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Students weigh effects of Row staff selection process changes

Evan Peng / THE STANFORD DAILY

Changes to the Row staffing application and selection process this year   including restrictions on adding or dropping positions during the interview stage and new consequences imposed on staff members who violate the official selection rules   have prompted confusion and frustration for applicants and staff alike.

“Everyone’s just a number,” an anonymous Row staffer told The Daily.

This student, a senior, was granted anonymity due to concern over losing housing and stipend privileges as a result of his comments, consequences he says are newly implemented by Residential Education (ResEd) and will be imposed if staff members are found to be in violation of official staff selection rules. Staff members are reported via an anonymous system, which was made available to Row staff and applicants and linked on the Stanford Residential Education website.

This year, ResEd introduced a new mechanism by which any member of the Stanford community can submit concerns about behavior they deem to be out of line with “stated expectations of the selection process,” according to a statement ResEd Associate Dean Nate Boswell wrote to The Daily on Tuesday.

Miscommunication and confusion have characterized the staff selection process this year, largely as a result of the new changes, students say. Initial staff offers were officially released on Mar. 7, although a leaked link allowed students to view their selection results a day early.

The changes were intended to “improve the selection process,” Boswell wrote. They were made after the incorporation of “feedback from applicants and hiring managers in order to emphasize consistency and clarity.”

However, according to Jane Clayton ’19, the current Resident Assistant from 576 Alvarado, the limited communication regarding the updated rules mitigated the intended benefits.

“It basically ended up having not only not the effect that they wanted, but the literal inverse of it,” Clayton said.

Clayton said that having connections to current staffers remained beneficial because people who knew more about the interview process and the individual houses were more likely to apply to a greater number of positions at fewer houses, increasing their chance at a match at a particular house. Those who knew less about the houses were likely to apply to a wider range of houses, but were then unable to change their positions when they learned more about the communities.

Changes

The staffing selection process uses the Gale-Shapley algorithm — also known as the Deferred Acceptance algorithm, which has been employed by The Stanford Marriage Pact — to create “stable” matches that take into account the preferences of staffers and applicants alike.

The primary changes to the staffing application process this year revolved around the ability of applicants to add or drop positions throughout the interview process. While in previous years applicants could perform either of these tasks, this year, students who applied for the maximum 15 positions at the outset were unable to officially change their positions.

Boswell emphasized that students who did not select their maximum 15 positions at the outset could still adjust the positions to which they were applying later on in the process. This ability, Boswell wrote, “gives applicants some flexibility as they learn more about the specific responsibilities, particularly on the Row where are several different position descriptions with varying job functions and expectations.”

However, according to Clayton, this change was not explicitly disclosed to applicants, leaving the responsibility of informing applicants to current staff members.

An email sent from the BOB staff to applicants on Feb. 19 reiterated this confusion for staff members as well. The email, provided to The Daily, read in part: “All of the details regarding the new rules for selection this year were not laid out for us in the beginning so we couldn’t relay that information back to you all. If anyone has any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to email us and we can try our best to help you out. Your best point of contact, however, may be [email protected] as they have the actual power to potentially make any changes.”

Clayton admitted that she was still attempting to figure out the extent that applicants and staff alike were informed of the changes early in the process. She emphasized that, regardless of whether some staff or applicants were actually more informed than she initially believed, the main problem was that the change was not sufficiently highlighted.

“Just to be on the receiving end of like many pages and pages of text and long emails all the time, it’s really hard to pick out a really substantial thing like that,” Clayton noted. “[ResEd] never really clearly delineated ‘This is a substantial change from last year.’”

According to the Stanford Residential Education website, houses may interview each applicant a maximum of twice per house, per position. Each house, however, follows its own timeline and interview process. For instance, some students “could receive no interview invitations within the first two weeks, and then receive several in the third week.”  The website thus recommends that students do not assume where they are in the interview process with any given house.

Yet, Clayton said that students had previously appreciated the ability to switch positions throughout the process because it allowed them to drop positions in houses where they did not believe they would be offered a position, which they would infer when they were not granted either a first-round or second-round interview.

Even if offered an interview, Clayton added that students often used the flexibility to add positions at houses in which they liked the culture and staff dynamic, or drop positions if they did not think the house provided the environment they were seeking.

Kiki Couchman ’20 applied to staff this year and found the process to be unclear. She said that when she attempted to withdraw from two houses she originally applied to, she thought she could do so by communicating directly with the current staff. However, she was unaware that the withdrawal process could only be handled through the selection portal, not via current staffers.

The process required applicants to submit a ranked list of position and house preferences by February 27 at 12:00 pm. The ResEd website, however, tells applicants: “You should list only positions/houses you would commit to working in.” It continues, “DO NOT list positions/houses that you absolutely would not want to work in. If you are placed in a position/house, you will receive only that one placement; if you withdraw from that placement for any reason you will be ineligible to staff in any residence.”

The ability to add and drop positions during the interview process has been criticised as a method that incentivized staff members to provide “unofficial” offers to students and promoted nepotism.

One reason for this criticism is that staff members in the past would unofficially offer a student a position to which they did not apply — often a role with fewer applicants — and request that the student thus change their application to match with the role offered.

The anonymous Row staffer acknowledged that nepotism has been an ongoing issue for Row houses, but they said that the unofficial offer process was often beneficial for building a staff because so many people would apply to the same, higher-paying, positions.

“I would say 80 percent of our applicants only applied to RA or CM positions,” the anonymous staffer said. With threats of consequences being imposed on staff granting unofficial offers and operating outside of the selection process, in addition to the add/drop changes, they added that there was no way this year to communicate to people that they should rank other positions instead.   

Clayton said that the extent of the issues with the changes did not become apparent until the final stages of the interview process.

“It just meant that a lot of applicants who would have really wanted positions at certain places weren’t able to add positions, and houses who would have wanted those applicants weren’t able to add those applicants,” Clayton said.

Mitigating nepotism

Clayton emphasized that she believes ResEd was coming from a “very genuine place” when making the changes to the process.

“They really were trying to mitigate nepotism on the Row, which everyone acknowledges is a historically nepotistic place,” Clayton said.

Even so, Clayton believes the changes neither took into account the wide variety of influences that contribute to the staffing process nor the differing levels of students’ prior knowledge about both the various houses and the application process in general.

Clayton explained that the application and interview process are often the first time that students are able to see what houses and communities are really like. She added that this is particularly true for students who “have been historically underrepresented on the Row.” Thus, students more informed about the process and the Row communities had an inherent advantage when applying.

“It ended up that people who had lived in houses before would rank every position in a given house and thus have a much higher chance of getting in there because they were listed for every position,” Clayton said. “And staffs that were trying to be not nepotistic would end up being nepotistic just by the nature of the limited selections of applicants they would have.”

The anonymous staffer found greatest issue with the inability to create a team of staffers. He was adamant that staffing is as much about the team dynamic as the strengths of individual students.

“We’re struggling in deliberations feeling like we have no control over who ends up in the house next year,” he said. “The match doesn’t encapsulate the complexities of building an amazing team.”

From the applicant side, Couchman said that a significant part of accepting her offer as a staff member for the 2019-2020 school year was knowing the team with which she would be working. She added that, as all organizations depend on strong leadership, she felt an effective team dynamic was essential to fostering community within a house.  

Couchman also acknowledged that housing nepotism has been a persistent problem on the Row, but added that she believes it will exist regardless of the systems and rules put in place.

“This new system, even though it goes through an algorithm, it’s still ranking people and that’s still completely swayed by who you know, and I just think it’s really hard when you’re being evaluated by your peers to not come in with any preconceived ideas or perceptions and like your previous relationships with applicants,” she said.

Contact Emma Smith at esmith11 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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