The perpetual problems of loneliness and social division among Amherst students have been discussed extensively in recent years. As administrators seek new ways to resolve these critical issues, it seems that housing is the first aspect of Amherst life that they turn to. They’ve proposed Neighborhoods. They’re tearing down the social dorms. And now, they are overhauling the room draw process. Some of the changes are undoubtedly positive: We appreciate that Res Life has decided to streamline the process and minimize errors by moving room draw online. But other changes, which seem to be aimed at overcoming existing social divisions, may hurt students more than they help us.
First, the new room draw process caps room groups at six people. Sure, this seems to make sense, since the college will no longer have eight-person suites. But capping room groups at eight limits students’ options in the room draw process and may cause rifts in existing social groups. Additionally, since many suites have four-person occupancies, it makes sense to keep keep room groups at a multiple of four. Finally, Res Life should keep in mind that students were not always forming eight-person groups solely because they wanted eight-person suites. Some students simply want to form a room group that can accommodate a large group of friends: for instance, some first-years would form groups of eight because they hoped to get four doubles close to each other. Capping room groups at six limits options for students like these, creating unnecessary stress in the room draw process.
Second, there is a chance that Res Life enforce a cap on the number of people allowed to choose the new dorms each night of room draw — a change that would help split the new Greenway dormitories evenly among sophomores, juniors and seniors. They have rationalized this decision by explaining that the dorms will contain a mix of singles, doubles and suites, and juniors and seniors would not likely want to live in doubles anyway. But why not let juniors and seniors decide for themselves whether they’d like to live in doubles? Sophomores will have two more chances to live in the Greenway dorms; seniors will have none. There seems to be no explanation for these quotas other than a half-hearted attempt to break up pre-existing social groups and to promote integration among varying class years. And while this is a worthy goal, we are not sure that a few superficial changes to the room draw process will accomplish it. Instead, we fear these tweaks to room draw will cause increased stress for students without accomplishing anything meaningful.
Attempting to combat these deeply rooted social issues simply through procedural changes merely scratches the surface. First-year dormitories provide a pretty good atmosphere for friendships to be formed, but the fact that loneliness persists even among first-years suggests that the issue is that Amherst’s housing system is often used as a scapegoat, so the administration is motivated to work harder to overhaul it with the ultimate goal of fixing our segmented community. However, we can’t rely on Residential Life to create solutions to the divisions on campus. Divisions naturally arise even within first-year dorms. It’s hard to hold housing arrangements entirely accountable for the social climate across campus. It’s important, but it should not be the sole focus of administrative efforts.
Attempts to redesign the housing system sadly amount to wasted energy. The unfortunate reality is that forced interaction is an imperfect solution to Amherst’s social divisions. Instead of trying to achieve some social engineering through housing changes, the administration should shift its attention toward bottom-up, student-led approaches to mend our fragmented community, instead of restricting the students’ choices through clumsy top-down methods.