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Anticipation and Frustration as College Freshmen Face the Housing Lottery System

Quincy Storm
Residents of Quincy House run across the Yard towards a freshman dorm to welcome members of the Class of 2020 to their new upperclassmen House.

Freshmen submitted their blocking groups for the rising sophomore housing lottery Wednesday morning a week ahead of Housing Day—an annual College spirit-filled tradition of fanfare and celebration—a decision that some said they found exciting and others stressful.

Students were required to submit their blocking groups of up to eight students to the Office of Student Life. On March 8, Harvard upperclassmen will descend on the Yard to distribute freshman housing assignments for the next three years..

Some students, like Nam H. Kim ’21 and Emily G. López ’21, figured out early who they wanted to live in the same House with for the next three years. Several members of their blocking group met through the Catholic Student Association. Both freshmen said they were excited for the upcoming Housing Day and said they were satisfied with Harvard’s system of “blocking.”

“I like how blocking doesn’t set your group of friends, but it’s more like you know people going in so that you can meet more people,” Kim said.

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The College uses a randomized housing lottery to assign blocking groups of freshmen to one of the 12 residential Houses. The fully randomized procedures were first approved by College administrators in 1995 to quell concerns over self-segregation between students of different racial, religious, and social backgrounds

Some students said they did not find the process of blocking prior to entering the lottery quite so smooth. Some freshmen said the task of deciding on people that they will live in the same House with for the remainder of their undergraduate years can pose an added burden to coursework, extracurriculars, and the adjustments to living away from home.

“I just think it’s a little bit unnecessary to essentially force people to define their relationships at such an early stage,” Austin E. Taylor ’21 said. “As a freshman in college you’re making a lot of new connections and forcing you to essentially rank those is a little bit much.”

“February is a little early to be choosing who you live with. Especially just coming out of first semester because friend groups change,” Jalen T. Daniels ’21 added.

College administrators have long said that the spirit of this system’s origin reflects a desire for students to have an undergraduate experience that involves an environment with a diversity of academic interests, student identities, and traditions.

But Taylor said she thinks asking freshmen to form a “condensed group” of friends actually runs counter to the College’s hope to have a “microcosm” of students from different backgrounds living together in each House.

“I would say that I have friends here, but they are a very diverse group which I think is what Harvard wants,” Taylor said. “So, I think it’s interesting that they’re forcing you to form a condensed group when they really want you to be branching out and forming relationships with people who are completely unlike you.”

“If you’re forcing yourself to have a group that is all friends with each other, it seems more limiting than anything else,” Taylor added.

Thomas A. Dingman ’67, dean of freshmen, said administrators have previously explored the idea of changing the housing lottery. Last year, many House faculty deans, however, expressed skepticism about a proposal to replace Harvard’s model with one more similar to Yale.

“We know that blocking can be a stressful experience for freshmen. Last year, we raised the possibility that we would affiliate entryways with Houses. So as a student you would only have to try to find compatibility within your entryway instead of the entire freshman class,” Dingman said. “But this was not successful, so we just try to make ourselves as available to students as we can.”

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