Beginning in the 2009-10 school year, Wilbur and Stern (with the exception of the theme houses Okada and Casa Zapata) switched entirely to freshman housing. According to conventional wisdom and survey data, all-frosh houses better promote community and rapport with dorm mates than four-class houses do. Yet, some have argued that four-class dorms provide their own benefits; benefits which disappear when the majority of freshmen are secluded in a bubble within the bubble. While advocates for four-class dorms are right to cite advantages for academic advising, they are flat wrong when it comes to improving alcohol safety.
In theory, four-class houses are a great opportunity for informal peer advising, both academically and on a personal level. Upperclassmen have insider knowledge about classes, majors, research and other opportunities that faculty advisors or academic directors cannot provide. On a personal level, upperclassmen can provide guidance regarding typical Stanford struggles, such as becoming more involved in campus activities and how best to balance work and fun. They also have the potential to be exceptional role models, especially when it comes to responsible alcohol consumption. Even for those in all-frosh houses, having upperclassmen in the same dorm complex makes them much more accessible than they would be otherwise.
Unfortunately for advocates of four-class housing, those theoretical benefits do not always pan out in four-class houses. Many upperclassmen were not looking to live with freshmen again, but settled for a four-class house in the draw. While some enjoy the enthusiasm of freshmen, others avoid them. Most importantly, upperclassmen actually tend to be poor role models for the freshmen who emulate them. Contrary to popular belief, four-class houses produce some of the most dangerous drinking habits, and freshmen are often more cautious than their older counterparts. Indeed, upperclassmen, and in particular sophomores, have accounted for most of the increase in alcohol transports this year. In addition, living with older students makes it easier for freshmen to obtain alcohol. Having older students around also makes instituting and enforcing rules about alcohol much more difficult.
Alcohol safety should be a high priority when it comes to formulating housing policies. A recent study from AlcoholEdu showed that Stanford students are high above national average in terms of number of shots typically taken and amount of pregaming. According to Ralph Castro, associate director of Vaden Health Promotion Services, of the alcohol transports over the last four years, 100 percent had consumed hard liquor and 95 percent had pregamed. Upperclassmen tend to think that freshmen are naïve and therefore make poor decisions, but if the mentors from whom they learn are generally making poor decisions as well, how can we expect better results from four-class houses?
Critics are justified in arguing that the restructuring of Wilbur and Stern has denied many freshmen the opportunity to build relationships with upperclassmen and deprived them of invaluable academic guidance. As a community, we should have more opportunities for freshmen to be advised by those with more experience, particularly for academic purposes. However, before we can look to four-class housing as a solution, upperclassmen themselves need to become more responsible role models when it comes to alcohol consumption. In the meantime, Stanford is right to house its newest students away from the corrupting influence of upperclassmen.