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RandoMizaTion: The First Week

By R. ALAN Leo and Jal D. Mehta

The time for talk is over.

After years of planning, discussion and much conflict, the experiment of randomization is about to begin.

For the first time in Harvard history, all sophomores are moving into houses not of their own choosing but to which they were randomly assigned by the College administration.

While house masters profess to be ready for the influx of a diverse group of students, the meeting of established house character and new residents this week has not always been cordial.

And entering students say that at least in Adams House, they have not been greeted with a warm reception.

That house, which has been best known for its alternative lifestyle, has yet to offer a single event this fall for incoming students, according to sophomores moving in.

"I think it would have been nice if there was a more concerted effort to welcome us," Sarah D. Perhouse '99 says.

And last spring just after housing assignments were announced, a vitriolic thread on that house's news-group attacked the placement of a group of returning missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Adams.

College officials have argued that the reason for randomizing the house populations is to try to break down the traditional stereotypes of house residents: Mather as the jock house, Pforzheimer as the pre-med house, Eliot as the elitist house and Adams as the gay house.

Former dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 decided to implement randomization in the spring of 1995.

When he took office that summer, Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 endorsed the policy and carried through the first completely random spring housing lottery.

After a series of complaints about the policy change, including a rally outside University Hall, Lewis agreed to review the success of randomization after three years if the Committee on College Life asks that he do so.

Most house officials say they are trying to welcome incoming students as they have in the past, ignoring the possibility that this year's grand experiment has created any significant differences.

"We always have had lots and lots of spectacular orientation programs," says Eliot House Co-Master Kristine Forsgard.

Most houses offer sophomore orientation programs, including sophomore outings, dinners and entryway meetings with resident tutors.

"We hope that people will feel welcome," says new Cabot House Master James Ware, whose sophomores travelled yesterday to Groveland, an outdoor park in Harvard, Mass. that offers tennis, swimming and volleyball.

Also yesterday, Leverett sophomores travelled to House Master John E. Dowling's Woods Hole home.

Ware says that at this summer's orientation for new house masters, he picked up tips on fostering community spirit in his house, such as hosting a welcome dinner for sophomores.

Most house administrators say that they do not expect randomization to bring great changes to the houses, or at the most, that it is to early to say.

"I don't think randomization is a big deal for us, and I don't want to make our students feel that it is a big deal," says Lowell House Allston Burr Senior Tutor Eugene C. McAfee.

"I think that randomization has been made to appear more deleterious, both to students and to houses, than I think it's going to turn out to be," he says.

Under the previous policy of non-ordered choice, in which students picked four houses where they wanted to live, randomization meant being assigned to a house, like Leverett, Currier or Quincy, that didn't have enough takers.

But McAfee says that in a way, Lowell has been randomized for years. Since so many more students wanted to live in Lowell each year than there were slots, its residents ended up being randomly selected from a large and diverse pool.

Likewise, Kirkland House Co-Master Cathleen K. Pfister says her house has never had a reputation, so it won't be facing the types of changes some of the other houses might.

"Since our pool was so very large in the past, such a large number of students put down Kirkland as one of their choices, we feel that the population will not be that different," she says.

But many houses have maintained their reputation by never being randomized under non-ordered choice.

In just the first week of the 1996-97 school year, there is some indication that the newly randomized Class of 1999 is trying to shake things up a bit.

An Eliot Revolution

New Eliot House resident Marian J. Hennessy-Fiske '99, a Crimson editor, says she is attempting to change the house's conservative image by sponsoring a fashion show later this year.

According to Eliot Resident Tutor Richard F. Boulware '90-'93, who has agreed to be an adviser and participant, the show will be a full blown Adams-style affair.

"I think this event will shake up what those outside the house think of the event, more than it will change what the residents think," Boulware says.

But the fashion gala has to be approved by the house committee before it can become a reality, says House Committee Co-Chair Jason Grillo '97.

Most people in the Eliot House dining hall last night, members of an older guard, took a tolerant if not quite enthusiastic attitude toward the idea.

"I would encourage them to do as they like, but personally I wouldn't go," says Charles "Clay" Daniel '97.

Others suggested that the show might have a better chance of success in a house with a different character.

"At Adams they would like it more," according to another senior.

But several people say the house is already not as stodgy as its reputation would indicate.

"Last year the masters participated in a drag performance of Madonna's 'Vogue,'" says Eliot resident Praveen Akuthota '97.

And one senior pointed out that several of the most active house members in the Class of 1996 were gay.

Forsgard says that she and House Master Stephen A. Mitchell bring to Eliot experience with randomization, since they were both tutors in North House, now Pforzheimer, during the '80s, an unpopular time for the dorm.

"There was no house that was less popular than North House before the renovations," she says.

"I remember seeing students in the Yard crying when they found out they were in North House."

Conflict in Pfo-Ho

Pforzheimer House, a reputed haven in recent years for pre-med students seeking a quiet place to study, is the site of an early clash between the needs of entering students and those of well-established residents.

Yesterday morning, Pforzheimer residents awoke to find an e-mail message from House Administrator Sharon Holt warning them against loud music, particularly late at night.

"I have already received several noise complaints," the e-mail reads. "Please: no piano playing after 11 p.m. No blasting of stereos out open windows at ANY time."

According to residents, Pforzheimer House has a large number of pre-med students, a pre-med hotline number and a 20-member pre-med advisory committee.

Older students report stories of house officials shutting down student parties precisely at 1 a.m., saying that the current e-mail fits the tenor of general house policy.

But sophomores entering the house say they found the warning unreasonable, considering the fact that school is not yet in session.

"We all think it is king of weird to start warning us a week before classes start," says Jason C. Shaffner '99.

One group of sophomore blockmates say they have already been personally reprimanded for making too much noise.

Another Pforzheimer sophomore is concerned about the tone the e-mail sets for the rest of the year.

"It worries me as a statement of personality about the house," the sophomore says.

Mather House Master Sandra Naddaff says the process of dealing with randomized students is really an extension of what the house masters do anyway--listening to student concerns.

"To be honest," she says, "I think this is what you always do--you always pay attention to the people coming into the house. You always want to make the students in the house feel welcome."

In the past, Naddaff says, that has meant rescheduling house events to accommodate the training schedules of Mather's many athletes.

This year, the same philosophy led Naddaff to hire a non-resident tutor who specializes in jazz music to work with a 13-member blocking group of sophomore jazz musicians.

"In the end," she says, echoing the spirit of randomization, "it doesn't matter whether you live in Mather, or Cabot, or Quincy."

Naddaff's assessment is undoubtedly optimistic, but only time will tell whether the early friction can be cooled, and whether the much-discussed randomization experiment will become a success in reality.

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