There is one magical moment in the academic year when students gather together to learn from the past, relish in the present and prepare for the future. Though the answer — the housing lottery — should be obvious to all, the night’s magic seems to have been forgotten by administrators and the Residential Council. Starting this year, the housing lottery could potentially move from its traditional location in Sayles Hall to an online registration system, The Herald reported last week. While the move is certainly a logical one that will likely garner support among those who value maximum efficiency, the potential change threatens other Brown traditions we must strive to preserve.
For first-year students who may never experience an in-person housing lottery, the principle is simple: The lottery is divided over two days. Upperclassmen attend the first day, and rising sophomores duke it out on the second. Though the lottery process seems logical enough, the experience and atmosphere surrounding the event make the housing lottery a truly special collegiate phenomenon.
Consider another University move that exemplifies the triumph of efficiency over tradition: the elimination of the first pick competition. As many more senior students will remember, groups of students used to produce humorous videos that would qualify them for the first pick at the housing lottery. But in spring of 2010, the winning group was accused of bribing students to vote for them. The next year, the contest was unceremoniously cancelled in favor of a raffle, which ResCouncil officials said would encourage students to attend a housing fair.
The circumstances behind this particular incident were less than ideal, but they still speak to a broader truth: We should not remove our quirky traditions in favor of a path that is more sanitized, safer and ultimately less fun. By doing so, we risk losing those individual distinctions — whether they be the first pick competition or the housing lottery — and fading into the crowd.
This May, when the members of the class of 2014 gather for Commencement in the First Baptist Church in America, they will hear these Latin words delivered by President Christina Paxson: “Auctoritate mihi commissa vos ad gradum Baccalaueri admitto, omniaque jura ac privilegia ad hunc gradum pertinentia, vobis concedo. In huius rei testimonium diplomata vestris conlegis in Collegii Gramine tradam.” Undecipherable to many, the words have been said in the name of tradition, and they have been words that those depicted in every single portrait around the walls of Sayles Hall have once said or heard in his or her time at Brown.
Many of us still value traditions over anything else. These can decline in their utility, but even if they are not the most advanced, that does not mean they should be thrown away.
It is true, the complete digitization of the housing lottery would do an adequate job of replacing the current one from a pragmatic standpoint. It is no secret that problems caused by overcrowding and time commitments can significantly impede the entire process. But many of us students hold the housing lottery dear to our hearts, and we expect it to be a constant staple of not only our own Brunonian experiences but also those of all future classes. While we understand the University’s proposal for an online system, we ask administrators to consider all aspects of the move before one of our traditions is lost.