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It’s not you, it’s my room: Lottery strains friendships

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Allie and Morgan stood nervously outside their friend Rachel’s door. The three freshmen had rehearsed the conversation they were about to have enough times to make it appear natural, but it was still a touchy subject.

They walked in and sat down, attempting to stage a casual conversation with Rachel’s roommate, Chelsea. (Students’ names have been changed in this article to protect their relationships with those they are describing, at their request.) When the topic of the impending housing lottery came up, Allie, Morgan and Rachel began talking about their plans to enter as a triple. After dropping subtle hints, they looked to Chelsea, but she did not seem to be picking up the signals.

Finally Allie turned to her and nonchalantly asked, “So aren’t singles really hard to get?”

The conversation was too indirect and too late – Chelsea had simply assumed she and Rachel would live together again.

“She acted like a kindergartner,” Allie said. “She knew we didn’t want her to live with us, but it was difficult to tell her she couldn’t live with us. It was weird that she put herself in that position.”

Every year, housing drama plays out around campus in a careful ballet that requires equal parts diplomacy and self-interest. For Rachel, that meant her roommate had to go.

“We’re fine roommates, but I subtly had to tell her my priority was the other girls,” Rachel said. “I don’t like being mean to people, I don’t like excluding people, so I kept trying to give hints. But getting that across is hard. When you imply you don’t want to live with someone, it’s like you’re rejecting their compatibility. And it’s hard because you’re still living with this person for the rest of the year.”

Rachel said there is little harbored resentment and she hopes the group can move forward unscathed, but Allie said she doesn’t think Chelsea will want to spend time with them in the future.

“We’re mostly pretending it didn’t happen,” Allie admitted. “We all feel sort of awkward.”

“I wonder if I should have been more blunt, more honest, had that talk in the beginning,” Rachel said. “Would we have caused less drama?”

These four girls are not alone in dealing with such a crisis. Students and administrators said the housing lottery sneaks up on unsuspecting students every year, and choosing groups can make or break friendships.

“People’s feelings about being accepted or rejected by their friends are played out” during the lottery, said Belinda Johnson, director of Psychological Services.

Students wait until the last minute to confront their friends, she said, but by then it is too late and the excluded students are left devastated and without other options.

Mark Rubinstein, a psychotherapist at Psychological Services, said that students wait for the ideal time to work out housing conflicts, but “those Teflon moments don’t happen.”

According to Laura Supkoff ’08, Residential Council lottery chair, ResCouncil hears from students in tears every year at lottery time.

“For most people, the housing lottery (freshman year) is the first time you will ever pick who you will live with,” she said. “Hopefully people learn you don’t have to live with your best friends, and sometimes you don’t want to. It’s really, ‘You’re messy and I’m neat,’ not ‘Do I like you?’ What people need to focus on is, ‘It’s not you, it’s just our living styles.'”

Last man standing

Neil formed an instant bond with some of his hallmates early in the school year. Even before winter break, five of them unofficially decided they would live together. Neil even had a back-up plan – if the fivesome fell through, he and one of the others agreed they would break into a double.

But after winter break, Neil’s backup announced he was pledging a fraternity. The remaining members still agreed to enter as a quad.

Neil’s current roommate then decided to rush, reducing the group to a threesome. Neil and his next-door neighbor quietly discussed becoming a double if necessary.

Neil was not worried – his neighbor was avowedly anti-fraternity and willing to commit now that the lottery deadline was approaching. Neil’s options seemed secure.

But the neighbor was quietly wooed by one of the fraternities and the third remaining member of the group announced he was living with his athletic team members.

In the span of a month, Neil had gone from a solid group of five to flying solo.

“I had to learn not to take this personally – it’s just what was best for everyone,” Neil said. “I’m still friends with all of them.”

Ultimately, Neil scrambled and found two other students looking to form a lottery group.

“As of a month ago, I hadn’t even considered living with these people,” he said.

Andrew, another freshman, also found himself struggling at the last minute. He had taken his lottery group for granted, but at the eleventh hour, he was suddenly the odd man out when his group decided they wanted the flexibility of having an even number of group members.

His group told him their decision the day of the application deadline. Thinking he had only hours to form a new plan and a stack of homework assignments, Andrew went to his computer at 12:30 a.m.

“I looked at the clock and realized I missed the deadline,” he said. “I couldn’t deal with it because I was focusing on other things. I was screwed by the system. There was too much stress – it seems like there’s got to be a better way to do it.”

It’s her or me

Sophie and Casey, two sophomores, became instant best friends when they met in January of their freshman year. Casey then met Amanda through one of her classes and the three grew very close. They decided to enter the housing lottery together.

But the girls quickly realized they didn’t know each other as well as they thought.

“As I spent more and more time with her (Amanda) I realized the way we live our lives is very different,” Casey said. “Certain things about her lifestyle and the choices she made on a regular basis were not necessarily things I could live with.”

Casey sat down with Amanda before the lottery and told her directly why she did not think the two could live together, hoping it would not ruin their friendship.

“I didn’t lay it out in vague terms or sugarcoat it,” she said, adding that she thought a direct approach would be less hurtful.

The girls no longer speak.

Sophie was still content with the plan to live with both of the girls, but Casey delivered an ultimatum. “I don’t want to live with her. I want to live with you,” Casey told Sophie. “You have to choose.”

Suddenly, Casey and Amanda were competing for Sophie’s friendship, and she was completely confused.

Sophie eventually realized that she too could not live with Amanda, who the girls said led too wild a lifestyle for their comfort. With the lottery looming, Casey pushed her to make a decision. Sophie chose Casey.

Amanda and Sophie initially remained on good terms, but “she was definitely hurt,” Sophie said. “She stopped calling as much. I tried to stay in touch with her, but it was hard. The lottery had put a deadline on our friendship.”

Sophie said the lottery acted as a catalyst and made her realize her friendship with Amanda was not meant to last.

Casey agreed that the friendship would have ended anyway, “but lottery forces you to evaluate who you want to spend time with and who you want in your life.”

The lottery conflict remained a lingering cause of resentment in Sophie’s friendship with Amanda.

Even the next fall, Amanda often slyly asked Sophie, “‘How awesome would it have been if we lived together?'”

“But it wouldn’t have been awesome,” Sophie said. “As much as it sucks, as much as it ruined our friendship, if we had evaded it or been nicer about it, we might not have gotten the point across. We might have been stuck living with (Amanda), and it would have been disastrous.”

Let’s be friends

Senior Associate Dean for Residen
tial Life Richard Bova said students approach him and other ResLife officials annually for advice.

“It is better to be upfront and honest at all times, and the earlier people can be honest, the better the process will work for them,” he said. “Feelings get hurt when you wait until the last minute.”

When students make assumptions about their living arrangements, it is usually because they do not have an open, honest dialogue with their friends and potential roommates, he said, adding that the most drama and stress is among freshmen.

Supkoff, the lottery chair, said the housing system works the way it does because Brown believes in giving students choice.

“We did it with our curriculum and we do it with our housing, but the lottery is stressful because you have a choice,” she said. “The lottery system puts a lot of power into students’ hands.”

“The take-home message to anyone who has issues with housing is that there are always possibilities,” she said. “You can live across campus and maintain your friendship. You can have a bad living situation and maintain your friendship. No matter what happens, you can maintain your friendship.”

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