On a campus fraught with loneliness and stress, the decision of where to live on campus is of the utmost important for Amherst students. The current room draw process, revamped with the new online system, aimed to alleviate some of the anxiety, but students still found themselves battling with unnecessary extra pressure associated with the perils of the process on top of the unavoidable stress involved in the procedure.
This year, the Office of Residential Life invested in setting up an online portal that was intended to make the room draw process more efficient. The system proved beneficial in that students who did not have set room draw groups could seek one out based on an algorithm that matched students with potential roommates. However, the system failed its most critical objective, which was to achieve efficiency in this otherwise slow process that required the Student Housing Advisory Committee members to aid students as they chose rooms. Students were given the choice to select rooms online or in person in Keefe, yet many found themselves having to do both as the online process was ridden with technical difficulties and flaws. Rather than enjoying the ease of an efficient system during this stressful time, students found themselves to be the guinea pigs of a new system that wasn’t thoroughly tested.
Another persistent issue of room draw has been the timing. Room draw week always falls during a stressful time of the semester. Students are caught in between midterm exams and essays, and don’t need the unnecessary pressure of dealing with technological issues of an online process that is out of their control. Additionally, the process lasts long well into the night, forcing students to spend even more time away from their academics to watch their peers’ choices unfold and weigh their options.
Additionally, lip sync, a beloved tradition at the college, allots a small window of time for students to prepare. While it was a fun event for the campus community, participants chose to forgo academic responsibilities in order to put on these performances. The unnecessary stresses associated with room draw merely intensify the already chaotic life of Amherst students with little present hope of these stresses being alleviated.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this year’s room draw left many students unsatisfied with their housing options. It’s true that not all dorms are created equal, and some students will inevitably be disappointed with their living situation. But this year was especially bad, as evidenced by the fact that an unprecedented number of sophomores felt that they had no choice but to opt out.
Why did this happen? Some of it is currently beyond Res Life’s control. Because the college has replaced the socials (which are almost entirely filled with singles) with the Greenway dorms (which are a mix of singles and doubles), there are simply fewer singles available. As a result, many rising juniors, who were expecting to easily snag a single in a desirable location, were forced to choose between living in a double, choosing a faraway single on the Hill or opting out. It’s too bad that the college chose to build more doubles when it had the chance to build more singles and improve Amherst’s housing situation for all students. But unfortunately this can no longer be fixed.
However, there are some concrete steps that Res Life can take next year to improve room draw for all students. The editorial board has made these suggestions in the past, but given the general dissatisfaction with this year’s room draw, we think they bear repeating.
First, Res Life should remove the quota system on the Greenway dorms. We understand that Res Life implemented this system to give all students an equal opportunity to live in the new dorms. But this does not make sense. Rising sophomores still have two more years to live in the Greenway, but rising seniors who were shut out of the dorms by the quota system will have no opportunity. Eliminating the quota system would be the fairest thing to do and would be in keeping with how Res Life distributes rooms in other dorms. After all, Lipton is a highly desirable dorm, but we don’t have a quota on the number of seniors who can live in Lipton. There is no reason the Greenway should be different. Additionally, the Greenway quota created difficulties for rising juniors and seniors this year, because it forced an unusually large number of rising seniors to choose rooms in the Triangle. This meant that Hitchcock and other dorms were almost entirely full by the time rising juniors began choosing, and juniors’ options were severely limited.
Second, the college should take another look at how it handles theme housing. One easy fix for next year would be to move the French House from King to Seligman. King is a top choice dorm for seniors, so reserving an entire floor of King for the (mostly sophomore and junior) residents of French House further restricted the options available to seniors, contributing to the trickle-down effect in which seniors chose rooms ordinarily selected by juniors and sophomores, thus creating worse options for the underclassmen. Seligman, however, is a much more reasonable location for French House: It’s already a dorm populated by juniors and sophomores, and it’s close to Newport, so French House and Spanish House could continue hosting events together. It’s a beautiful dorm, but because it’s in a less popular location, students would not feel that their options were being restricted by theme houses. The college should also be clearer about designating dorms as theme houses. Because few students knew that Tyler would be a theme house next year, some students accidentally picked Tyler during room draw, while other students who wanted to live in Tyler had to jump through several confusing hoops to live in the dorm.
The editorial board understands that not all of the problems with room draw are under Res Life’s control, but we believe that many of the small changes we have named are feasible and would greatly improve the process for next year.