Randomization Creates Larger Blocking Groups

First-years will trudge to the Science Center today to submit their blocking forms for the first fully-randomized housing lottery in Harvard's history.

Today marks the culmination of nearly a quarter-century of debate over student housing, which has focused on questions that include diversity of student life, house character, student choice and first-year stress.

The class of 1999, however, has a more immediate concern: where will they live next year and with whom?

Under non-ordered choice, the conventional wisdom was that students who formed smaller blocking groups would be more likely to secure one of their top choices for housing. But the end of any form of choice has students more concerned with choosing a group of friends to block with rather than selecting a house.

Dean of Freshmen Elizabeth S. Nathans says she expects blocking groups to be larger, although she says she cannot present any concrete evidence until the rooming forms are submitted.


"I have a very impressionistic sense that the groups are growing," Nathans says. "I'm hearing about larger groups than in the past, more groups of sixteen."

Large Groups

The majority of the more than 30 first-years interviewed for this article say that their blocking groups would have been smaller under the non-ordered choice system.

In the past, smaller groups that received poor lottery numbers could still get one of their top housing choices if the groups with better numbers were larger.

But with the new system in place, students say they are choosing to join larger groups.

"If we had a better chance of getting a good house we would have chosen a much smaller group, like eight," says Cody C. Tibbetts '99, who is part of a blocking group of 16.

And Greg R. Halpern '99-'98 says his group of 13 "would definitely have been smaller" by four or five people.

First-years, like Tibbetts and Halpern, say that without the knowledge that other blocking groups of friends would be in the same general area if they put down the same houses, they wanted to increase the number of people they blocked with.

"The five of us roommates would have blocked together, but we might not have joined up with another large group," says Thomas M. Fallows '99 who is part of a group of 15. "We figured as long as we're going to get randomized we might as well have taken a large group [with us]."

Some first-years say that the need for creating large groups has even led to the inclusion of people that they do not know very well.

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