On August 26, 2003, 1546 freshmen marched through the Vanderbilt gates under the watchful eye of the Commodore at the Founder’s Walk, officially becoming the newest members of the community.
Little did they know of the changes in store for their class at the hands of the Office of Housing and Residential Education (OHARE). Rising sophomores selecting a single or double room will be allowed only to select that aspect of their residential preference. What OHARE’s website described as “a system based upon personal choice” has now been replaced by a system of what I call “forced diversity.”
I define “forced diversity” as run-of-the-mill diversity on a power trip. The promotion of “forced diversity” not only allows some groups a greater opportunity to ensure a diverse end, but also mandates or socially engineers situations to be as diverse as possible within that end result.
For example, the promotion of run-of-the-mill diversity would simply allow or give a leg up to girls attending a formerly all-boys school, while the promotion of “forced diversity” would ensure a boy-girl-boy-girl seating chart in the classes at that institution. This may be acceptable for middle school, but not college. Using diversity as a factor in admissions may also be an acceptable policy, but continuing its emphasis into more and more aspects of student life should not be. The next thing you know, students will be bumped from a course so that it can become more demographically “diverse.”
OHARE is now removing the “personal choice” system for sophomore housing selection and installing a system of “forced diversity” in its place.
“Over the last two years, we revised the freshman assignment process to diversify the residence halls. We will work . . . in the coming years to diversify sophomore residential patterns” said Dr. Mark Bandas, Assistant Vice-Chancellor for Housing and Residential Education. He said that OHARE “is very concerned about the patterns of student self-segregation [found] in our residence halls.” Clearly, students have not done a sufficient job diversifying themselves, so Daddy-Vandy is going to do it for them.
In regards to the looming Residential College system, Bandas continued to say that “the interactions that take place . . . between members of a diverse student body will promote learning. The goals of learning and leadership are part of the rationale for the proposed residential college system and the random assignment of students to colleges.”
Yet, the new system of random assignment involves all of the concessions of Residential Colleges without any of the benefits. While Residential Colleges are assigned randomly in the freshman year, one ideally maintains the same college throughout his or her Vanderbilt career. The new system of random assignment breaks bonds fostered through students’ first year, with the rational of a “diverse living environment” as the so-called “benefit.”
Other universities include even more student options in their housing policies. Duke University in Durham, North Carolina is of similar size, in the same region, and of a similar percentage of Greek affiliation. Yet, their system is far more thought-out and considerate of students’ needs than that of Vanderbilt. All freshman residence halls are “linked” to a designated upperclass quadrangle. Students may choose to follow the link their sophomore year, so they may be able to maintain many first-year friendships, or choose to avoid the link and enter into the general housing pool. This method allows students the choice of continuing on their current path or making a change to better suit their personal needs.
Universities running the gamut from the University of California at Berkeley, where Caucasians are a minority to Asian-Americans, to Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, where Caucasians make up almost 92 percent of the student body all allow a great deal of personal choice into their housing policy. Many institutions with similar or differing racial, religious, ethnic, and cultural demographics allow rising sophomores this privilege.
When asked why all classes are not subject to the new housing policy, Bandas responded by saying that “we [OHARE] anticipate an evolutionary approach to addressing this issue. We will grow a solution class by class.” This approach conveniently avoids the uproar of the now indifferent upperclassmen.
Housing should be a private matter. OHARE’s new policy may appear wonderful to the likes of administrators, trustees, and US News and World Report on paper, but it infringes on a student’s ability and right to select his or her most comfortable living environment. If a student is most at ease and satisfied with the housing arraignment of his or her choice, he or she is more likely to execute better socially and academically. Residence halls should be the last place for social engineering and academic exercises in diversity.
Even with 90% of undergraduates opposed to the OHARE plan (as seen in the Vanderbilt Hustler phone poll from 02/06/04,) the administration is pushing ahead with its plan with one alteration. So as to appease Interhall, sophomores will be allowed to request Peabody or Main Campus on their housing ballots, with no guarantees, of course.
Only when personal choice triumphs social engineering and forced diversity, will students be able to put faith in their administration again. Until then, Vanderbilt has decided that the brightest and most diverse class in the history of the University is incapable of choosing where to live.