The independent news organization of Duke University

Housing exemptions unwise but not fatal

Housing lottery exemptions for four University-sponsored selective living groups stand in direct contrast to the underlying pillar of equity intended to define the house model allocation process. Although the University should have been more transparent and timely in announcing preferential treatment for the four groups, the error is not fatal to the house model’s future success.

The Baldwin Scholars, Women’s Housing Option, Wellness Community and Substance-Free houses were all granted exemption from the housing lottery and were guaranteed placement on West Campus. Members in all four of these groups are selected by University administrators and leaders to fulfill certain criterion.

Housing, Dining and Residence Life’s placement of these groups on West contradicts the University’s assertion that all campuses are equal. Instead, it recognizes West’s superiority over Central Campus and asserts certain groups’ entitlement to this cherished space over others’. Perhaps the University is not responsible for bestowing increased value to one campus over another—that is the result of student opinion. But the administration is certainly guilty of reinforcing such stereotypes, first by granting University-sponsored SLGs exemption from the house model allocation process and then by placing these groups on West. Justification for placing WHO and Baldwin Scholars on West may be to ensure a gender balance, given Panhellenic Association sororities’ collective decision to seek placement together, which placed them on Central. But the Substance-Free and Wellness groups cannot seek shelter under such an explanation.

Before the housing lottery occurred, HDRL should have been more transparent about its intention to unconditionally place the four groups on West. Panhel women stated their preference for joint housing late in the housing model lottery discussions. This change threatened to upset gender distribution across campuses and makes understandable the placement of WHO and Baldwin Scholars. Regardless, the groups’ exemption should have been communicated to the student body immediately upon HDRL’s decision, in order to ensure transparency in an already unpopular housing transformation.

University-sponsored living groups have no special value, or attendant privilege, above student-run SLGs. Member selection by University administrators does not render these kinds of groups eligible for special treatment. This selection process does not make these groups inherently more valuable and hence deserving of house lottery immunity. But they have received special treatment nonetheless.

Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost of undergraduate education, noted in September 2010 that “social selective groups have a level of privilege, and then there are the independents who have a much lower level of privilege.” But isn’t giving special treatment to four selective living groups also a way of providing some groups a higher level of privilege?

The University’s breach of student trust in this instance was not catastrophic—the consequences to the majority of students will be unfelt. Nonetheless, administrators must recognize their errors both in failing to be transparent in this situation and in a flawed practice of favoring certain groups. Such violations of trust must not occur again, and in the meantime, students should accept that what is done is done, and move forward.


Share and discuss “Housing exemptions unwise but not fatal” on social media.