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Upperclass students respond to housing lottery error

By Zach Cihlar

Section: Features

March 24, 2017

On the evening of Wednesday, March 15, the nervous anticipation of housing selection quickly turned to confusion with one email. The Department of Community Living (DCL), after a series of “inquiries” about housing selection numbers, informed students that they would “re-run” the lottery the following day.

In the email, DCL cited a coding error in the automated system that produced the random lottery numbers. The error caused the system to separate rising juniors and rising seniors into two different groups, with rising seniors receiving the preferred numbers. The system would have prioritized “all seniors over all juniors,” the email stated.

The challenge of the lottery, Tim Touchette, assistant dean of Student Affairs, stated in a second email from DCL that was sent on Thursday, March 16, is that it is meant to treat rising juniors and rising seniors with parity, while simultaneously running a lottery exclusively for rising sophomores. The external coding system failed to mix the lottery sequence for upperclassmen, and created three separate lottery sequences, one for each class.

Touchette and the rest of DCL were unaware of the error until they began receiving “complaints” from students who understood that the lottery prioritized rising seniors.

DCL’s solution to the error intended to keep the integrity of the first lottery sequence, but mix the rising junior lottery and the rising senior lottery, “such that senior and juniors alternate throughout all numbers,” the email said.

“The redistributed numbers maintained the fairness of the initial order within each class and removed the weighting, therefore equally distributing numbers among juniors and seniors,” Sheryl Sousa, vice president of Student Affairs, said. Sousa oversees the offices that focus on “student life outside the classroom,” which include DCL.

DCL assured students that the office was not seeking to change the process of housing selection, and the separated distribution of rising junior numbers and rising senior numbers was a mere coding error.

The office apologized for the delay in addressing the issue. “We should have caught this when we shared the manual, and again when we distributed numbers, but we didn’t,” the email from Touchette said.

After the initial confusion, many students expressed their anger toward the error, but maintained that they believed DCL’s solution was fair.

“It’s fair because juniors would have gotten no housing,” Eeshani Nagarkar ’19 pointed out of the new housing sequence. Nagarkar got a good number in the rising junior pool in the first lottery sequence, but since she was a junior, she still would have had trouble finding on-campus housing. With the lottery re-run, it was “good that [DCL] fixed that,” so that now she has a good chance of obtaining the housing of her choice.

Remi Miller ’19, on the other hand, argued that people who got good numbers in both sequences may have initially thought their number was good enough for their preferred housing, but the new sequence may have pushed them outside the range that would allow them to choose their desired housing.

The solution, however, seemed fair for the circumstances, Miller said. The rising junior expressed dissatisfaction that the error occurred in the first place.

Haley Cohen ’18, on the other hand, is a rising senior whose number rose significantly from the first sequence to the second. Initially, her first number would have secured her a choice in housing, but her options became limited when the rising juniors were incorporated into the new lottery system.

She recalled that she was upset that the new system restricted her housing options, especially since she had been elated when she found out her first lottery number on Wednesday. However, Cohen said she understood the need for the redistribution.

Gianna Petrillo ’19 thought DCL handled the error well, and found the only solution that would ensure fairness from the first lottery to the second. Petrillo received poor numbers in both housing lotteries.

DCL entertained a “variety of options including completely re-running all of the numbers,” Touchette’s March 16 email stated. Ultimately, the office decided on alternating the rising juniors and rising seniors.
Touchette and DCL took full responsibility, expressing their regrets in both the emails sent on March 15 and 16. “Please know that Community Living is made up of individuals who care about each student and that we as a department are committed to helping all students through the process,” the office reminded its students in one of the two mass emails.

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