Students face challenges under new housing selection system, question effectiveness

June 11, 2022, 12:13 a.m.

When Butch Nasser ’25 logged onto the housing portal for his gate time last Thursday, he was hoping to find a male double in Kimball Hall. What he saw on his screen was a far different message: “There are no available rooms that match your criteria.”

Nasser spent the next half hour refreshing the page until a few more rooms popped up. But they were all in Mirrielees, which Nasser knew he could not live in.  

Mirrielees, which offers apartment-style living, requires residents to pay around $1,400 for three quarters of housing in addition to the regular housing fee. As a first-generation, low-income (FLI) student, Nasser cannot afford to pay this extra fee, which is not covered by any of Stanford’s financial aid packages. Now, his only option is to hope he can convince someone to switch residences with him, or that he will be reassigned to a new dorm in July.

This year marked the second year that students have signed up for housing under the recently implemented neighborhood system, a ResX initiative launched this year that divides Stanford’s row houses, themed housing, apartments and dorms among seven different neighborhoods, each bearing a different letter of the Stanford name.

Along with the neighborhood system, which seeks to create meaningful and strong residential communities for students, came a new self-select model for students to secure housing for the upcoming school year. It was created to remedy some of the complexities and unfairness of the old draw system.

But, as students signed up for housing last week, many of the same concerns re-emerged. While Stanford administrators acknowledge these concerns and disappointment are not new, they are planning to incorporate student feedback while continuing to adjust the new assignment process.

When Nasser was first assigned to Mirrielees, he emailed the financial aid office to see if he could get financial support for the residence’s additional fees. They told him that, while his scholarship did not cover Mirrielees’s living expenses, he could switch from an undergraduate meal plan of 21 meals a week to an apartment meal plan of five meals a week and cook his own meals to save money. The suggestion did not account for the additional expenses of buying his own groceries.

“I think for FLI students, it’s kind of predatory to force someone into a room that’s more expensive than what they can afford [and] say that one of your best options is to eat less, essentially,” said Nasser.

Seeking another solution to his predicament, Nasser emailed R&DE’s student housing division, asking them if there was any way for him to switch housing with other students. 

The student housing division said they would set up a self-swap process where students could voluntarily switch rooms with each other in a group chat, the caveat being they could only switch rooms if they had identical room types — in Nasser’s case, a one-room and gender-neutral double, which Nasser never intended to live in.

While Nasser’s chief concern about living in Mirrielees is a financial one, he is also worried about the mental strain of living in apartment style housing as a sophomore. Compared to a traditional dorm, Nasser worries about the isolation he’ll experience in Mirrielees without any other members of his draw group.

“That’s not how I imagined spending my sophomore year at Stanford. Freshman year was a blast in a dorm, and I really wanted to live at least one, maybe even two, three [years] with it [in a dorm] and seems like that’s not going to happen,” Nasser said.

As opposed to the previous system, in which R&DE placed draw groups together for housing, the new format offers groups one draw selection time, but no guarantee that they will live together.

Fellow Neighborhood F resident Hasan Ahmad ’25 similarly wanted to live in Kimball, but he and his roommate were the only ones from their draw group placed in Mirrielees next year. “It’s ironic how a system that was supposed to increase the amount of community is actually serving as an obstacle for many rising sophomores who want that community,” Ahmad said.

According to Assistant Vice Provost for Residential Education Cheryl Brown, Residential Education will place a greater emphasis next year on building community in apartment style housing. Administrators have already started seeking feedback concerning the residential experience in these apartments, and Brown affirmed that ResEd will be more intentional about involving sophomore residents in community life and connecting them to neighborhood programming. 

“I’m hopeful that they don’t feel too disconnected,” Brown said.

As Neighborhood F sophomores lamented their placement in apartment-style housing, upperclassmen in different neighborhoods were disappointed by their inability to secure these same residences. Some are now willing to pay other students to switch rooms with them.

For Quennie Nguyen ’24, Mirrielees, along with EVGR, offer the exact living situation she is after. “The environment at EVGR is known to be isolated, but conducive for studying and that’s exactly what I’m looking for,” explained Nguyen.

As a Neighborhood O resident, however, by the time her gate time rolled around on Wednesday, there were no longer any slots available in EVGR. Her only available options were a final spot in Storey, a self-op on the row, and rooms in Florence Moore. Nguyen decided to claim the last spot in Storey. “It’s so frustrating because it’s not as if the spaces aren’t there,” Nguyen said, explaining that her neighborhood and the gender cap limited her access to rooms in EVGR.

Nguyen, who will be working and attending school full time next year, while applying to medical school and taking the MCAT and GRE, feels as though having a living space conducive to her academic life is necessary. 

After hitting roadblocks with R&DE, she has resorted to offering to pay students to switch dorms with her. She’s received one offer, a complicated one requiring two people to switch their housing and for her to pay the difference of switching from Mirrielees to Storey. However, it is not confirmed, and she still hopes to be reassigned in July.

Neighborhood N resident Devin Heart ’23 had been saving his best housing option for his senior year. This would have been rewarded in Stanford’s old draw system, in which students saved their first-tier housing for their last year, but is no longer applicable to the self-select model. 

While seniors are assigned the earliest gate times, giving them priority in selecting their preferred housing, Heart was still unable to secure the single in EVGR or Mirrielees that he wanted. He now finds himself in the exact same living situation that he had this year: a triple in Mirrielees.

Heart feels that having a private space as a senior should not be considered a luxury. “I’m not saying everyone should always get what they want, but it should be an equitable system where the upperclassmen aren’t getting screwed over,” said Heart.

Like Nguyen, Heart says he is willing to pay other students to switch rooms with him and risk breaking his housing contract so that he can get a single. He said that these types of informal housing agreements have happened in past years, but under the new housing model, an increasing number of students are participating in these informal exchanges.

“Students will literally go and pay upwards of a few thousand dollars to get their desired housing because the quality of life of living in a shared room, in cramped corners, as an upperclassman is just so bad,” Heart explained.

As of now, Heart has received many offers for room exchanges. He will wait until after reassignment to make a definitive switch to his living situation.

While Brown recognizes that the housing assignment process can be difficult, especially for seniors who could not secure their preferred housing, she emphasized that the disappointment students may feel with their housing is by no means something new. “I think people every year have felt this way,” Brown said.

Still, the University intends to incorporate feedback from upperclassmen into future administration plans, according to Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole

Some of the students fear that there are not many opportunities to address the complaints while working within the neighborhood system. Students in certain neighborhoods, like Neighborhood F, face a particularly challenging housing process because of how few options were available to students — the only non-pre-assignment or Greek housing options students could live in were Kimball Hall, EVGR, Mirrielees and the Grove. The Grove is only open to upper-classmen. Rising sophomores, who overwhelmingly sought housing in Kimball, were assigned to EVGR and Mirrielees, which were the first choice of many students in other neighborhoods. Housing in EVGR and Mirrieless is split among all the neighborhoods.

To Ahmad, the neighborhood system “goes against much of the goals of college, which is to have as diverse of an experience, as exciting and as ever-changing an experience as possible, given how, for the rest of your life, you’re going to be in an apartment, or you’re going to be living with the same person or people.”

Students also believe that the neighborhood system has fallen short of one of its primary goals — fostering community between students. “That’s not how you build community — force people to live in places,” Heart said, calling the neighborhood system a “talking point.”

According to Brown and Brubaker-Cole, the neighborhood system was built to address the struggles students had in past years to maintain community and friendships as they moved to different places on campus each year.

“The model that we’re working with now, with the neighborhoods, is intended to mitigate some of that shuffling, reshuffling every year of the community,” Brubaker-Cole said.

Brown and Brubaker-Cole both emphasized that the model is still in its very first year of implementation, so the administration is constantly making adjustments and learning from students about potential for improvement — the model underwent various changes in January, responding to student feedback. 

“The neighborhood system is like the framework or foundation of a building that we are counting on students to help us complete,” Brubaker-Cole said.

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