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Anchor Housing, also known as Cluster Housing or the Williams House System, is the new upperclass housing system to be implemented in fall 2006.
Currently, Williams upperclass housing is a "free agent" system. Students form groups of 4 and are assigned lottery numbers within their class. They then choose rooms on campus in order of lottery number.
Anchor housing restricts the room draw to a small cluster of dorms. Houses on campus will be divided into five 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 own cluster for the remainder of their Williams career. Students remain in the same cluster.
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 big plans for a "House Cup" and other inter-cluster competitions, but we have heard no definite plans yet. This suggestion has caused some students to joke about whether the clusters will be named after the houses in the Harry Potter books.
The anchor houses and their associated dorms are:
- Currier: Fitch, Prospect
- Dodd: Hubbell, Dodd Annex, Goodrich, Parsons, Sewall, Dennett, Mills
- Spencer: West, Brooks, Gladden, Carter
- Tyler: Tyler Annex, Thompson, Armstrong, Pratt
- Wood: Perry, Garfield, Agard, Bryant, Mark Hopkins
The houses Chadbourne, Doughty, Lambert, Milham, Poker Flats, Rectory, Susie Hopkins, and Woodbridge will remain (or become) co-ops.
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 a bit different back then, and was finally 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. The reason for this change varies depending on who you ask: 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 get 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.
Though students thought that anchor housing had disappeared, it turned up again, suddenly, in fall 2004, when news was leaked to the Williams 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. Which freshman Entry a student belongs to determines which cluster the student would be assigned to as a rising sophomore. In the original article breaking the story, Morty was quoted as saying that anchor housing was in the student body's best interest, and the only trick would be to convince them.
The immediate student reaction was strong opposition. Commentary saturated the Record and WSO blogs for some time after the initial announcement. 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 more vocal 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. This was generally regarded as an improvement by students. Additionally, the CUL determined that larger clusters would be more conducive to forming so-called 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 submitted its proposal to the administration under the vague name "Williams House System" in late February 2005, and recieved the promised rubber-stamp approval. Students in Anchors Away worried that the administration was ignoring their opinion, but the CUL determined 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. This is what they are deliberating now.
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.
Students have been deeply concerned about various aspects of anchor housing. Voiced concerns include:
- 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. Fortunately, 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.
- 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 (known as the Berkshire Quad to the uninitiated and CUL members) 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.
- 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 has singlemindedly dedicated intself to implementing anchor housing in fall 2006. The implementation of anchor housing is now considered a moot point (in fact, indications are that anchor housing was destined to be implemented right from the beginning, when the administration voiced approval to it in its infancy), though some students push for a modified cluster system that preserves some elements of free agency.