This Monday, President Shirley Ann Jackson attended a Student Senate meeting. Many concerned students did a great job bringing up issues that are currently plaguing the campus; well thought out questions were asked, and Jackson did a good job responding to all of the concerns.
However, as smoothly as this meeting was, both students and Jackson glossed over a giant issue that has plagued this campus since I was a sophomore: the Clustered Learning and Support for Students initiative. Although Jackson clearly admitted that the program was “not perfect” and poorly implemented, it is still in effect and causing problems for a significant number of students.
As a senior, I was in the last class of sophomores that got to live wherever they wanted. If I had been smart, I should have picked to live off campus. However, I was foolish and I thought squatters’ rights would be around forever.
When I was a freshman, I was lucky enough to live in the proximity of a large group of friends. When room selection time came around, Amanda Bingel, the associate dean of Residence Life, was nice enough to hold a meeting to explain how the lottery system worked and how we could all effectively game the system to achieve desired results. As a group of about 15 or so people, we planned and schemed and placed the appropriate people on the appropriate housing slip and attempted to find a great place to live that would fit everyone. We were lucky. We managed to get three rooms in Polytechnic Apartments.
I remember feeling so relieved when the lottery process was over; never again would we have to wait nervously for the fates to decide where we were going to live.
But then the CLASS initiative came around and squatters’ rights were abolished as it became impossible to incorporate the existing system with the new plan, requiring freshmen and sophomores to live on campus. My group of friends and I worked our way through two more years of learning the new lottery system. We lasted through the year when it was announced during mid-winter break that we would need to write an essay in order to live in Polytech. We survived last year when we all had ridiculously high lottery numbers and thought that there was no way we would all make it into the apartment.
That last time may have been the worst. Trying to decide which member of your group of friends should get kicked out because there is only one good lottery number amongst all of you is a miserable process.
The CLASS initiative was started to help build a sense of community on campus amongst students. But this is a flawed system for two very distinct reasons: no decisive plan was established before the initiative was implemented and now the system is getting bogged down with logistical errors. Also, it is foolish to try and artificially establish a sense of community in a group that has or is currently establishing that community for themselves.
Because no set plan was created for CLASS, ResLife has had to adjust to changing housing regulations. So far every year I have been at RPI, the housing lottery has changed into a more complex and confusing system. In 2010, ResLife required us to write an essay explaining why we wanted to live in Polytech. In 2011, there were three different lottery systems. There was even the concern that a few freshmen that year did not have available housing and would have to wait until someone dropped out of their contract.
This is not conducive to building a community. The stress and nervousness of changing locations so frequently does not lend itself to creating and maintaining friends. If you build a community one year, there is no guarantee you will be able to keep it through to the next.
The reason I discussed my situation with my group of friends earlier is because it clearly demonstrates how difficult it is to maintain the community we built for ourselves with this system that supposedly promotes community living. RPI cannot force a community upon us when we are already establishing that community ourselves.
I wish we could go back to what the housing system used to be like, back when it was clear and accessible. Freshmen and sophomores could mingle and live with upperclassmen as they chose and students could more easily get what the wanted. However, as I have been told by multiple people, the CLASS initiative is here to stay. No matter how obnoxious or obtrusive the program has become, it has been pushed so adamantly by the administration that it will never go away.
RPI, please look at and understand the challenges your students must face. Do not implement programs without fully establishing a plan for how they will work practically.