The Potential of a Group Lottery Option

By Sarah Kahwash

The housing lottery is a notoriously bitter event: its hierarchy of arbitrary lottery numbers often puts students in awkward or vulnerable positions with their peers, and many first years leave campus in May technically without housing for the fall semester. These problems are exacerbated by our growing student population, our inability to expand too far into Gambier and frequent construction projects that create awkward fluctuations in the housing supply (e.g., the North Campus Apartments opening mid-year, the gradual destruction of the Bexley Apartments, etc). Needless to say, students’ complaints about the way Kenyon allocates housing are warranted.

But there is a problem with these complaints: nobody has suggested a reasonable alternative—not even other schools. First year housing aside, schools comparable to Kenyon in size and geographic location operate on a remarkably similar system to ours. A comparison between Kenyon and a few similar schools—Grinnell, Denison, Williams and Hamilton—indicates that our housing process functions relatively well. These small, remotely located colleges house their students by means of a lottery; aside from a smattering of negligible differences, nobody seems to have thought of a more efficient system.

Our housing system is imperfect, but we lack a better alternative. In fact, some of our housing policies demonstrate more flexibility than is characteristic of lotteries elsewhere. Many colleges that use a housing lottery, for example, strongly discourage possible transfers from entering, whereas Kenyon often provides housing to students in the process of making their decision whether to stay or go.

Our system could benefit from at least one modification, though: the option of entering the lottery as a group and receiving one number.After all, Kenyon students may resent the walk from Mather to Peirce every morning because of bad luck in the lottery, but the students most intensely dissatisfied with the process are arguably those who feel betrayed by their more fortunate friends, guilty about their inability to help less fortunate friends or worst of all, friendless.Entering the lottery as a group—prior to number assignments—diminishes the politics involved with riding on another student’s number, or conversely, pulling a friend up.

This policy works well for our peer schools: Denison calls it a “group lottery,” Grinnell offers “group draw,” Hamilton organizes a “blocking lottery” separate from its general lottery and Williams allows groups of up to six members to enter the same lottery. Students at those schools have their fair share of complaints, but altered dynamics within friend groups probably is not one of them. The group housing option stands as a popular feature of several other housing systems, and there must be a legitimate reason for its success.

Group housing may seem idealistic, and has the potential to disrupt an already functional system, but it has proven successful elsewhere. Aside from predetermined point and class distinctions concerning themed/division housing and certain apartments like NCAs and Morgans, rooms are currently assigned based on one number only: the best number of any group of students who sign up. Our current system of counting only the highest lottery number in a proposed group seems to be the simplest option, but effective group numbering is not especially complicated, either. Schools that offer a group option either average members’ numbers or simply assign one number to the group as a whole; the former takes point values and class years into account and the latter evens the playing field entirely, so group housing is flexible enough to be compatible with whatever goal Residential Life has for that venue—whether to factor in GPA and disciplinary history or not, for instance. In addition, ResLife would have options as to how group lottery numbers would fit in to the system; they could construct a separate lottery like Hamilton’s, or assign numbers to individuals and groups in the same lottery, as is the case at Williams.

One could argue that leaving our group housing process as it is increases the likelihood that one member of a group will qualify for a desirable apartment, but that probability applies to every other prospective group and individual, too. A group lottery option, therefore, wouldn’t hinder your chances of getting the housing you wanted so much as it would force you to solidify your group prior to the lottery. Nobody would have to deal with the uncertainty of being an Acland alternate or the extra third member in a group of Hanna triple hopefuls.

It would be presumptuous to claim that the introduction of a group lottery number would completely eliminate any of the politics involved in student housing. Students would still have to form groups, and determining the members would inevitably arouse awkward situations in some cases. But a group lottery would help eliminate those last minute changes that make Kenyon’s housing lottery so tense for so many people, and as shown by several other schools, such an option lacks major pitfalls. Considering these facts, Kenyon should seriously consider implementing a group lottery option.

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