The Mistake of Randomization

As we celebrate endings and commemorate beginnings, it is important that we take a moment to reflect on a significant change at the College over the past year: randomization. The class of 1999 has just completed the first year of the randomized housing experiment, and we would like to point out the numerous flaws with the program.

In an attempt to fight the polarization that had supposedly taken over the College and to increase the diversity within the campus, the administration decided that upper-class housing would no longer be a matter of (even mitigated) choice. However, with the distance a year provides and with the results so far discernible from randomized housing, we can conclude that the experiment is not headed for success.

The classes of 1999 and 2000 chose to live in larger blocking groups than any class in recent history, as blocking groups of more than 12 were commonplace. It seems to us that this move to larger blocking groups represents an attempt to create smaller communities in place of the community once provided by the houses. We feel warranted in stating that randomization coupled with large, socially self-sufficient blocking groups has resulted not in the desired increased interaction, but in a splintering of house life into smaller, more exclusive cliques, further decreasing the potential for meaningful interaction.

The practical results notwithstanding, randomization represents a stifling of student choice and autonomy. Where one lives dictates one's Harvard experience to a great degree. Students have legitimate reasons for their house preference. Although the University does have a responsibility to create an environment of open and interesting interchange, it is not clear that the goals and potential results of randomization balance such blatant disregard for our ability to choose.

We are also concerned by the philosophy that undergirds the move to randomization. For the College to define diversity as sheer randomness--the chance combination of rooming groups under the same roof--is reductive and inaccurate. Student personalities and identities are multifaceted and while randomization may create more colorful house life, it does not address the more fundamental issues of diversity. It does not address the underlying problems that have historically caused first-years to choose to live in "undiverse" houses and undiverse rooming groups. The goal of randomization is that each house should have the "right" breakdown of different groups represented on campus. The administration's commitment to a rich, varied atmosphere is not what troubles us--there is no question that one of the most enticing social and educational qualities Harvard offers is the unique opportunity to interact with interesting and different people of diverse backgrounds. Instead, the failure of the University's recent policy lies in the superficial, check-list definition of diversity and its rash attack on house character that made undergraduate house life worthwhile. Character is the heart of the houses; without it, they are but brick and stone.

In four years, no one will be as saddened by randomization as we are today. As house character is obliterated by "concerned" administrators, we know that people will care less, but we believe that there is something meaningful about bringing together people with common interests who push each other to greater cultural heights. We will hold Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 to his promise of reviewing randomization in 1999.

We strongly encourage the Administration to re-evaluate randomization while this community's institutional memory still recalls the value of pre-randomized house identity. Harvard must affirm student's rights as adults to choose their houses and to define their own College experiences.