Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41. No. 1.
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 Room Draw home

Luck of the Draw

For each Pomona student, the quest for the perfect dorm room requires an annual rite of passage known as “Room Draw.”

The annual quest for the perfect dorm room turns intense with the arrival of one more e-mail in students’ crowded inboxes. This message sets off a week or so of strategizing, lamenting and rejoicing.

The e-mail contains a list of student names with randomly-generated numbers next to them. The lower the number, the better chance a student has of snagging a room of her own or the sweetest suite to share with friends.

The housing hunt culminates in three nights of “Room Draw,” an annual April ritual where hundreds of students gather to pick out their pads for the next year. Those with low numbers get the first crack, and for the rest it’s an unpredictable process. Students huddle around maps, poring over them with all the intensity of generals charting an invasion. They must find alternatives as rooms they want get picked off by people with better numbers.

There are shades of “Survivor.” Friends seeking to share multi-room suites must average their numbers together, and sometimes unlucky students with a high number get dropped from the group. “It happens all the time,” says Jim Stier ’05. “People just get thrown out at the last second.”

The process takes into account seniority. Seniors-to-be get the first batch of random numbers, say, one to 400, then come juniors and, finally, sophomores. (Incoming freshmen are assigned rooms.)

Stier wound up with No. 315, which is not a good number for a senior. “It was a pretty big letdown,” Stier says as he waits to choose a room. “I’ll get a decent room I guess. When you’re going to be a senior you expect to have a pretty awesome room.”

Alison Rapoport ’05 was ecstatic. She and three friends got just what they wanted: a four-person friendship suite in the popular Clark V Residence Hall. Their numbers averaged out to 77.

Housing arrangements are a big deal at a small, close-knit college like Pomona where almost everyone lives on campus. The Student Life newspaper once asked students “What body appendage would you sacrifice for a better room draw number?” Sometimes tears are shed on the last night of room draw, when sophomores-to-be choose from the slimmer pickings. But they’ll have more choices next year.

As housing director, it’s Deanna Bos’ job to manage all the drama of room draw, and make the pains¬taking preparations leading up to it. She lays out the rules, dispels rumors and tries to keep things moving. Her goal is to be fair and offer students as many choices as possible in the process of divvying up rooms.

It’s not easy.

“There’s always a new challenge,’’ says Bos. “I’m not a chess player, but it feels like sometimes I’m operating a great, big chessboard.”

Pomona’s system allows students to try to pick both whom they’ll live with and which room they’ll live in. Other small, private colleges across the country also use similar room draw methods.

“Because we try to make it as fair and (offer) as many options as possible, it gets really complicated,” says Bos, a 20-year employee of the College.

Bos works throughout the year to make sure every student has housing. More than 95 percent of Pomona students live on campus these days. Students want to be a part of a community, she says, and there are practical advantages such as food served at dining halls. There are times during the year when every single room at Pomona is taken.

Bos takes into account a mind-bending assortment of variables as she plans for housing the student population. Students leave to study abroad; students return from overseas. Extra rooms must be set aside for incoming freshmen in case a greater number than expected accept admission. Many dorm rooms are designated specifically for men or women, and Bos strives to strike a fair division based on male/female enrollment figures. Plus several residences, such as Oldenborg Center for Modern Languages, have special requirements to live there.

Bos gets help from the Residential Life Advisory Committee in creating the room draw procedures. This year the committee took steps to combat the phenomenon of students getting dropped from a group because they have a high number. In the past, suites for six students would be up for grabs, then suites for five and so on. This year, all sizes of suites were offered at the same time to encourage groups to seek their first choice size and not have to cut a member.

Maps showing every available room, with the gender designation and other information, are posted on the College’s Website before room draw arrives. On the first night of room draw, when seniors get first crack, the process begins with Bos standing on a chair and fielding questions from the crowd gathered outside the Frank Blue Room. Students are admitted into the room in groups based on how low their number is, and they must show identification.

Friendship suites are up for grabs first. Groups of students seeking to share a suite must add up their numbers to find their average, which is verified at the door by workers pecking at calculators. The whole process is stopped if Bos suspects shenanigans. You see “the best and worst of human nature,” she says.

Some students clutch stacks of printed descriptions of rooms. Others wing it. It helps to have a backup plan. A group of four students may have had their sights on a friendship suite, but if none are available, they may have to break into pairs and take doubles or seek single rooms.
As the night drags on, there’s a whiff of sweat in the air and the rumble of conversation has dropped down several notches. After more than three hours, the last students pick their rooms. Then Bos, the staff member charged with housing hundreds of people, finally heads off for her own home at 11:30 p.m.

She has two more nights of room draw ahead of her, with the choices for students narrowing. And that’s not the end of it. Typically, 80 to 100 students are still left roomless when room draw is over. Somehow, Bos always manages to find room for them before fall semester starts.
-- Mark Kendall
©Copyright 2004
by Pomona College
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