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Jewett Approves Randomization

Diversity Cited As Reason for Change; Dean Says Most Students Favor Choice

By Michael M. Luo

Members of the Class of 1999 will have no choice in their assignment of Houses, according to Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57, who out-lined his commitment to total randomization yesterday in a letter to house masters, the Committee on College Life and The Crimson.

After a years of debate and indecision on the issues of choice in housing and diversity, the College will implement a plan in which students will continue to choose roommates and blocking groups of up to sixteen people. But the groups of up to sixteen people. But the groups will then be randomly assigned to houses "without any pre-determined order or pattern."

"I know it's not something that will get full endorsement," Jewett said in a telephone interview yesterday.

"The majority of students would probably prefer to continue to have choice, but I think that many of them also think that the houses should be even more diverse than they are now," Jewett said.

In his letter, Jewett wrote that the primary motivation behind his decision was his desire to increase the diversity of each of the house communities.

"The purpose of this change is to insure as much as possible that each House contains a broad-ranging and diverse community representing the various talents, strengths and backgrounds of the College population," Jewett wrote.

McKay Professor of Computer Science Harry R. Lewis, who will become dean of the College on July 1, echoed Jewett's defense of randomization.

The goals of randomization fit well with the College's educational goals, Lewis said yesterday, including "the importance of having students from a variety of backgrounds and interests, learning from each other."

"So much of the education of Harvard students comes from each other," Lewis added.

A major source of campus debate has been the ethnic diversity--or lack thereof--in various houses. The latest figures available from the College indicate that in 1992, the concentration of some ethnic groups was extremely unbalanced. For example, two unspecified houses had 17 and 13 percent Black populations, compared to 12 and 11 percent in 1989. In another house, the population of Black students was just four percent during both years.

In addition, administrators say they have given attention to so-called "jock-houses."

"When we found out [in the mid 1980s] that 90 percent of varsity athletes in three sports were in Kirkland House, we didn't think that was the best way to have the Harvard experience," said Quincy House Master Michael Shinagel.

Jewett emphasized that he did not mind the overabundance of certain groups in particular houses as much as certain houses' homogeneity.

"I'm not concerned where there are too many people [of a certain group], but more concerned with places with too few," Jewett said.

A secondary consideration, he added, was the "present focus on and anxiety about House choice in the spring."

Jewett said that he hopes that the new system will eliminate anxiety so that students can focus on more important activities, such as choosing their concentrations.

Student Reaction

Many students expressed skepticism yesterday about whether or not the randomization process will improve diversity.

"I personally feel that randomization is not a genuine approach to diversifying or attaining diversity," said Kristen M. Clarke '97, former president of the Black Students Association (BSA) and a vocal opponent of randomization in the past.

Many students said the plan would disrupt houses' community feeling, which they say often exists because of common interests, ethnic origins or race.

"For some students, because of their race, culture or even religion, they choose to be in a house where they would not be one of only ten to twenty in a house of 300 or more," said Joshua D. Bloodworth '96, former treasurerof the BSA. "Under the new system, it leaves thepossibility that minority groups will not have thesame numbers of solidarity and comfortability vianumbers that the majority group continues toenjoy."

Bloodworth predicted that as a result of theplan, more students will seek to transfer betweenhouses or choose to live off campus.

E. Michelle Drake '96, president of the CivilLiberties Union at Harvard (CLUH) said that theUniversity has no right to interfere in thehousing choices of students.

"I don't think it's the University's job toremedy [self-segregation]. People should be ableto unify around race or whatever issue they want,"Drake said, adding that she was speaking forherself and not as president of CLUH.

Current BSA president Krystal C. O'Bryant '98said that she has no qualms with the decisionpersonally, but is also skeptical about itseffectiveness.

"People will still tend to make their ownchoices socially," O'Bryant said. "Even if you dohave mixed houses, people will still find theirgroups and associations regardless."

"I think it's natural for people to form groupsamongst people they're most comfortable around,"she added.

O'Bryant also decried the focus on ethnicgroups in the randomization debate.

"It's not just ethnic groups [that groupthemselves together]. If you had all the footballplayers wear red shirts, you'd be able to see thesame thing," O'Bryant said.

Most students interviewed said they understandthe motivation behind Jewett's decision.

"I think everyone will be happier when everyhouse reflects the balance of Harvard," saidRandall A. Fine '96, chair of the student affairscommittee of the undergraduate council.

Still, many student leaders anticipatedwidespread protest in the student body over thedecision.

Rudd W. Coffey '96, co-chair of the council'sCampus Life Committee, said that while hepersonally supported the decision, he anticipatesthat the council may take action against it nextfall if student opinion is overwhelminglynegative.

"I'm [personally] in favor of randomizationbecause I think there's a certain virtue in havinga diverse, random community and feeling thateverybody got stuck in the same pot," he said.

Coffey, a Lowell House resident, said he thinksthat randomization may bring the same spirit tothe river houses that he believes exists in theQuad.

"Instead of taking their houses for granted,[students] will have to live with the roll of thedice," Coffey said.

History

When President Lowell founded the house systemin the 1930s, he hoped that every house would be amicrocosm of the College as a whole.

Up until the early 1970s, each house masterchose which students would be placed in his houseon the basis of applications and interviews.

In 1971, the application process was eliminatedand students were asked to rank all 12 houses.This system proved very unpopular, according toJohn B. Fox Jr. '59, secretary of the Faculty ofArts and Sciences (FAS) and former dean of thecollege.

In 1977, Fox implemented an ordered four-choicesystem. This system eventually gave way to thecurrent non-ordered four-choice system in 1990.

The issue of randomization was raised this yearin a September FAS report in support ofrandomization, co-authored by Lewis.

Last November, the masters voted 10 to two,with one abstention, in favor of randomization.

The randomization decision is Jewett's finalmajor project before his impending retirement.

"We'd been talking about this issue for morethan a year, and it seemed to me that since I'dbeen spending a lot of time on it, that I shouldmake a decision based on what I know," Jewettsaid.

"My sense is that people will at least give ita chance," Jewett said. He hastened to add thatthe situation was in no way "set in stone" andcould be reevaluated in several years.

"It's not a situation that's irrevocable,"Jewett added.

Sarah E. Scrogin contributed the reportingof this story.

Bloodworth predicted that as a result of theplan, more students will seek to transfer betweenhouses or choose to live off campus.

E. Michelle Drake '96, president of the CivilLiberties Union at Harvard (CLUH) said that theUniversity has no right to interfere in thehousing choices of students.

"I don't think it's the University's job toremedy [self-segregation]. People should be ableto unify around race or whatever issue they want,"Drake said, adding that she was speaking forherself and not as president of CLUH.

Current BSA president Krystal C. O'Bryant '98said that she has no qualms with the decisionpersonally, but is also skeptical about itseffectiveness.

"People will still tend to make their ownchoices socially," O'Bryant said. "Even if you dohave mixed houses, people will still find theirgroups and associations regardless."

"I think it's natural for people to form groupsamongst people they're most comfortable around,"she added.

O'Bryant also decried the focus on ethnicgroups in the randomization debate.

"It's not just ethnic groups [that groupthemselves together]. If you had all the footballplayers wear red shirts, you'd be able to see thesame thing," O'Bryant said.

Most students interviewed said they understandthe motivation behind Jewett's decision.

"I think everyone will be happier when everyhouse reflects the balance of Harvard," saidRandall A. Fine '96, chair of the student affairscommittee of the undergraduate council.

Still, many student leaders anticipatedwidespread protest in the student body over thedecision.

Rudd W. Coffey '96, co-chair of the council'sCampus Life Committee, said that while hepersonally supported the decision, he anticipatesthat the council may take action against it nextfall if student opinion is overwhelminglynegative.

"I'm [personally] in favor of randomizationbecause I think there's a certain virtue in havinga diverse, random community and feeling thateverybody got stuck in the same pot," he said.

Coffey, a Lowell House resident, said he thinksthat randomization may bring the same spirit tothe river houses that he believes exists in theQuad.

"Instead of taking their houses for granted,[students] will have to live with the roll of thedice," Coffey said.

History

When President Lowell founded the house systemin the 1930s, he hoped that every house would be amicrocosm of the College as a whole.

Up until the early 1970s, each house masterchose which students would be placed in his houseon the basis of applications and interviews.

In 1971, the application process was eliminatedand students were asked to rank all 12 houses.This system proved very unpopular, according toJohn B. Fox Jr. '59, secretary of the Faculty ofArts and Sciences (FAS) and former dean of thecollege.

In 1977, Fox implemented an ordered four-choicesystem. This system eventually gave way to thecurrent non-ordered four-choice system in 1990.

The issue of randomization was raised this yearin a September FAS report in support ofrandomization, co-authored by Lewis.

Last November, the masters voted 10 to two,with one abstention, in favor of randomization.

The randomization decision is Jewett's finalmajor project before his impending retirement.

"We'd been talking about this issue for morethan a year, and it seemed to me that since I'dbeen spending a lot of time on it, that I shouldmake a decision based on what I know," Jewettsaid.

"My sense is that people will at least give ita chance," Jewett said. He hastened to add thatthe situation was in no way "set in stone" andcould be reevaluated in several years.

"It's not a situation that's irrevocable,"Jewett added.

Sarah E. Scrogin contributed the reportingof this story.

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