Randomized Housing Lottery Procedure Enters Second Year

Armed with a few minor alterations, the completely randomized housing lottery process entered its second year at Harvard this past spring.

In place of the non-ordered choice system that determined housing assignments for years, students are now at the mercy of fate. To cushion the blow, they can choose blocking groups of up to 16 people with whom to enter the lottery.

In May 1995, former Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 outlined his commitment to total randomization in a letter, citing a motivation to increase the diversity in each of the house communities. The policy was first implemented in spring 1996 and was Jewett's final major project before retirement.

Although changes were made this year to randomization to protect gender balance in the houses, the debate still centered on the same question as when complete randomization was instituted: Is the diversity that randomization aims to achieve worth the sacrifice of freedom of choice?

Randomization: Round II


It was slightly chilly the morning of March 20, 1997, when hundreds of anxious first-years set their alarms for 5:30 a.m., the rumored time that housing assignments would be dropped at first-years' doors.

Students hit the snooze button for up to four hours, checking beneath the door every nine minutes for the small envelope. Just like last year's first-years, the majority of the class of 2000 hoped the imminent notice would place them in the nearby and popular river houses such as Lowell, Eliot and Kirkland; meanwhile, most students feared the distant Radcliffe Quadrangle.

"Lowell and Adams appealed to me because of optimal location and their 'traditional' Harvard style," said Jacob P. Goldstein '00. "But staying away from the Quad was priority numero uno."

Alicia A. Carasquillo '00 was especially nervous. Wary of a (false) rumor concerning the disproportionately large number of female first-year who would be placed in the Quad due to gender controls in this year's lottery, Carasquillo was convinced she and her 16-women lottery group would end up in Cabot, Currier or Pforzheimer. To her surprise, she was assigned to Leverett House.

Despite the fact that Carasquillo's prediction did not come true, several shared her fears. Soon after randomization's implementation in March 1996, Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 recommended to house masters that the lottery for the class of 2000 use gender controls to better balance male/female ratios in the houses. The recommendation was approved and instituted in this year's housing process.

Lewis' concern stemmed from gender imbalance as dramatic as that in Pforzheimer House, which received nearly 70 percent males in the 1996 lottery.

Although the change in the lottery did not correct for existing gender imbalances, several women echoed Carasquillo's fears of mysterious "gender controls."

At the time of the change to the process, Lewis was quick to point out this was not a sign he had changed his view on randomization.

The Changing Face of Houses

When Jewett first announced the new procedure, 82 percent of the student body opposed the change, prompting a rally in front of University Hall in spring 1995.