EDITORIAL: Weigh all implications of housing policy proposals
On Friday, the University’s Department of Community Living informed Brandeis students in an email about two prospective changes to the housing selection process. The University hopes to improve students’ experience with housing selection by adding new measures to the lottery system. This board acknowledges that the University cannot easily improve the housing lottery; by its very nature as a lottery system, there will always be winners, losers and unfair results for some students. What the University can do is take steps toward alleviating major problems — particularly the interpersonal conflicts caused by the unpredictable nature of the housing lottery. Friday’s new proposals, however, fail to address this existing problem, and instead call for policies that are less safe for students and simply make more predictable the populations who will face tough luck in housing.
The first proposal allows sophomores, juniors and seniors to all live together, while guaranteeing the sophomore class certain beds and suites across the campus’ quads. This incentivizes juniors and seniors to, perhaps dangerously, cozy up to sophomores given their greater chance at obtaining favorable housing. Proponents of the plan say that it will improve community building within quads, but the purported greater “housing pride” is unlikely considering that the design of most University buildings discourages interaction outside and between suites. As such, students will mostly interact with the people already in their suites — people they, presumably, already know.
In addition to providing minimal benefits, this proposal also makes the University’s alcohol policies a logistical nightmare to monitor and manage. As is, it is already difficult to enforce “dry quad” rules for first-years and sophomores, but this proposal runs the risk of exacerbating these current challenges. If Community Advisors can’t easily distinguish between underage students and those of legal drinking age, their jobs become infinitely harder. More importantly, this could endanger inexperienced drinkers by increasing their access to alcohol as well as their exposure to peer pressure to drink. Underage drinking is already a reality, but the Department of Community Living’s first proposal will only make it more prevalent and runs the risk of more easily generating more dangerous situations for students.
Friday’s second proposal suggests a “loyalty” program which guarantees better lottery numbers for students who have consistently lived only on campus. Notably, Director of Community Living Tim Touchette claimed in an interview on Monday that the University can theoretically house all Brandeis students; upperclassmen would simply be forced into underclassmen housing. If, as Touchette claims, students are never forced off-campus due solely to inadequate bed numbers, this policy may have marginal practical merits, given that students who have already lived off campus may be more willing or prepared to live off campus than students who have spent all their time on campus. However, this policy would negatively affect students who choose to move off campus one year and then want to return to campus housing the next. Realistically, this population is likely small in number — students used to the independence and lower costs of off-campus life have little incentive to move back on campus, which would entail taking on increased housing costs, mandatory meal plans and greater oversight. That being said, this population is left in a truly difficult position, especially given that students may have been driven off-campus in the first place due to the high cost of campus housing, as DCL itself notes in its email to students; any lottery-based system has inevitable, unfair results. This policy simply makes the disappointed population more predictable, but also widens the potential of students being penalized simply due to personal financial situations.
On the other hand, the policy does not hurt — and potentially helps — students who choose to remain on campus. For example, a student who sticks through an unfavorable housing situation one year has a greater chance of obtaining a better number and better housing the following year, thus making a previously unpleasant situation more worthwhile. Overall, this proposal’s biggest benefactor seems to be the University itself; by encouraging more people to live on campus, Brandeis incentivizes more students to pay for housing, in turn providing more funds for the school, which might in turn help students in the long run. As for the student body as a whole, however, this board believes the second proposal neither significantly benefits nor significantly harms Brandeis students in total. Those living on campus receive the moderate boon of higher numbers, but a certain portion of students face the housing lottery with truly poor odds. At least these students might now be able to face their situation with greater predictability and more information to plan around it, but the role of personal finances in determining this disadvantaged bloc is of critical concern.
Although Friday’s new proposals fail to contribute any real positive change, other solutions could address one of the major issues created by the housing lottery: interpersonal conflicts caused by last-minute changes to housing arrangements. With the current system, a group of five friends could plan to live in a Charles River Apartment, but if they receive a poor number, the only housing available may accommodate only four, thus forcing one person out of the group. This can damage friendships and leave the excluded person scrambling for a place to live. A possible solution is to devise a system that allows students to develop two groups — a primary and a secondary — before they even receive their lottery numbers. For example, a group of five looking to live in a Charles River Apartment could enter the lottery as such, but if none remain by the time they can select housing, the group could splinter into two predetermined group of two and three, respectively. By preventing the last-minute exclusion of one person, this could eliminate some of the social pressures around the current system.
Since any housing lottery inherently fails to satisfy everyone, this board urges the University to explore additional solutions to improve students’ experiences with housing, but the two plans proposed to the student body on Friday will not suffice.