(Marie Lambert)–Three-quarters of the Amherst student population are reaching the peak of the most anticipated part of the school year. More unpredictable and emotionally taxing than Val’s world cuisine days, Room Draw is possibly the single most powerful Amherst institution in terms of dictating the structure of your life next year.
Seniors—congratulations on finally being free from the cyclical yoke that is the Amherst housing process (although I do not envy you for your irrevocable entrance into “the real world”).
Freshmen—you have no idea what is coming. Yes, the whole procedure seems like an ordeal already, but you don’t truly know suffering until you’ve stared at the Room Draw ticker for an hour straight, slowly watching all of your hopes, dreams, and room choices disappear before your very eyes.
The agony of Room Draw can be broken up into two distinct categories: room group drama, and problems of the system itself. The former is fairly straightforward: whenever you take a group of people with a variety of personalities, experiences, and relationships and ask them to decide amongst themselves whom they want to sleep next to, things are going to get a little messy. For freshman in particular, this is something that really, really, needs to be given some thought. They say you never really know your friends until the end of sophomore year, and although I cannot fully endorse this as true for all situations, it is certainly something to bear in mind. Relationships will always change—for better or for worse—at different rates for different people, but once you leave the Freshman Quad, just know that things will never be quite the same.
But issues that spring from the mechanisms of the Room Draw itself are less easily avoided through “honest, direct conversations about living expectations.” Some of these issues arise from the capricious nature of a random draw: you get a bad number, or you get a good number but are shut out of a building because of the gender ratio. These are unfortunate, but unavoidable; someone has to be the slowest person running away from the bear. But then there are the frustrations that are born from a lack of communication or understanding between those of us running Room Draw, and those of us who will have to live it.
There is obviously a housing shortage on campus; in fact, those of us who’ve been here have been hearing about it since last year. Last year, we were told that housing would be so tight there would be no room change process. We were told that all spring vacancies—including in doubles—left by those going abroad would need to be filled by returning students. But this year, there were people who changed rooms, multiple times, even. There were vacancies—in doubles as well as suites—that were never filled this spring. Of course, there were people who were denied room change requests, or who are now sharing living space with someone back from abroad. Did I expect Res Life to adhere literally 100% of the time to every single statement they made? No, but this disparity between expectations and reality has left me more confused than ever about how to view Room Draw. How seriously should we take the administration when they make such emphatic statements but then don’t follow up on them?
And then there is Alpine Commons, the newest addition to the Amherst housing family. Born out of desperation of our very own housing crisis, and despite the addition of Seligman and the Plaza/Waldorf conversion to suites, 60 “lucky” seniors will be relegated a mile down the road to the Alpine Commons apartment complex. After what is sure to be a rigorous and competitive application process—complete with faculty recommendations—these privileged few will experience the joys of living with custom mini blinds, free photocopies, and neutral colors throughout their apartment. But will these supposedly prized neutral-colored palaces really draw enough of the class of 2014 away to balance the rest of the population? Enthusiasm among rising seniors for Alpine Commons has been slim to none, and proposal that 60 of them must live there is starting to seem less like a privilege and more like a mandate.
There is a way out of the labyrinthine clutches of Room Draw: theme or off-campus housing. Both involve separate application processes—which vary between the different theme houses as well—but a simple application may be preferable to the unpredictability of the lottery. While I have no experience or intention at this time to choose either route, both seem like legitimately effective ways for Amherst students to create their own communities, so often lacking in the anonymous hallways of Mo Pratt. But even these options have their bureaucratic stumbling blocks. Only up to 50 students are allowed to live off-campus, and must produce “exceptional personal circumstances” that necessitate such a move. As for theme housing, although they may create great community, students may not live in the same one for more than two years—apart from the Health and Wellness Quarter in Val.
Despite the difficulties, any option outside of Room Draw seems like a good option at this point. If you can avoid it, congratulations, and enjoy next week, for the rest of us will be spending it a little differently. Whether you’re stretching your legs for the harrowing walk to the Triangle or Facebook-stalking the groups ahead of you on the Ordered List, at least you’re doing something. Take action—it’ll make you feel like you have some sort of control over this process. Just know that when it comes down to it on April 9th-11th, you’re always only a moment away from crying over the ticker when your top choice slips from your grasp.