Back in the dark days of college applications, when official university websites filled my search history, I remember poring over information about residential life at the country’s top schools. There were residential colleges at Harvard and Yale. Princeton had freshman-only dorms, which fed into mysterious societies called eating clubs that seem to be coed fraternities in everything but name. There was Rice, with its residential colleges that had completely eclipsed Greek life on campus.
And then there was Stanford: some freshman dorms, some four-class, and a collection of fraternities, sororities, upperclass dorms, co-ops, self-ops, and apartment style living, among others. There was FroSoCo and ITALIC and a smattering of other programs like EAST house for the upperclassmen. Like most things about Stanford, residential life sounded exciting but overwhelming. Also like most things, I hoped to gain clarity once I arrived at campus in the fall.
I did gain clarity about most aspects of Stanford once stepping onto campus. I internalized the campus layout, figured out how to register for classes, decided on a major, and grasped the ebb and flow of the social scene here. Unfortunately, though, housing is still a mystery to me. From my conversations with upperclassmen, it seems that the structure of Stanford housing remains a confusing, unstructured system that works out to varying degrees come June.
Coming up on spring quarter, many of my friends and I have already begun to discuss our dorm community in nostalgic terms. I live in West Lagunita, a dorm of sixty freshman and sixty upperclassmen. I’m a relatively quiet person, outgoing only among close friends, and often shy about starting conversations with acquaintances. Nonetheless, thanks to NSO dorm programming and the social exhilaration of freshman year, I’ve developed friendly and comfortable relationships with most of the freshman in my dorm. I say hello and ask how they’re doing in the halls, and try to remember what people are studying and how many siblings they have. West Lagunita has evolved into a sort of massive household of extended relatives. I don’t know everyone like a brother or sister, but there’s a familiarity, respect, and goodwill that reminds me of a house full of cousins, aunts, and uncles.
But all of that will disappear next year, when we disperse in a mile-and-a-half radius around campus. And as much as we might want to imagine otherwise, the sad truth is that we won’t all remain in contact in the new year. At best, I’ll see perhaps ten of my freshman dorm mates on a regular basis. Everyone else will become a passing hello from a bike seat.
Ripped from the proverbial womb, we will be thrown into a melting pot of dorm draw groups in an unfamiliar building. Maybe we’ll have some dorm programming at the beginning of the year to facilitate introductions, and maybe we won’t. Maybe I’ll make friends on my hall, and maybe they will forever remain familiar but unknown faces.
Then there’s the issue of draw groups. The draw reminds me a lot of elementary school PE class: our gym teacher would tell us to get in groups of three or four, which inevitably forced us to exclude a friend or two. Sometimes the fallout from gym class group-selection lasted for weeks, and that was for a twenty minute game of dodgeball. This is an entire year of living, eating, and sleeping.
Of course, we aren’t elementary school students anymore, and hopefully we’ve all moved beyond the petty vendettas that plagued us as ten-year-olds. But exclusion still hurts. The draw is, in effect, a system of preferentially ranking friends and hoping your friends will rank you among their top three, too. So far, this has been a messy and often awkward process of asking and politely declining offers for draw groups. I haven’t lost any friends over the draw, but I’ve experienced a mixture of guilt and sadness at the prospect of losing proximity to some of my favorite people on campus.
Sometimes I wish Stanford used the residential college system, leaving our freshman community intact for the next three years. At such an enormous, overwhelming institution like Stanford, why can’t we be guaranteed a familiar home base for four years? Why do we have to split up and scatter, sacrificing the communities we just spent a year building?
But maybe there’s something to be said for forcing students to live in a range of environments. For one, it heightens the probability of encountering a diverse set of people and experiences while at Stanford. It also forces you to take some initiative over your living situation, and to be proactive about what you value in a community; since you have to leave your freshman dorm anyway, why not check out a co-op and see what it’s like? Finally, the haphazard nature of Stanford housing might also prevent us from reaching social burnout, as I and many others felt leaving high school, sometimes with populations of less than five hundred students.
Am I nervous about the draw and the future of my social life? Absolutely. But unfortunate circumstances have a way of yielding unexpected benefits. So before we all curse the draw, let’s see where it takes us.
Contact Avery Rogers at averyr ‘at’ stanford.edu.