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The Implementation Committee for Theme-Based Living and Room Selection Process

In early October, President Christ appointed a committee to follow up on some of the recommendations of last year’s Task Force on Residential Living. The committee on theme-based living and the room selection process was asked “to propose a system for students to request theme-based living options” and to recommend changes that would improve the room selection process. Earlier in the year, she had appointed another implementation committee to make recommendations regarding dining.

The committee includes Jeannine Belton, Associate Dean for Residential Life; Natalie Basil, Assistant Director of Residential Life; Diane Benoit, Manager of Building Services; Randy Shannon, Housing Coordinator; Lauren Barth-Cohen ’05; Rachel Spain ’06; and Tom Riddell, Associate Dean of the College and Dean of the First-Year Class, chair.

The committee met throughout the fall semester and continues to meet this semester. This semester we are working to develop a recommendation for a procedure for theme-based living options in the residential system. In early November, a message was sent to the campus announcing its charge and soliciting ideas from the community regarding theme-based living options and the room selection process. A dozen replies were received, all focused on opinions, pro and con, regarding theme-based living options.

The May 2003 Residential Life Task Force report found that many students complain that it is too hard (or risky) to try to change houses in the room selection process and the default tends to encourage students to simply stay in the house to which they were originally assigned. On the other hand, the report also emphasized the importance of more movement and interaction across houses and the Smith community. The report recommended that an implementation committee assess the current room selection process and attempt to create a system in which students who wish to remain in their houses may do so and, at the same time, makes it possible for (encourages) those who wish to move to be able to do so.

The Work of the Committee and a Proposal for Reforming the Room Selection Process

Throughout the fall, the committee has been examining the organization of Smith’s unique and complex room selection process. We are indebted to one of our staff members, Randy Shannon, the college’s Housing Coordinator, and to our two student members, Lauren Barth-Cohen ’05 and Rachel Spain ’06, for helping us to understand how this complicated process works. Clearly, the process works best for those who wish to remain in their houses. At the same time, it discourages students who would like to move to another house because it creates greater uncertainties: 1. that they may not be assigned to their most preferred house; and 2. that they may not get to select a room. Some of that uncertainty is a consequence of limited spaces, due to the number of enrolled students choosing rooms and the number of rooms set aside for entering first-year and transfer students. The committee was interested in exploring ways to increase the number of available rooms so that the opportunities for moving would be enhanced.

The committee spent some time early in its work examining the room selection process at comparable institutions. As a result of this research, we have developed a proposal which we think will accomplish the task that was set for us -- to allow those who wish to remain in their houses to be able to do so while giving greater encouragement to those who would like to move and increase their chances at being able to do so.

A Proposal for Making the Room Selection Process Fairer

Students who submit an application to study away in the coming year (for the fall or for the entire year) would be ineligible to participate in the room selection process for the coming year. (This procedure is used at a number of comparable institutions, including Wesleyan, Bowdoin, and Bryn Mawr.) This restriction would apply to students applying for Smith Junior Year Abroad Programs, approved study abroad programs, the Picker and Smithsonian Programs as well as the Twelve College and other similar exchanges.

This would prevent students from hedging and selecting rooms in early April that they are later removed from after they turn in a leave of absence form on May 1. This current practice leaves a large number of students without rooms (150 to 200 in recent years) after the selection process is completed. These unhoused students are then placed in the “summer lottery” process. (In recent years, about 230 students have been on approved study away programs for the fall or for the whole year.)

If study-away students do not participate in the room selection process, it would open up more spaces in the houses and thereby have three positive effects. 1) Fewer students would be left “unhoused” in early April; 2) fewer students would be delegated to the “summer lottery” (which would leave fewer students uncertain about their housing and would relieve the Housing Coordinator from having to assign all these students to housing over the summer); and 3) more rooms would be available, thus enhancing the opportunities for students who were exploring the possibility of changing houses.

Proposed Timeline
The committee proposes an open campus meeting for comment and feedback on this proposal on Monday, February 16, at 5 pm in Seelye 106. The intention is to proceed with the implementation of this policy for this year, but we want students to have an opportunity to register their concerns or support for this change. Such feedback would allow for any changes or revisions that might make this option work even better in improving the room selection process this year and in the future.

1. February 2, 2004 – Deadline for applications for Smith Junior Year Abroad Programs.

2. February 16, 2004 – Deadline for approved study abroad programs.

3. Deadlines for other study away programs are: Picker, November 1; Twelve College Exchange, February 2; Smithsonian, February 26; Pomona and Historically Black Colleges, March 1.

4. Late February – an e-mail reminder from Randy Shannon, the Housing Coordinator, Residence Life, Office of Student Affairs, that a JYA or approved study abroad (or similar study away) application removes the student from the room selection process.

5. If a student changes her mind and withdraws her application to study away, she must notify Randy Shannon, Housing Coordinator, no later than March 12 if she wishes to participate in the room selection process.

6. After the March 12 deadline, if a student decides not study away, or is not accepted by the non-Smith (but approved) program to which she has applied, or if there is a travel ban affecting the country to which the student has applied and been accepted, then that student’s housing request will be placed in the “summer housing lottery.”

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