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We Were The Housing Guinea Pigs

A Sophomore Evaluates Her Experience as a Member of the First Randomized Class

By Sarah Jacoby

Yesterday the second class of fresh-faced Harvard first-years was randomized as the experiment continues. What's the report from the front-line of randomization, from the brave pioneers who against their wills were brutally scattered across the campus? How is the lovely class of '99 faring as the first randomized class, a year after the fatal computer printouts were slipped under our doors on a bleak March day?

The reports vary. Rumors abound about those who weren't actually randomized, hushed whispers about suites being far too nice, and bitter mutters of, "Well, don't you know who his parents are?" Some houses have had no noticeable effect on their populations after randomization, sophomores merging into the dining hall effortlessly. On the other hand, jokes about the decreasing size of Matherites are growing old. Some students were pleased with their houses, others were anxious for the opportunity to transfer.

On many fronts randomization has been a success. Transfer requests went down this year. Whether this decrease is due to the lack of house choice offered in the process or whether everyone is too thrilled about their homes to change is debatable. However, because of randomization, it's not clear where one would transfer to. Sure, if you hate your roommates and your new best friend lives in Quincy it's easy. For the dissatisfied at the Quad there is an incentive to transfer just to be nearer to more people. But what if you're just looking for a different environment, more people you're comfortable with in one place? The sophomore class is all spread out. There is no house with a characteristic group that one could point to and say, "I like the kids in that house." Rather there are some here, some there, so transferring would accomplish little for most.

Putting transfers aside, what else has randomization changed? One aspect is that there are less options for roommates. Many students have been less than satisfied with this year's bunch of roomies, while others will take time off next year, setting off ripples in the often precarious living situations many pleasantly neurotic Harvard students find themselves in. Randomization has effectively cut down the options if one wants to live with different people but not necessarily transfer out of the house. In the past, several blocking groups of friends could have chosen the same houses. If a living situation blew up in a thrilling explosion of emotion or quietly decayed into unhappiness, there were more likely to be some same-sex pals around who one could plan to live with in the upcoming year. However that option is rarely a choice now. With randomization most blocking groups are small islands within their houses (of course there are exceptions). In general, there aren't available living alternatives within a house.

But what about actually living in these houses, walking into these buildings with a stereotype coming off freshman year? How was it being part of the decreased sized peoples of Mather House? A first-year awaiting news of randomization asked where I would live if I could live anywhere with my roommates, in my ideal world? I paused and realized I wouldn't live anywhere else. Sure, the architecture here can be painful. I didn't come to Harvard to live in a concrete box but so be it. But in a school so uncollegiate, it's nice to come home on a Saturday night and hear chanting teams and smell waves of beer stench from down the hall. Maybe that doesn't sound fun, but sometimes it can be a little depressing to look at the glow of computer screens in the wee hours of the weekend nights at the theoretically most crazy-fun time of life.

Most of us have grown to have a wry affection for our houses, regardless of the initial tragedy of the computer slips with neatly typed house names. For no apparent reason we defend our dining halls and often get a little defensive about food quality. Perhaps it's all just testimony to Harvard's brainwashing capacity (which is pretty damn impressive), but still, I do know people I wouldn't have known otherwise: the large people are friendly. Tapestries, plants, tin foil, and posters can do a pretty good job at disguising the interesting concrete motifs within our rooms. And where else would I live?

The fact I can't name anywhere else has as much to do with the fact that randomization has left no clear choices, as it does with my own slowly developing allegiance to Mather. But I must reluctantly confess that so far randomization hasn't been nearly as bad as expected. Rooming problems remain an issue for some, but the administration has done all right. No, nothing is ever perfect but it appears that the stated goals of randomization will be accomplished. People will always transfer for a variety of reasons but the decline in transfers is significant. Houses will have no concrete identity, rather each new class will change the identity the class before built. The houses will continually change and many of us will grow to be proud of the quirkiness of our own houses. So, to the first-years who are disappointed by your computer printout, keep your chins up, it's simply not so bad.

Sarah Jacoby, a Crimson editor, is a sophomore living in Mather.

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