The view from the top: Recipient of No. 1 Draw spot reflects on Stanford housing

Sept. 26, 2019, 12:04 a.m.

As far as Draw results go, it would be hard to have a better track record than Ashley Song ’20, who received the No. 1 spot last spring in Stanford’s annual housing lottery.

“This is actually the first time I’ve participated,” said Song, who used her first-choice pick to live in Columbae this year. Because she had Tri Delta sorority housing her sophomore year and staffed at Roble her junior year, she had never participated in the Draw before receiving its most coveted prize.

Song cited Columbae’s residents and the wider co-op community as the main reasons she ranked the Lower Row house first. Like other Stanford co-ops, Columbae is run by consensus, with house members involved in its leadership, cooking and gardening. It has an activist community and a vegetarian kitchen.

But even if Columbae was Song’s first choice, it’s not for everyone, she said.

“I think at Stanford there’s this idea of what good housing is: like, maybe, a single on the Row,” she said. But what’s considered “a good room and a good living situation is different for everyone … If you get drawn No. 1, you can pick wherever you want to live first, but at the end of the day, people have different experiences living everywhere and some people really hate living on the Row.”

The wider Stanford community had mixed reactions to the news of Song’s results, which she recalled spreading quickly, even though she initially told only two people. Some who approached her about it were excited, she said, while others were surprised by her choice.

Song recalled being told “You could have lived anywhere; you’re a dumbass,” by Bryan Aldana ’20, her former co-staffer at Roble.

“At the moment it was just funny because it was insane; what were the odds?” Aldana told The Daily. “Now I’m just happy that she gets to live with her best friend across from me and in a home she will love to be in.”

Aldana himself drew into Mars, another house on the Lower Row that is generally considered one of the best housing options on campus. Alongside four other Row houses (Maison Française, Casa Italiana, BOB and Haus Mitteleuropa) and the four-class dorm Norcliffe, Mars was one of the six housing options with the lowest Draw cutoff for men and women this year, according to Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE) data. Mars’ cutoff was 770 for men and 428 for women last year, while Columbae’s was 2818 for men and 914 for women.

Despite her enviable Draw result, Song remains critical of the system as a whole.

“I think the Draw really sucks, and it really can be not fair to a lot of people, especially in terms of like what people look for in housing and in terms of … how people find community on campus,” she said.

Based on her experience staffing at Roble, Song suggested that anxiety around housing can contribute to students’ mental health struggles — a problem that has increasingly prompted criticism of Stanford’s campus culture and University-provided mental health resources. Uncertainty around housing creates tension, especially for frosh, she said, making their spring quarters (when the Draw takes place) potentially more stressful than they would be otherwise.

“As an RA, I have to encourage people and tell people that it’s going to be okay and they’ll be fine,” Song said. “But at the end of the day, it does suck to plan for something or expect something and then not be able to fulfill that dream.”

R&DE spokesperson Jocelyn Breeland told The Daily that the Draw system has grown more complex over time in order to allow for pre-assignment, medical accommodation and variations in housing stock on campus. She added that R&DE does not collect data on how many students get their first choice in the Draw. 

Responding to criticisms of the current housing system, R&DE and the office of the Vice Provost of Student Affairs pointed to the recent ResX report representing its study of the issues. The ResX committee, created in the spring of 2018 to propose a redesign of the undergraduate housing experience, met with students, faculty and staff and reviewed peer institutions’ housing programs to propose new housing assignment and allocation structures for Stanford. The major recommendation of the report was to reorganize housing into self-contained communal “neighborhoods” within which students would remain for all four years of undergrad.

Feelings of inequity and “missing out” on housing were listed as key concerns of the ResX commission in its report. The report ultimately recommended retiring the Draw in favor of the neighborhood model to mitigate anxiety and promote community.

Discussing the current system, Song criticized how ethnic theme houses are treated by the University and in the Draw.

“For a lot of them you can use your tier three to get in and [they’re] not in super desirable locations,” she said. “The really sought-out housing is on the Row, and all of the Row theme houses are … European-themed.”

Of Stanford’s ethnic theme houses, three — the Chicanx and Latinx-focused Casa Zapata, the Asian American-focused Okada and the black culture-focused Ujamaa — are in frosh-heavy dorm complexes, while the Native American-focused Muwekma-Tah-Ruk is on the Row. Meanwhile, the European-focused language dorms on campus — Casa Italiana, Maison Française, Haus Mitteleuropa and Slavianskii Dom — are all on the Row. 

Song said she thinks that some proposals made in the ResX report could help address some of these issues.

“From what I’ve seen with this ResX … plan, I think they’re trying to really create senses of belonging without feeling like you’ve just got fucked with housing,” Song said.

She added that the plan, under which theme houses would be integrated into neighborhoods, is a positive step forward.

“I think ResX has an interesting way of equalizing it all,” she said.

The University will release more information relating to ResX in the fall, according to Student Affairs, and will encourage students to continue sharing their thoughts and feelings as implementation of ResX begins.

Contact Toby Frager at tobiasfr ‘at’

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