For Columbia students 110 years ago, springtime was the harbinger of humiliation.
It was a time when students from other schools made their housing selections, leaving Columbia students to face the reality that the College had no residential buildings. “Columbia, hey? Sort of a day school, ain’t it? ” Cornell students would quip, according to an article by Herbert Howe in the Columbia University Quarterly’s 1932 edition.
A far cry from the “day school” it once was, Columbia’s residential system has evolved over the century, and continues to change as the University currently addresses a dearth of dormitory space and flaws in the housing-selection process. Students will experience these changes this week as they line up in John Jay Lounge and, across Broadway, Barnard’s James Room to make their housing selections under revamped systems, and they will continue to experience them as they move into newly furnished buildings next fall.
Confronting a Spacing Situation with Housing Renovation
In light of an economic climate that has taken a toll on the housing market, increasing numbers of students have opted for on-campus housing. Due to an increase in demand that exceeded housing space in the fall of 2008, several dozen Columbia students were housed in Barnard and University Apartment Housing. For the 2009-2010 school year, new layouts creating 30 doubles—and eliminating 30 singles—in Watt, McBain, and Ruggles will be made in order to address this problem.
“There’s no reason to pay the extra money,” said Scott Wright, vice president of student auxiliary services, explaining the increase in students registering for on-campus housing. “There’s no reason to lease a place for 12 months versus somewhere for nine.”
But for those who expect to be living in these dormitories where there will be more rooms, the change is not necessarily welcomed.
“I think the major problem is going to be bathroom usage,” Román Rodriguez, CC’ 10, said, who is a current McBain resident. “Putting more people on each floor is only going to make waits longer and increase student dissatisfaction.”
Additionally, certain floors within dormitories will experience a facelift. Several floors in Broadway will be redone, a change that Wright says is “purely centered around aesthetics and comfort.” Floors 10 through 12 in Wien will go from having a single bathroom to having three per floor—a men’s, women’s, and a unisex bathroom. All suites on one floor of East Campus will be redone, including new kitchens, flooring, and furniture. Overhead lights will be placed in all Watt rooms, as it currently remains one of the only buildings that doesn’t have them. A few dormitories, including Carman and Furnald, will require the use of student id cards instead of Swiss keys to open rooms.
These renovations will make already-coveted dormitories even more desirable, increasing the competition in the cutthroat housing selection process. And this competition might be further intensified as a host of new housing selection policies are introduced, benefiting some students at the expense of others.
All is Fair in the Housing Score?
Columbia housing has instated a number of new rules in an effort to make what housing administrators hope will be a more “fair” process. 30-point groups of all seniors can pick before a group selecting a 30-point East Campus exclusion suite. Groups of five seniors also have the option to pick into a 30-point East Campus suite during their appointment time.
Yet some policies intended to benefit seniors have caused controversy. The Same Room/Same Suite policy has been eliminated, prohibiting students from holding onto favorable dorms from one year to the next. Orthodox Jewish students, who had benefited from this policy because it allowed them to retain East Campus suites that would accommodate their dining and Sabbath observance needs, must now relinquish these suites pending success in the lottery. Though Wright said he was addressing the issue with Columbia/Barnard Hillel Rabbi David Almog, many students say they are still dissatisfied with the housing administration’s response.
“Housing was not really responsive, to say the least,” president of Yavneh, Hillel’s orthodox group, Jordan Katz, CC ’11, said. “They just didn’t seem to have any idea what to do about it, and that was very disappointing.”
Rising sophomores, too, will be experiencing changes in the selection process. Sophomore groups in Suite Selection can participate in Sophomore Pair Up, which will give students the option to split into groups of two and pick into corridor-style doubles or drop to General Selection.
“It’s always nice to have a plan B in your back pocket,” Erik Nook, CC ’12, said. “But I guess the only con is that people with really low lottery numbers could be disadvantaged.”
“These changes in room selection—Sophomore Pair Up, 30 point groups—it’s more conducive to what students want,” Brian Birkeland, Assistant Director of Housing and Accommodation Services, said. “We’re listening to what they want so that we can serve them as best as possible.”
And on the other side of Broadway, administrators, too, are following some students’ calls for changes in housing policy.
Barnard’s Housing is a-Changin’
Following a room selection survey, suggestions made by Barnard’s Housing Advisory Board, and a Student Government Association Town Hall meeting, changes will be implemented in Barnard’s housing selection process that reflect a desire among students for increased flexibility in suite selection.
Under the new system, students register individually, receiving a lottery number independent of that of their potential suitemates. After groups form, each group’s lottery number will be the highest number of anyone in the group. If the available housing options at the time of selection do not match a group’s size, the group will then be able to reform on the spot. In the past, students were not allowed to change the size of their groups after registering.
“I think that it does add for flexibility by anticipating the possible and sometimes likely change in the members of a housing group,” Rachel Abady, BC ’12, said.
But some students have remained skeptical, questioning the insecurity that the policy causes, in that no group is certain until it has officially made its housing choice.
“I think that the new group formation policy, while convenient in some cases, can be contrived as messy and complicated, and has the potential to create stressful or weird group dynamics among friends,” Jane Handel, BC ’12, said.
Another change is the introduction of new housing registration technology. In the past, students lined up according to the building they wished to lived in and registered by paper. This year, students will line up at stations, where they can register on laptops and track housing availability on an external monitor.
“I think it’s great that students have given us a lot of feedback and have made their voices heard,” Barnard’s Associate Director for Housing Operations Matt Kingston said. “Our department hopes that they’ll be patient as we try to iron out bugs as we make changes for the very first time.”