Dorm leaders present first-year rooming assignment designs in workshop

Proposals address design exercise constraints prohibiting mutual selection and requiring first-year squatting

Student leaders from all undergraduate dorms met with Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 and Vice President and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson in a design workshop March 2 to present proposals for rooming assignment processes.

The proposals had to meet two requirements: they must not involve mutual selection and first years must be permitted to squat their initial room assignments. Several dorm presidents shared information about their dorm’s proposals with The Tech via email or interview.

Some dorms presented at least one version that met the requirements and at least one that did not, but improved upon the current system.

East Campus proposed a single-sided selection process in which first years would visit and rank all the halls. The dorm would then run an algorithm to assign first years to rooms based on those rankings 10 times to generate 10 sets of dorm-wide placements. Each hall’s upper-level students would rank the results, and EC would run another algorithm to optimize the halls’ preferences for the first years’ placements.

Adriana Jacobsen ’20, EC president, told The Tech in an interview that EC’s proposal was regarded by residents as the “best possible scenario if we had to do single-sided selection.”

EC also presented its current system with improvements such as calling the current Floor Rush something more related to exploration.

Burton Conner proposed maintaining upper-level students’ preferences, but weighing them more lightly in the room assignment process.

New House differentiated its proposals for its cultural houses and numbered houses. The proposal for the cultural houses’ process maintained the current system, with a focus on providing more information to first years, according the the plan the New House government submitted to the Housing Design Workshop. The cultural houses would continue giving spots to students they believe would help grow and enhance their community. These students would not be expected to move from the rooms to which they are assigned over the summer.

In the submitted plan, numbered houses would require all their first years to visit each numbered house during in-house exploration and then rank the houses in which they want to live. Any student who ranked their initial assigned house first would not be made to move. The housing chairs would assign rooms based on giving students their highest ranked choices.

Simmons Hall, BC, the numbered houses of New House, and EC all proposed that first years indicate their desire to squat on the summer housing form.

Simmons proposed one plan in which a student marking that they wished to squat would be binding and two plans in which wishing to squat would be non-binding.

Random Hall and EC each proposed two plans: one that allowed squatting and one that did not. Random President Amanda Putnam ’20 wrote in an email to The Tech that Random preferred the latter. “We believe we can better optimize for first-year happiness if the system has more flexibility, particularly with our very small number of open rooms to begin with,” Putnam wrote.

In MacGregor House’s proposal, the algorithm would be guaranteed to place first years into their current entry or an entry they ranked higher, and if they are reassigned into their current entry, they may choose to squat their room.

Anthony Cheng ’20, MacGregor president, told The Tech in an interview that the proposal, which meets both requirements, is “extremely unpopular” among residents.

Next House proposed a plan in which first years would discuss their motives for squatting with the house team, and approvals of squatting would be “fairly generous,” according to Next’s proposal.

The BC proposal required that first years participate in “FLEX,” or floor exploration, before confirming their decision to squat.

Maseeh Hall, whose current rooming process already fulfills both design requirements, proposed asking additional questions to incoming first years who ranked Maseeh highly in the summer. The Room Assignment Committee (RAC) would then use their answers to place them into rooms.

Barnhart and Nelson told The Tech in an interview that student dorm representatives brought up possible causes of undue stress on first years that they had not considered previously, including rushed decision-making during the room assignment process and in-house lotteries. Dorm representatives also brought up a need for clearer communications to incoming students over the summer.

Nelson said that more welcoming language and messaging could also reduce stress.

Barnhart said that at the workshop, students from some dorms said that they wanted more time in between when they got the final list of incoming residents (which is after FYRE) and when rooms were assigned, while others did not want more time.

Barnhart said that student dorm representatives noted that RACs currently have substantial responsibility and could use help with algorithms for the rooming assignment process and moving first years’ belongings to their assigned rooms. Nelson also added that stress could be reduced by facilitating parking and helping to hand out keys and IDs.

Nelson said, “Mutual selection, where if someone gets in, that means someone doesn’t get in, so that feels personal and it feels hurtful. That is something that concerned us. If that was something that was happening, it was unintentional.”

Next, Barnhart and Nelson are going to meet individually with leaders from all the dorms.

Kaitlyn Hennacy contributed reporting.