms of race and religion, but in fact, it extends almost indefinitely. One can use it in whichever way one wants. For instance, which hypothetical rooming group sounds more "diverse" to you, a triple with three Black students, or one with one Black student, one Asian student and one white student? Okay, what if I told you that the first hypothetical triple consisted of one American, one Haitian and one Nigerian, and the students in the second are all from New England and went to prep school? Not so simple anymore. The claim to diversity is up for grabs.
And it is up for grabs in the housing debate, too. For instance, people claim that Adams is "too artsy" (diversity of interest) Eliot is "too preppy" (diversity of background) and the Quad is "too Black" (diversity of race). Adams is looked on by the administration as a Bad Thing for its lack of diversity of interest in their eyes, rather than a Good Thing for its racial diversity. And so it is for all the houses. The one defining trait is the Bad Thing, and all the Good Things go unnoticed. The administration should open its eyes to the diversity within different areas of interest and background and the overlap between these different areas.
Many students are beginning to understand both the gains that we get from the uniqueness of the houses, and are realizing the imminence with which we may lose those benefits and our choice along with it. To this end, Ben Torrance, an editor of Perspective, has organized the Coalition Against Randomization, a growing group of students who have signed his e-mail petition against randomization.
Last Wednesday, Torrance delivered a first round of that petition, with over 100 signatures, to Dean Jewett, as well as to Dean-designate Harry R. Lewis '68 and all of the house masters. He plans to continue adding names, however, so I encourage anyone not supporting randomization to contact him (bhtorran@fas) and ask to sign his petition. The argument about randomization is no longer theoretical--randomization may very well become reality within the next few weeks, and we should be sure that the students' opinion is heard before that time.
I have faith in humans. I believe that we fundamentally know what is best for ourselves. And even in the times when we are mistaken, I am not convinced that the College administration has the correct answer. At such a cold institution as Harvard, we should strive to define our lives as much and as uniquely as we can.
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