Let's go back in time to the summer before your freshman year. You've just received your housing assignment and find that you've landed in some residence hall — let's call it "A" in the spirit of non-discrimination.
Fast forward: It's the big day. Your parents drop you off at "A," there are bittersweet goodbyes, and you're on your own. A new stage of your life has begun, yada yada, dreams fulfilled and happy thoughts.
But then things quickly take a turn for the worst. Your new roommate walks through the door and you realize you could very well abhor this person. You figure you might find solace with other people in your hall, though you don't hit it off with anyone. Oh, and there's a tree branch conveniently lodged against your window.
Being reasonable, you decide to give it time: Maybe you'll come around to the people in your hall or learn to appreciate the natural beauty of branches.
But things don't improve. How could the almighty housing questionnaire have smote ye thus?
Matters are exacerbated by the fact that you've been visiting other residence halls over the past few days, and have taken a particular liking to the people of hall "B," which is in a different building altogether. You realize you would love to live in "B."
So what are your options? And by options I mean option: You could try to officially change residence halls.
But that's a poor prospect. The room change process is long and bureaucratic, requiring futile RC and CD reconciliation counseling, ResLife intervention and dreaded forms; and even then, there's no guarantee there are room alternatives available at all, let alone in another dorm, especially at an earlier time of the year.
And just like that you're out of option (sic).
How did we arrive at this little predicament? The current freshman housing placement system is arbitrary and inflexible. You get what you get, and if you don't like what you get the chances of a remedy are discouraging.
Now I know what you're thinking: This situation is unrealistic. Most people don't despise their freshman living situations — the majority of people are content at worst.
First, the operative word here is "most." I'm sure everyone knows someone who did not like his or her living situation. That being said, majority contentment doesn't excuse the fact that a minority of first-year students are effectively being condemned to housing hell each year.
Second, in my opinion, just being content with your living situation isn't acceptable. The dorm experience should be a positive one. That doesn't necessarily mean befriending everyone on your hall, but you should definitely enjoy living where you live.
The bottom line is freshmen shouldn't be forced to live somewhere when there's a better alternative for them just around the bend. If you prefer to live somewhere else, you should be given at least the opportunity to try to live there.
This ideal might be realized in part — or perhaps even in full — by looking to MIT.
MIT has an exemplary program for first-years called Residence Exploration. During the summer, incoming freshmen are assigned residence halls and temporary rooms (through a lottery) based on initial dorm preferences and a personality questionnaire. The fact that they can rank residence halls is already an improvement on Brown's virtually autocratic system.
Then, when freshmen arrive at school, they engage in a so called "dorm rush" (we'd call it "dorm shopping"), wherein students get a feel for the various dorms and the people in them through myriad activities and social events. At the end of the process, if students prefer their current residence halls to any other, they can stay in them. If they find they would prefer to live somewhere else, they can elect to enter the "housing readjustment lottery."
For the "lottery," students rank their dorm preferences (which may include their current dorm). The lottery results determine priority, and dorms are finally assigned based on preferences and availabilities.
But that's not all. Now that students have been assigned their permanent dorms, there is an "in-house rush." Students survey the floors of their dorm and rank them accordingly. They subsequently get assigned a floor, and work out their roommate and room situations with their fellow floor-mates.
More first-years get to be in a residence hall they like, with people they like, which means fewer freshmen being merely content and way more freshmen actually happy about their living situation.
MIT freshmen happier than Brown freshmen about something? We've gone through the looking glass.
As far as I can tell there's nothing preventing Brown from adopting a parallel system: It is democratic and fair, thus better satisfying the interests of the students than the current system; it would increase residence hall unity and pride (as more people would actually want to live where they are living); it would provide an outlet for fun social events; and best of all, it would provide another reason for Brown students to ironically say "shopping."
So let's climb back up the rabbit hole and correct this injustice, both to freshmen and the cosmic order.
Jared Lafer '11 is a philosophy concentrator from Manhattan. He can be reached at jared_lafer (at) brown.edu