UA/DormCon/IFC Student Residence Implementation Team (Impish)
Spring Term 2000 Progress Report
May 16, 2000
Contents Appendix B: Residence Selection Process (PDF)
List of Team Members
Currently, an enrolled student entering MIT for one's freshman year has the choice of living in an MIT owned residence hall (dormitory) or an MIT-sanctioned fraternity, sorority, or independent living group (FSILG). Starting with the completion of a new undergraduate dormitory, a student must spend one's freshman year living in a dormitory. This redefinition of freshman year living options means that there must be a change in residence selection, or the process by which a student is placed into housing.
We have created a rough model for a system of residence selection that agrees with the design for the new residence system outlined by the Chancellor. This model was designed with certain principles in mind, as are listed below.
Our primary goal at all times, as we like to phrase it, is "maximizing happiness" for all students. Whatever method we come up with, we must put it to the test, "Will this make students happy or unhappy?" and when we have alternatives to consider we always ask, "Will one solution make students happier than another?" This may sound rather vague, but it is important to state it as a principle, because some of the alternative models we explored had the goal of making students unhappy in their living environment and thus more willing to move. After much discussion on this topic, we decided it was in everyone's best interest to create a process through which as many students as possible are made as comfortable as possible with their living environment.
We feel it is in the best interest of MIT to preserve the diversity which exists among its different dormitories and FSILGs. Strong living groups are at the heart of the MIT community, and keeping them separate and distinct, even while we attempt to bring them all together to make a larger community, is necessary to maintain that strength.
We feel that freshman students should have a choice in their dormitory assignment because, taking from the first two goals, we feel that it helps ensure that students are comfortable in their living environment as well as it helps to maintain the diversity of the different groups. We would like to add that to make this choice as useful as possible, students should be able to make as informed a decision as possible.
The current process of residence selection places some pressures on incoming freshmen. In order to help fulfill our first goal of making all students happy, we have decided that residence selection should place minimal pressure on students while still maintaining a maximum of student choice and living group diversity, which are still the main goals. The Chancellor's "Design of the Residence System" provides that each freshman will get a rooming assignment before arriving on campus, and that each freshman has the right to keep that assignment for the entire first year. We feel that this mandate may serve to reduce the pressure on students initially, though we still want to ensure that students are not pressured into staying in one living environment if they feel they would be happier in another.
retaining internal control over room selection
A dormitory's rooming officers should have control over the placement of students in rooms. This system has worked in the past, and we feel will continue to work in the future, to ensure that all students are placed in an environment which makes them the most comfortable.
before arriving on campus
During the summer, enrolled freshmen will receive information about all of their dormitory options. Printed residence guides, as are sent out now, will be made available, as well as digital information resources as described in this report. Refer to the section about the "Interactive Introduction to the Institute" for more information about this digital resource.
After having time to look at all the information available, freshmen will enter a lottery similar to the one they enter during orientation, in which they will rank their dormitory choices. This lottery could be conducted through mailings or through the web, depending on technical feasibility. The results of this lottery will determine the dormitory in which a student will live immediately before arriving on campus.
The process of placing a student in a room within a dormitory may be handled in different ways. The office of Residential Life and Student Life Programs could give each dormitory the list of their freshmen first, with contact information, and then allow the rooming officers in the dormitories to contact their freshmen to help determine where specifically they should be placed within the building. Alternately, the student may have to fill out a secondary preference sheet designed by rooming officers of the dormitories to provide basic information about smoking, noise sensitivity, &c., and the rooming officers of a dormitory will use this information to place their incoming residents. This will allow for a faster process of room assignment, but more students might be unhappy with their initial assignment. Either way, a student will have to receive a room assignment before arriving onto campus.
after arriving on campus
A freshman will arrive on campus with a room assignment and orientation activities will immediately begin. Orientation should be an introduction to the MIT community, and therefore the students will be discouraged from spending time exclusively in their dormitories. Orientation is an issue that we have yet to create a complete model for, however, in terms of residence selection, we envision a complete introduction to the campus in which students will be acclimated to academics, research, activities, athletics, and the residence system all at once. Orientation programs will occur during the day, while the evenings will be left to social activities in the dorms. All freshmen will be encouraged, perhaps through special incentives, to visit all the dormitories and meet upperclassmen as well as other freshmen. Perhaps one full day will be dedicated to "dorm rush." We feel that keeping the dormitories active during orientation is beneficial in many ways: it helps students make an informed choice, helps to strengthen individual living group communities, and helps to enliven the campus as a whole.
At the end of orientation, a freshman will enter a second lottery that is slightly different from the summer lottery. The freshman will again rank dormitories, but this lottery will be "back-stopped," meaning that no freshman can do worse in the lottery than one's current dorm. So a freshman can exercise the right to squat in one's summer assignment simply by ranking that dorm first. There might also be an "indifference mechanism" built into this lottery to deal with indifference, so that a freshman can rank several dorms on the same level. This makes the system more complicated, but also theoretically makes it more likely that those students who strongly prefer one choice over another will receive the desired choice. The technical details of this type of lottery system have yet to be thoroughly explored.
After receiving an assignment from this lottery, a freshman will go through whatever internal rooming process a dormitory chooses to perform. This may take place as a "hall rush," or as a mixer where freshmen can meet prospective roommates, or any other system favored by a house's rooming officers. The only mandate given to a dormitory's internal rooming officers is that a freshman who received that dormitory as a summer assignment has the right to remain in the room in which that freshman is currently living.
Throughout this entire process, freshmen always have the option of keeping the room assignment they received in the summer lottery. However, this system does not make them choose whether or not to exercise this option until the end of the selection process. In this way, a freshman has the assurance that he or she will not be forced to move but is also allowed and encouraged to spend as much time looking at all the options available before making a decision.
In order to facilitate students moving from one dormitory to another during their time as upperclassmen, the current system of housing transfers will be replaced with a fall/spring lottery, so that students who wish to move can enter their preferences at the same time and all transfers can happen at the beginning of the fall and spring terms. This type of system is already being explored within the office of Residential Life and Student Life Programs.
We feel that this system will ensure the quality of a freshman's housing decision through more thought into informing students about the residence system, maintaining an active dorm rush, and giving students as many opportunities as possible to reconsider their housing decision. We feel that it will reduce the pressure of residence selection both by allowing students to make as informed a choice as possible and by giving freshmen the safety net of not being moved to someplace less desirable than one's current residence. Therefore we feel that this rough model will fit well within the new residence system, and as we continue to discuss the details of the Interactive Introduction, orientation, and the lottery algorithms themselves, this model will evolve into a comprehensive plan.
As an afterword, we have already begun to experiment with this model by piloting a temporary housing lottery. In this year's Residence Guide booklet, there will be a card on which students will enter their dormitory preferences and be entered into a lottery to receive their temporary assignments (see Appendix). This lottery will not influence a student's permanent housing assignment, but it will provide data about how students make their choices, and how their decisions change from before they arrive on campus to after. We will report on the results of this experiment next fall.
As a second afterword, this plan is currently meant to describe selection only in regular residence halls. In the future, we will resolve the many issues surrounding residence selection in theme houses.
Contents List of Team Members