Following the conclusion of residential student staff applications, students across campus are beginning to consider housing for next year — but for the first time in Stanford’s history, we will largely stay in our STANFORD neighborhoods with our respective S, T, A, N, etc. friends and facilities, dorms and dining halls.
Recent emails from R&DE Student Housing Assignments state that students who want to switch neighborhoods (not via the Office of Accessible Education or the Title IX Office) “will not be able to select which neighborhood you would like to change into”. Furthermore, “if you change neighborhoods, you will select your building and room assignment after all others in your class year.” These measures are essentially sanctions on students who find community or more comfortable environments elsewhere, and will affect many: a social media poll by the Stanford Daily found that less than half of social media respondents want to stay in their ResX neighborhood in the next academic year.
You can’t force people to be part of a community, nor can you force them to feel at home in a fixed place. Why should students be actively punished for not making friends who live near them in the space of two quarters? This is strangely authoritarian. The neighborhood housing system encourages students to simply “choose” to like and bond with people living in their area, thereby investing less time and energy into cross-campus friendships.
The new system is especially problematic as the vast majority of students find that Stanford has not supported this transition. According to further polls by The Daily, only 15% of over 300 social media respondents considered their ResX neighborhoods to be a strong community, while 91% felt that Stanford has not done enough to foster neighborhood community. Indeed, neighborhoods can be surprisingly scattered — for example, it’s unclear how someone living in EVGR should feel any affinity with someone living in GovCo — and apart from that one barbecue, can anyone think of a neighborhood-wide event? The current maintenance of neighborhoods purely consists of dramatic disincentives to move out, rather than positive incentives to stay.
The neighborhood system hasn’t changed how we bond with those who live near us, whether that’s in your dorm or a short walk away. What has changed is the freedom that students have to live with their friends from farther afield. Equally, shouldn’t we have diverse housing options simply for a more exciting and well-rounded living experience? West Campus dwellers speak wistfully of living in Toyon, or not being a five-minute bike ride away from Main Quad. Conversely, those on East Campus complain about the lack of singles and two-room doubles.
If ResEd believes the neighborhoods are equal across factors such as housing and dining accommodations, accessibility and desirability of location, would it really be necessary to prevent students from choosing which neighborhood they would like to join? This limitation, combined with proposals to move buildings to different neighborhoods (e.g. “moving Pluto and 650 Mayfield from Neighborhood N to Neighborhood A”) suggests that the University knows certain neighborhoods are much more popular than others due to their superior buildings and locations. If the neighborhoods were equal in the important amenities that affect our everyday quality of life, surely there should be no problem with allowing students to choose the neighborhood to which they would like to move.
If Stanford is looking to imitate the college system at peer institutions, it’ll have to do much more to foster distinct neighborhood identities and spirits — both of which will take time. To their credit, University leaders are actively taking student feedback and implementing real changes in response, including the launch of neighborhood community councils. I appreciate that ResEd is trying to make radical changes with a view to providing stronger communities for students farther down the line. But in transitioning to that future, it is not fruitful to isolate individuals. College is a time to make lifelong friendships, which has already been vastly complicated by COVID. Stanford should not sacrifice current students’ happiness and comfort for a lofty long-term goal: let us choose and change neighborhoods without penalties.