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Anchor Housing is the residential system to be implemented in fall 2006 under the official name "Neighborhood Housing." The system is covered here under the name it first bore before a significant series of name changes.
Before the start of "Neighborhood" housing in Fall 2006, Williams upperclass housing was a "free agent" system. Students formed groups of up to four and were assigned lottery numbers within their class. Individuals then chose rooms on campus in order of lottery number, from lowest to highest.
Anchor housing restricts the room draw to a small cluster of dorms. Houses on campus will be divided into four clusters, each containing approximately six houses and one "anchor" house chosen to serve as the social hub of the cluster. Rising sophomores will form groups of six, and each group will be randomly assigned to a cluster. Upperclassmen will choose rooms in a lottery exclusive to their own cluster. Students remain in the same cluster throughout their time at Williams.
The housing system was formed with the following goals in mind, as presented by the CUL at two informational forums in 2004:
- More autonomous social life: more local control, funding, and energy; less dependence on ACE; more variety - parties, big weekend traditions, intramurals, faculty interaction
- More active residential integration: not merely desegregation, but genuine and lively communities
- Improved sophomore experience: deeper connections to other class years
- Ability to live with friends, and have options within the system
There are ideas for a "House Cup" and House IM teams, cluster-associated faculty and informal events with them, designated bulletin boards in the Paresky Center, and cluster outings, but plans are not definite yet. Some students (and CUL members) joked about whether the clusters will be named after the houses in the Harry Potter books. As it turned out, the clusters ended up being named after their anchor houses, though some other sets of four names were available for voting.
The anchor houses and their associated dorms are:
- Currier: Fitch, Prospect, East, Fayerweather
- Dodd: Hubbell, Goodrich House, Parsons, Sewall, Tyler, Tyler Annex, Thompson, Lehman
- Spencer: Morgan, West, Brooks, Bryant, Mark Hopkins
- Wood: Perry, Garfield, Agard, Gladden, Carter
Dodd Annex will become Economics faculty offices.
For the CUL's complete description of anchor housing, see the full proposal. It is fairly detailed and includes a history of housing at Williams, though it perpetuates the misconception that the change from house affiliation to free agency was driven by the administration and was "accidental." In fact, students were freely swapping rooms well before the official switch to Free Agency, thus a de facto free agency system existed at the end of the House Affiliation period.
Anchor housing was first proposed by the 1999-2000 Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) under the leadership of Professor Charles Dew, a Williams alum from the time when College housing was based around fraternities. The proposed system was abandoned by the 2002 CUL in favor of making discrete changes to room draw procedures: decreasing the size of pick groups from 7 to 4, implementing a blind room draw, and instituting gender caps on individual houses. There are a number of reasons given for this change: 2005 CUL members claimed that the Committee of 2000 wanted to give their changes time to work, and allow time to see how the new House Coordinator system was faring; students who were on campus in 1999-2000 suggest that the student body protested the idea of anchor housing strongly enough to convince the CUL to back down; and some student members of the 2000 CUL claim that it was their objections to anchor housing that kept the system from being implemented in spring 2003.
In Winter Study 2004, news was leaked to the Record that the 2004-2005 CUL (led by Professor Will Dudley, an alum from the days when students were affiliated with one house throughout their upperclass years) was going to propose the system again. The proposed system involved creating six clusters, with houses in each cluster scattered across campus but united by a centrally located anchor house. Each Freshman entry would be associated with a cluster, and rising sophomores would join the cluster of their entry. In the second article breaking the story, Morty was quoted as saying, "Itâ€™s in the interests of the students, ultimately. The challenge is to explain why."
Shortly thereafter, commentary surfaced in the Record, saturated WSO Blogs, and continued for some time after the initial announcement. Most of the commentary from students was very critical of the proposed change. A group of students dedicated to preventing the implementation of anchor housing and maintaining free agency housing formed the group Anchors Away. These students conducted surveys of students (in one case, they collected written opinions from almost 200 Williams students opposed to anchor housing), wrote letters to the CUL, Record, and Trustees, and compiled documents detailing student objections to the anchor housing proposal. Their efforts culminated in a failed campaign for the College Council co-presidency by two of their founding members.
In January 2005, the Committee on Undergraduate Life made a series of substiantial changes to the anchor housing proposal. Entries were detatched from clusters in favor of randomly assigning rising sophomores. Additionally, the CUL determined that larger clusters would be more conducive to forming genuine communities and decreased the number of clusters to five. The cluster boundaries were also redrawn to be geographically localized; each cluster, instead of comprising houses from all areas of campus, would consist of nearby houses. Also, the CUL began to refer to the new housing proposal by the name cluster housing instead of anchor housing, because they felt that "anchor housing" gave too much of an impression that students would be stuck to something in their residential lives. Finally, the date of implementation was pushed back from fall 2005 to fall 2006. This move was highly regarded by the student body.
The CUL finally submitted its proposal to the administration under the name "Williams House System" in late February 2005, and recieved the Administration's approval. The CUL declared that its mission in the 2005-2006 academic year would consist solely of determining how exactly the transition from free agency to anchor housing would be carried out. Asserting that the decision to move to the new system itself ought still to be at issue, students in Anchors Away argued that the administration was ignoring dissenting students' opinion.
In April 2005, College Council submitted a letter of opposition to clusters to the adminsitration. The letter makes explicit the point that anchor housing cannot be successful without support from the students.
A suggestion by Dean Nancy Roseman took both the CUL and student body by surprise in December 2005. Dean Roseman believed that there might not be enough dedicated students to fill the number of leadership positions needed in a five-cluster system. The new idea reduced the number of clusters to four and changed the distribution of dorms within clusters. In an effort to make each cluster's dorm space more equitable, the new plan turned Morgan, Lehman, East, and Fayerweather into upper-class (likely sophomore) housing, and moved the freshman entries previously located in those dorms to Mission Park. The former first-year dorms would recieve renovations to bolster the number of singles and availability of common space. In general, students were encouraged by the reduction in number of clusters, but opinion on the relocation of freshmen was mixed. When students returned from Dead Week 2006, they recieved letters signed by President Schapiro and Dean Roseman announcing that this four-cluster plan would be adopted in fall 2006, and students would enter it through the Spring 2006 room draw.
Over the years, the system pushed forward to replace free agency has had many names, depending on the year and the discoursing parties. In its first years, 2001-3, Anchor Housing or Anchor Affiliation was the name given the proposed system by the CUL and used by all discussants.
When the CUL of 2004-5 gave the system a serious revision it decided to push new names for it as well. In Spring 2005, Professor Will Dudley, CUL chair, discussed the system under the name Cluster Housing or Cluster Affiliation in his visit then to College Council. He believed that the old name was part of what held back student acceptance of the system, that it carried the poor connotation of dead weight and being "tied down." The CUL report in late Spring of that year would refer to the system as "The Williams House System," but while "Cluster Housing" had been adopted somewhat by the community at large, "Williams House System" never entered common parlance. When the movement to affiliated housing and the debate over it resumed with the next academic year, the 2005-6 CUL began referring to clusters as "Neighborhoods."
Helped in part by Anchors Away, whose members refused to use the updated monikers probably partly due to counter-campaigning of their own, many students continued to use the original name, "Anchor Housing." Record news articles covering the system used the official up-to-date terms as they arose, while usually also including old ones. In contrast, some disgruntled students went a step in the other direction and termed the residential system by derogatory names, one of the most widely caught-on being Clusterfuck -- from military slang, a disastrous situation that results from the cumulative errors of several people or groups. Also known as Charlie Foxtrot, in semi-polite company.
 Student Opinion
The first Wiki entry for Anchor Housing consisted of the single word, "Evilll." A few edits later, a poster had corrected to, [Anchor Housing] . . . is actually NOT called anchor housing. It is cluster housing, built in neighborhoods around a central "anchor house. To which the following response was added: But nonetheless, it is still eeeeeevil, just in case you were confused about that.
Williams students are looking forward to some aspects of the new housing system. In particular, students anticipate a better, more varied campus party scene and new campus traditions in the vein of the house affiliation system from the 70's-80's. However, during the debates immediately following the initial announcements about anchor housing in fall 2004, students enumerated a number of strong concerns about the proposed system:
- Loss of freedoms and choices. Any housing system that restricts the number of houses students can live in restricts students' choices. Given the great variety of dorms on this campus, many students believe it essential that they be at least given a chance to choose from some of the best dorms on campus. Clusters drawn by the CUL have rarely included equal numbers of "desirable" and "undesirable" houses, leaving students wondering whether members of classes after 2009 will find themselves randomly assigned to a "sucky cluster." Students also worry that they will be unable to form a housing pick group with their friends, especially with friends they make after cluster assignments have been made in their freshman spring.
- Social engineering. The attitude of the CUL and administration has been seen as very paternalistic by many students. Students are wary of attempts to ensure "diversity" in all dorms on campus. The phrase "genuine communities" has been particularly contentious among students, as some believe it suggests that existing communities were judged by the CUL and determined to be "not genuine."
- Freshman affiliations. The assignment of entries to particular clusters was met with strong disapproval by students worried that new students' housing choices would be determined entirely by their entry assignment, before they even set foot on campus. However, the CUL altered this aspect of the plan.
- Loss of "class" living experiences. Sophomores will no longer be able to live as a class in Mission Park, and juniors will no longer be able to live together in the Greylock Quad. Some credit the Mission Park renovations in the summer of 2003 as dramatically improving the Williams sophomore experience, and are concerned that anchor housing will take away the benefits of living as a class with all the people who got to know one another as entrymates during freshman year. The shift of first-year students to Mission Park will restore some of the benefits of the Mission "class living experience."
- Disregard of suite affiliations. Many Williams students live with the same (or a similar) set of friends in a suite throughout their career. Students believe that the CUL did not take into account strong "suite identity" and the smaller, more tightly knit communities of two or three nearby suites, often composed of good friends who enjoy each others' company.
- Differences in social behavior. The drinking culture on this campus appeals to some and not to others. Some of the less party-prone students worried that anchor housing would spread them thinly around campus, sandwiching them between students more interested in trashing common rooms with beirut refuse than using the common room for a quiet gathering, board game, impromptu poker night, or movie viewing.
- The Odd Quad. Members of the Odd Quad (officially known as the Berkshire Quad) community use the dorms Currier and Fitch as a social hub. These students, self-described deviants, are often set apart from the rest of campus culture. Without a physical social base, they worry that their way of life will be severely disrupted. Anchor housing will randomly spread these students around the entire campus, effectively destroying the Odd Quad as a cohesive community. CUL members responded that the Odd Quad is a perfect example of "theme housing" and should not, in fact, exist as a residential community.
- Failure of clusters at Middlebury. Middlebury College recently implemented a cluster-model housing system, and students there have a low opinion of it. In fact, their objections are very similar to Williams students' objections to anchor housing: social engineering, preventing them from living with friends, et cetera.
In its March 1, 2005 issue, the Williams Record conducted a poll of student opinion on anchor housing. The following results turned up:
- 13% of students support anchor housing
- 24% of students tentatively support anchor housing
- 33% of students tentatively oppose anchor housing
- 29% of students oppose anchor housing
College Council also conducted a poll, which was reported in the Record on March 15, 2005:
- 17% of respondants support anchor housing
- 57% oppose anchor housing
- 12% are neutral
- 13% are undecided
However, the Committee on Undergraduate Life made statements to the effect that a student opinion poll would not affect their decision. The 2005-2006 CUL dedicated intself to implementing anchor housing in fall 2006.
 Current Status
Cluster housing, now defined by the division of the campus into four Neighborhoods, is fully in motion and will begin to function at the beginning of the 2006 fall semester.
Students elected leaders to fill four positions on each neighborhood board as well as electing to retain the existing names over such choices as nearby mountains and the Ninja Turtles. In addition to the elected students, each board will contain one HLC (basically an HC) who will also be on the board. These students will be arriving early to school for planning, team building and training in how to navigate the college's event regulations and budgets.
Freshmen will live in entries loosely affiliated with Neighborhoods while all upperclassmen and most off-campus seniors picked into and are now living in one of the four neighborhoods.
The CUL website currently contains a member list, links to previous CUL reports, and a feedback form. There are also minutes from some of the subcommittee meetings. In addition, there is a CUL listserv maintained by WSO: . Students are encouraged to send feedback, comments, and suggestions to the CUL via the web form, this e-mail address, or by editing Stuff the CUL should do.
Faculty Associates and Affiliates One of the assets of the anchor housing system is increasing opportunities for student-faculty interaction. Though the neighborhoods will be largely student-run, they will also receive some assistance from a small number of faculty associates in conjunction with the Office of Campus Life. In addition, every faculty member on campus will be affiliated with one of the four residential neighborhoods, and have the opportunity to participate in some neighborhood activities.