Can You Win the Housing Lottery?

In recent weeks, the housing allocations for 2017-18 have loomed and forced students to consider their priorities regarding living on campus. Where we live defines our social interactions, the number of minutes we can leave before rolling out of bed before class and which dining halls we will frequent. In short, housing makes a huge difference to our daily lives on campus. Everyone has their own opinions about which area of campus is best, but does our housing system allow us to realize these preferences?

In an interview with the Voice, Meghan Thompson and Marie Lalor of the REAL Office aimed to shed light on the process we have in place at Conn and to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the system. The housing lottery here at Conn is not a new system; it was already in place when Lalor came to Conn nine years ago. Unlike the current system, which requires students to log on to MyHousing, the system preceding Lalor’s arrival required students to crowd into the mail room to retrieve lottery information and paperwork put in their mailboxes by the REAL Office.

Lalor used one word to describe this system: “chaos.” What’s more, due to the limitations of such paperwork, housing used to be split by gender and class for ease of organization. Because the slips of paper were arranged by hand, dividing the rooms on campus by gender and class years was the most efficient way to ensure everyone was housed properly. With the new software, the College is able to more dynamically allocate rooms to be either gender neutral or gender dependent, allowing for any gender combination in  doubles. Since Conn does not collect information on the gender identity of its students, this is a very useful aspect of the software that allows for non-discriminatory allocation of dorms. Furthermore, changes are made to housing process every year in response to advancements of the software and challenges faced from the year before.

Lottery numbers are assigned as result of a click of a single button on a computer program. Hours, however, are spent on deductions/additions from our individual numbers based on our current living situations. REAL staff members recognize that the lottery is never going to work for every student, but they assert that they do their best to allocate the best housing possible without bias. Systems that exist at other colleges regularly use information such as GPA and student participation on campus to determine lottery numbers. The only thing that can affect where we live here at Conn is disciplinary action, as disciplinary records can at times prevent students from applying for independent living options.

A key complaint that REAL staff receives from students during housing season is that group housing does not work out, leaving students living farther from their friends than they had hoped. Thompson and Lalor said that this is often the result of missteps on the part of students. According to them, people often do not select their groups correctly and therefore are unable to enter the draw. When I asked about these missteps, Lalor told me that the staff respond by removing the group from the lottery because the office would rather air on the side of caution than enter an incomplete group.

Another aspect of housing that is often confusing, specifically for underclassmen, is common interest housing, but for upperclassmen, this approach to housing is growing in popularity. This year saw the largest group in College history be awarded common interest housing: 16 students will be living adjacent to one another in Smith House in the fall.

Through common interest housing, a group of three-20 students may apply to be given either an apartment or a cluster of rooms on campus which they will dedicate to a cause. To attain common interest housing, groups must recruit faculty advisors to support their causes, then present their ideas to Thompson and Lalor early in the spring semester. A rubric detailing what REAL looks for in common interest groups can be found on the Conn website. Those who are awarded spaces must use them in ways that will productively and distinctly add to the campus community. Every year, students put forward themes related to various political and philanthropic issues, but due to the selective nature of the application process, many of those with similar ideas are turned down. Thompson and Lalor say they regret that more apartments cannot be given to students with common interests, but they maintain that these spaces must also be made available to students who simply seek independent living.

Some students have suggested that concerns about nightlife on campus often affect who is awarded with common interest housing and apartments on campus, but Thompson and Lalor negated this idea, stating: “we do not socially engineer Ridge or any other apartments in any way.” They said that as long as a student has a lottery number and applies correctly, they have an equal chance of being awarded an apartment.

As a first year student, I have minimal experience with lottery numbers, but during conversations with both upperclassmen and fellow first-years about the housing lottery, I have encountered mixed reviews. Sarah Nappo ‘18 said: “There’s not a better way to do it, but it sucks for some people. I’m not a fan of room allocations though.” Hannah Rogers ‘20 similarly believes that “the beauty of the housing system is that you just accept the number you’re given and move on.” Danielle Fergus ‘19 thinks that more of the apartments should be given out for common interest housing, or if this isn’t possible, she believes it should either be all common interest or all independent living.

Essentially, the system appears fair in that while there are winners and losers, we are all subject to the laws of probability that dictate the list of our names created by that one button. The REAL staff seeks to assure us all that they are there to make our lives not only easier but better, so they entreat us all to investigate the many housing opportunities that are available to us and to keep the faith.