RBA Limits Freshman Choice

Dormitories which offer Residence-Based Advising should give freshmen a chance to get out — or get in — during Orientation. The Housing Adjustment Lottery, which closes tonight, should not exclude McCormick Hall and Next House.

For most new undergraduates, the summer housing choice is not set in stone: even after getting a tentative home, they are free to request a new one during Orientation. Indeed, for the past few years, approximately one-sixth of the freshman class has requested such a change.

But freshmen foolish enough to ask for Next House or McCormick over the summer are barred from requesting a change. The unconscionably silly reason given for this restriction is that residents of those dormitories participate in Residence-based Advising.

RBA, which places people who live together in advising groups together, is meant have a profound impact on the first year of student life. By way of contrast, freshmen who live in other dormitories are assigned academic advisers with whom they occasionally meet, or participate in advising seminars; RBA is different because all members of an advising group share one common interest: their home.

But the perks of RBA should not be open exclusively to those who chose an RBA residence in the Summer Housing Lottery (and who had probably met few of their potential neighbors). Nor should students be refused a chance to move to a place which seems like a better fit after a few days of thoughtful exploration during Orientation.

Two cultural houses, Chocolate City and Spanish House, also offer Residence-Based Advising and thus prohibit freshmen from entering the Adjustment Lottery; but the cultural house application process is somewhat more complicated, and it already tries hard to ensure that residents are people eager to live there.

McCormick residents are likely to be happy with their assignment: 74 percent of the freshmen assigned to McCormick after the Summer Housing Lottery this year ranked it as their first choice. Next House residents may not be as pleased; it was the first choice of only 27 freshmen, but there were 154 spots to fill.

It makes little sense to prohibit people who got their fourth-ranked choice from trying to do better. Worse, the current policy effectively removes those at McCormick and Next House from the residence choice system that has long been a crucial part of the MIT community. Why shouldn’t freshmen get to explore these two dormitories, like all the rest, during Orientation?

Under the current system, there is no way for freshmen to “try out” these RBA dormitories. Potential residents are doubtless deterred by the fact that they will not be able to move if they find they are happier elsewhere. Thus, it is likely that fewer people apply to RBA dormitories, and those dormitories lose out on the chance for valuable community members who prefer to pick a residence after arriving at MIT. As a result, people who ranked Next House anywhere above fifth in the summer overwhelmingly ended up there, and so the dormitory is filled with people who would really rather live somewhere else. The current system discourages choice and yields no real benefit.

MIT should allow McCormick and Next House freshmen to enter the Housing Adjustment Lottery. This change would let more people live in the home that best suits them.

Moving more people would incur organizational costs — after all, changing a student’s adviser consumes administrative resources and takes time — but in light of the perks to student life, MIT ought to be more than willing to bear these costs.

Choice is a bedrock principle of housing at MIT; our unique dormitories and their residents set the Institute apart from many other universities. It is in everyone’s best interest to give students more choice.

(Freshmen: if you want to move out of or into an RBA dormitory, say so! Call x3-9764 or write to rba-info@mit.edu.)

Angeline Wang has recused herself from this editorial.