Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

When you get to campus each Fall, whether after a however-many-hours-long flight or a hectic car ride, the first thing on your mind (aside from the ever-increasing wail of “WHERE CAN I GET FOOD”), is likely not setting up your planner or making sure you have enough toothpaste to last until midterms; it is likely where you’re living, what room you have, and who you’re living with. In short, it’s safe to say that housing is the bedrock of the Andover experience. It occupies a subtle but essential space in our lives. And like bedrock: when the ground beneath you shifts, you feel it. 

For years, Andover has used the lottery system to assign students dorms for the following school year. Typically accompanied by an online survey, students could indicate cluster, dorm size, roommate, and dorm-mate preferences. When Covid-19 hit, housing processes were (understandably) changed accordingly. Yet, when Spring of 2021 rolled around, the administration unveiled a new housing system for the 2021-2022 school year — 9/10 dorms being the subject of most controversy. 

“It’s fine,” we said. “It’s an awful idea, but it’s been a hard year. When we’re out of the woods it’ll get better. It might not be as bad as we’re expecting. And by then, they’ll certainly get rid of 9/10 dorms and reinstate the lottery system anyway, right? . . . right?” The answer, however, was surprising.

With the lottery/survey combination, students felt heard. Not just in an abstract, idealistic sense, but in a concrete way. Here was this housing process that took into account not only our needs, but our wants and preferences—those “frivolities” which really aren’t frivolities at all and are in fact integral to our boarding experience. Students want to live with people they know and are comfortable around. Students want to deepen bonds we may not be able to outside of a dorm setting. We want to have some say in one of the perhaps one of the most quintessential aspects of Andover life. Students want to live with their friends—and therein too, lies the problem.

From an administrative perspective, there are a multitude of good reasons to switch to our new housing system. Dorm cultures are notoriously insular, and as years go on, a once tight-knit community can morph into a petri dish of exclusion and toxicity. Larger dorms particularly are more susceptible to becoming less “cohesive dorm communities” and more “five friend groups in one building existing alongside, but not with, each other.” Our new system may shake loose these insular groups, potentially creating a more welcoming residential experience. 

It is also as likely to create lonelier, more incoherent dorm communities. With the tightest of groups moving to stacks, it may also be probable that students in larger dorms may feel adrift in residential circumstances they feel tense or uncomfortable in. But that will be for the future to judge. Right now, without clarity into administrative rationale for the switch to the new system, this change seems more likely to breed resentment than quell it. Instead of comprehensive and sudden change in pursuit of solving a problem, perhaps more gradual and involved efforts would have been more appreciated—after all, you don’t amputate an arm before you stitch up a wound.

While no doubt thought through and deliberated, there is one key voice missing from decisions on student housing: students themselves. After all, the result of any change to housing systems overwhelmingly affects us and the broader student culture. In the last year alone, with the introduction of the 9/10 dorm system, lowerclassmen and upperclassmen were denied the opportunity to make meaningful friendships and connections within their dorms (barring prefect/prefectee roles). The consequences of these decisions, often made without our voices, falls on us. After all, when fall term rolls around, it won’t be administration shouldering an icy roommate and a 12 minute walk to commons—it’ll be us.

This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian, Vol. CXLV.