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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Housing lottery creates unnecessary stresses

Published: March 17, 2012
Section: Opinions

As much as Brandeis students enjoyed having a week off in February, in reality, most of us spent it in front of our computers, refreshing our e-mails in anticipation of the random number that would dictate our lives for the next year—our housing lottery numbers.

The weeks leading up to housing selection test our patience and our friendships, and force us to evaluate ourselves.

Even though (and maybe because) I’m a first-year, I have a unique perspective on the housing situation. I am one of the lucky few to get a double-digit number. This is quite an accomplishment in a lottery where 90 percent of first-years have a three-digit number, and the upperclassman numbers reach well into the 2,000 range. After bracing for the worst possible number—as first-years do—I felt like I’d actually won the lottery. I’m still pinching myself over the fact that I can decide between the Village, East or the Castle, rather than the lottery deciding for me. I have all of campus at my fingertips.

Having a great lottery number puts me in a position of power, however, and that brings its own challenges. First of all, I’m now responsible for deciding what housing arrangement best suits my daily lifestyle. This is something that others have always decided for me. Now, after less than a full year of college, rising sophomores have to reflect on their social lives and study habits. Again and again I ask myself: Is it better to live in a quieter dorm for studying or a louder dorm that fosters social life? Do I need to bond with my floor-mates over TV and baking cookies in the common room as first-years do, or will my life be a mix of dorm activity and other social outlets?

Effective, informed decision-making requires a combination of intuition and rational thinking, including what we already know. The housing process, however, asks first-years to decide on a living arrangement based on a prediction of what their lives will be like as sophomores, which is impossible to do without actually being sophomores and having that experience.

First-years can also be easily influenced by others’ opinions of dorms because we are young and susceptible to hearsay. The dirty, insect-ridden reputation of a certain sophomore quad is enough to keep any first-year miles away. Yet in that same quad there are sophomores who are content with their rooms. Many of them say it’s not nearly as bad as they were led to believe. As I am learning in my social psychology class, people operate on quick judgments and easily trust those with perceived power, like upperclassmen. Rumors have the power to influence our decisions, especially when we don’t know better.

The roommate pull-in process adds yet another dimension of stress to the housing-selection experience. As its name implies, the Department of Community Living wants us to build a vibrant community of friends at Brandeis. Why, then, does this same system ignite so much drama between students, especially first-years still developing new friendships?

Those who plan to room with someone before even getting their numbers often face more stress. Sometimes neither person gets a number good enough for the housing they want, and they have to be pulled in as neighbors. Even with the right numbers, roommate plans often change and fall through, leaving one person desperate to find someone else.

Having a desirable number changes the dynamics of this too. People with good numbers get requests from so many classmates—friends, acquaintances and strangers alike—asking to be pulled into a specific dorm, which causes its own tensions. We must decide what kind of living arrangement is right for us, but this often comes at the cost of choosing one friend over another.

One needs to do nothing more than go online to witness the housing-related stress affecting Brandeis. The “Housing” Facebook group immediately became a place for everyone to vent about their bad numbers, ask about potential dorms and shamelessly beg for pull-ins. The same frustration can be heard anywhere on campus now.

So what perspective can I offer my fellow students as housing selection begins? All I can hope is that people avoid the drama and keep their sanity. If you don’t like your room, think positively. Maybe it’s a reason to go out and spend more time off campus. Use housing as a chance to meet new people and deepen friendships; do not use it as a divisive force. If friendships form out of the intangible bonds between people, then something as inconsequential as a lottery number should not be enough to tear friends apart. Know that it will all work out in the end and next year all the drama will seem silly in retrospect.