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Housing lottery and College Houses undergo changes for the spring semester

October 30, 2020

On Tuesday, Lisa Rendall, director of residential and housing operations, sent an email to students with information about the Spring Housing Lottery, which, for the first time in Bowdoin’s history, will be conducted entirely online.

The College had been planning to conduct the housing lottery online in April, before it was announced that most upperclass students would reside off-campus for the fall 2020 semester. On October 5, President Rose announced that seniors, juniors and sophomores, as well as first years for whom home is not a place they can learn, would be invited to reside on campus for the spring 2021 semester. It was not until Rendall learned that the College would only house students in single bedrooms that she was able to begin finalizing the lottery.

“There was a lot of back-end data that needed to be updated to the current capacity, so that started literally the day after the President’s announcement in mid-October,” said Rendall in a phone interview with the Orient.

This year all residences on campus—including the first-year bricks—will be available in the lottery except for Howard Hall, Stowe Hall and Stowe Inn, which will be used for quarantine and isolation. With the inevitability of upperclass students having to move into first-year bricks in the fall, Rendall encourages the student body to keep an open mind.

“I can envision groups of friends that maybe don’t get their first choice … could take over a whole floor of Appleton,” Rendall said. “Given that there’s a common room, and there’s common space in the building, it’s actually a pretty good place to live.”

In planning the housing lottery, Rendall and her colleagues also considered that some sophomores who had planned to live in a College House during the 2020-21 school year would have to live elsewhere because many houses have more assigned residents than they have bedrooms. As a result, sophomores who were selected to live in a College House last spring, but did not get a single in their house lottery held earlier this month, had the option to enter into the general lottery for Coles Tower, which has primarily housed juniors and seniors in past years.

“Sending [sophomores] back to bricks … didn’t feel like the way that we wanted to go,” Rendall said. “We thought that Coles Tower would be a good space for them to all be able to live in the same building.”

Deva Holliman ’23 applied to live in Helmreich House (Helm) with a block of three other students in the spring. The group was accepted, but they soon found out their College House experience would be different from how they imagined it.

“When the fall was decided to be remote, we were notified by the people in charge of College Houses that they were going to try to maintain some sort of cohesive College House experience even though it was remote, and that quite frankly just hasn’t happened,” Holliman said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “I think a lot of people aren’t really interested in doing College House activities over Zoom … that just wasn’t exactly what people were super excited about when they applied to a College House.”

When the College announced its plan for the spring, Holliman was concerned about how College Houses would function in person during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I definitely had some questions about what is actually going to happen with the College Houses because usually those are very social spaces, but if we’re maintaining social distancing, it’s going to be much more difficult to have a social space on campus,” Holliman said.

After not getting a single in Helm during the house lottery and being assigned to Coles Tower, Holliman was able to switch with one of her original block mates, who chose to give up his spot in Helm to live with a friend who would be a proctor in a first-year brick.

“Given that we’re going to have to pod up or—I’m not sure what the protocol is—but [I’m] probably going to be meeting some new people and spending time with them, which I’m excited about,” she added.

While adapting the housing lottery for a socially-distanced school year has presented unique challenges, Rendall believes that the College’s switch to an online housing lottery will outlive the pandemic.

“There’s lots of processes that we’ve had in place for a long time that we’re having to rework,” said Rendall. “I think there’s a good shift, and likely we would not have done that if we weren’t in COVID-19 times.”

Eva Verzani ’21 is also happy to see the housing lottery move online this year, which she believes is long overdue—pandemic or not.

“I think being forced to put the housing lottery online is forcing Bowdoin to do what other schools have been doing for years, which is going to make the housing lottery system much easier,” said Verzani in a phone interview with the Orient.

Verzani, who will be entering the housing lottery in December, is worried about how housing in the upcoming semester might affect her contact with friends outside of her residence.

“Because I was abroad in the spring [2020 semester], I haven’t seen most people since December [2019],” said Verzani in a phone interview with the Orient. “I feel like the housing could end up being isolating.”

Ray George ’23 shares Verzani’s concerns that the spring 2021 residential experience might be isolating, but he hopes that he and the other members of Reed House will make an active effort to keep the residential community at Bowdoin strong.

“I hope we’re still able to get a nice sense of family as a house,” George said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “I hope that everyone’s very comfortable with each other and that it feels like a safe space, in normal terms as well as [COVID-19] terms.”

George, who was able to get a single in Reed during the house’s lottery, looks forward to moving in but is disappointed that he won’t be doing so with all of the members of Reed—or any of the other members of his block.

“I don’t want to take away from the fact that I’m very excited to live in a College House,” George said. “It’s a tough situation with capacity and everything, but I think it’s going to be a weird dynamic [to] have people not living in the house.”

Despite George’s concerns, he looks forward to reuniting with his friends and resuming life at Bowdoin as normally and safely as possible.

“At the end of the day I have to remind myself that we’re going to be on campus,” George said. “I’m going to be able to see my friends [from] across the country, no matter what.”


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