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Randomization Will Create Unity

PERSPECTIVES

By Daniel M. Suleiman

Harvard University. The words conjure up an image of perfect harmony, and yet within its walls lies a world divided. With last week's handing-in of blocking forms, the Radcliffe Quad versus the rest of Harvard's campus has become a battle on everyone's mind, but it's not simply a question of Quad versus River. The real issue is whether forced integration is a good idea that will benefit the Harvard community.

In an effort that would virtually rid the University of an obvious separation between Quad and River residents or black and white, this year is the first try at randomizing upper-class housing. First-years may "block" with up to 16 people of either sex and room with up to the same number of the same sex. While next year students will live in a house that already has an identity--artistic, athletic or whatever--in about three years, the houses theoretically will be completely mixed.

But does Harvard have the responsibility to respect the autonomy of its students? Should legal adults be able to choose whether they want to segregate themselves by race?

Some people may not want the Quad because of its out-of-the-way location; their preference has nothing to do with black or white. So the real problem that must be addressed is, regardless of location, is it beneficial to have a community in which houses are racially diverse?

Harvard is an institution of higher learning that simulates as much of a utopian setting as possible. Most desires can be fulfilled, and many responsibilities that people in the real world face are taken care of for us. While many aspects of college life require mature decision-making and an adult sense of independence, Harvard Yard is not the real world. It is a place in which people from all places, of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and religions come together to learn and socialize. Everyone is here because they are interested in benefiting from the richness of the Harvard community, which fundamentally includes diversity and the integration of different kinds of people.

Across many campuses in America, there are sharp racial divisions. It is common to walk into dining halls of colleges all over the country and find blacks sitting in one area and whites in another. The civil rights acts of the 1960s and the movement that fueled them were attempts at integration. Maybe the message college students are sending is that that effort failed, that a primarily white society has not been able to foster an inviting atmosphere. Blacks and whites may be choosing to separate from one another because, as society stands now, their worlds are too far apart to integrate. But just because voluntary segregation is the norm does not mean Harvard should encourage it.

Harvard is unlike most colleges in almost every way, so why should it try and imitate others in its housing policies?

There are many reasons why randomization is a bad idea. It limits the freedom of choice that students once had, and people may end up living where they do not want to live. Some blacks who want to live in the Quad will not be able to, and others who don't want to will, but that will be a pressing issue only for this year and maybe next. After that, the Quad/River issue will be moot because the houses will not have the identities they once had. The only factors that could influence the class of 2010 as to whether they prefer Kirkland, Eliot or Currier would be location, size of rooms or aesthetics, all things students cannot control anyway. At least this year's eight-year-olds won't have to decide their housing based on their racial identities.

The class of 1999 did not choose who their roommates would be this year, and they did not choose their dorm or the racial make-up of their entryways. The serendipity of the Freshman Dean's Office was the worker, so why shouldn't we trust fate again? To be the guinea pigs is unfortunate because we will be thrust into a house that is two-thirds homogeneous, but randomization is in the interest of the future generations. It is healthier to be in an entryway that is racially diverse than in one that is not, because in the real world people of all kinds have to interact with each other all the time. Why deliberately foster more tension by creating two separate worlds in a community that supposedly thrives on diversity?

Autonomy is an important consideration, however. After all, shouldn't adults be able to choose whom they live with? Yes, and they can. We can choose to live with up to 15 other people. Beyond that, students do not need the right to choose. When they leave Harvard and live in the real world with all the real-world considerations, they can choose what neighborhoods they feel comfortable in, but until then, Harvard should be able to randomly dictate diversity.

If Harvard is some kind of utopia, then it should try to create an atmosphere of harmony. Obviously racial differences and racial tension will not magically disappear once randomization has been completed in three years, but they don't have to. That is something that could never be forced because it requires willingness on both sides, but at least this way, Harvard will feel less like two universities that share the same classrooms and more like one university united.

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