Students Need Choice in Living


We are writing because we are very concerned about the recent decision to randomize tyhe housing lottery system at harvard. In our view, this policy will not achieve its stated goals; furthermore, it will damage the University irreparably.

Total randomization is a drastic change, and such a change can only be justified by a drastic problem. What, them, is claimed to be the problem? A lack of diversity in he housing system. When the administration says that houses are not diverse, they mean that groups defined by common commitments tend to congregate more in some houses than in others. But the administration's claim refuses to recognize that there are many different kinds of differences between human beings: economic, cultural, religious, racial, vocational, intellectual, political, sexual.

Surely one cannot say about any house, even a house which unifies many of its members around one kind of interest, that its community necessarily "lacks diversity." In fact, such a judgement derives its (sham) validity from the very stereotyping it seeks to combat. Think how many different fields of endeavor are grouped under such categories as "art" or "athletics." There is enormous variation in every house, now as ever, because Harvard students are incredibly diverse as a students body--the Admission Committee takes great care to achieve such heterogeneity every year, does it not?

The adminstration's concept of diversity not only grows out of a distorted notion of individual difference, but also relies on an oversimplified model of social interaciton. For there is no such thing as diversity without community; it is community that provides the foundation of individual identity.

what is needed much more at harvard--what Harvard still possesses to at least some degree--is an assortment of viable living groups with some pre-established unifying factor, such as a shared interest or a tradition of house history. It is some what naive to expect that house communities will miraculously and spontaneously arise from collections of randomly selected residents.


Even under the present system, Harvard is one of the most atomized, alienating, and competitive schools in the country; to remove the real commonality of house life is to remove the last bit of harmonizing power that prevents the Harvard campus from becoming totally disintegrated and anonymous. Harvard students need a home for their four years here, not a socially engineered, computer-assigned slot. Only by retaining a high degree of choice and autonomy in housing decisions will Harvard students have such homes.

Randomization will condemn many responsible young adults to unhappiness and dissatisfaction, making and existence that is already unbelievably stressful even harder to bear. Further, the decision to randomize trades a purely theoretical gain for a practical, existing good; this is the very definition of irresponsibility, especially when it is not clear that there is a problem that requires so radical a surgery.

The adminstration's resolution also betrays a fundamental contempts for student self-determination and a willful dismissal of student opinion. But the students know the stakes. Over 1000 of them have signed a petition protesting total randomization; over 200 have rallied in front of University Hall to demonstrate their outrage. The students resent the fact that the decision was announced at the beginning of finals period, in the (vain) hope of avoiding protest. When two separate polls indicate that more than 80 percent of students oppose randomization, the administration's actions can only be called cynical and cowardly.

Why is the oppositions to randomization so universal? Because students know that sharing of experience is only possible in an environment where there is a balance of likeness and difference, diversity and community, and where there is a commonality that is a living organism, not an artificial assemblage conjured into existence by dice-rolls. The students deserve to be treated in their housing choices, as in their other choices, as the adults that they are. The consensus is clear: total randomization is a disastrous mistake, and the decision must be reversed. Philip R. Munger '95   John D. Shephered '95

The authors are the organizers of Wednesday's rally against the randomization of the housing lottery.