Digital Diaries Season 3 Episode 4: The problem with housing, once again.

Paul O'Connor , Assistant Audio Editor



With priority numbers being released last week, the Daily Northwestern spoke to students about housing. Specifically, about how disparities in housing affect the residential experience.

PAUL O’CONNOR: This year’s on-campus housing selection process has wrapped up and a familiar question is resurfacing. Is the housing process fair? And if not, what can be done to fix it?


PAUL O’CONNOR: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Paul O’Connor. This is Digital Diaries, a weekly podcast following the college experience and asking students questions about life at Northwestern.

PAUL O’CONNOR: For many Northwestern students, April 13 was a day of feverishly checking their inboxes. They were looking, of course, for an email from Residential Services. This would inform each student of their priority number, the order in which they could log onto the housing portal and select housing for the next year. Here’s SESP freshman Adrian Ayala-Pérez, who currently lives in the Willard Residential College with his roommate.

ADRIAN AYALA-PEREZ: Our second year, we decided to stay in Willard because we liked the amenities. We like having Fran’s and the gym here. And the rooms are just really nice. For me, the bus stop is very convenient.

PAUL O’CONNOR: It’s important to note that Willard is a residential college. These dorms tend to be smaller, often have themes and require students to write an application to live in them. Other residential colleges include Chapin Hall, the Humanities Residential college, Hobart House, the Women’s Residential College, and East Fairchild, the Communications Residential College. Ayala-Pérez says that Willard’s amenities are what gave the residential college its appeal.

ADRIAN AYALA-PEREZ: So we ended up going through the point system and we actually got the second to last priority group within Willard itself. But even with that, we got our first choice room. So in our whole housing process, as a first-year and a second-year student, we got our first choice in every single capacity.

ADRIAN AYALA-PEREZ: I like having a gym. We’re gonna have a walk-in closet next year, a huge window sill, nice bathrooms.…

PAUL O’CONNOR: However, residential college life doesn’t come without its own set of issues. For instance, those who want to return to a residential college such as Willard must attend its events to earn points. The more points students acquire, the higher of a priority number they’ll get for selecting a room in Willard the following year.

ADRIAN AYALA-PEREZ: Working a full schedule, like course schedule, plus eight to ten hours working (per week), it was really hard to go to the events because most of my classes were north campus and both of our jobs were north campus.

ADRIAN AYALA-PEREZ: I feel like the system benefited a lot of people that were one, humanities majors, because they always congregated in South Campus. And people that don’t have very demanding extracurriculars.

PAUL O’CONNOR: And the events themselves aren’t always flexible.

ADRIAN AYALA-PEREZ: I was like ‘Oh, can I have the points?’ They were like ‘No, you have to stay here the whole time to get the points.’

PAUL O’CONNOR: But students outside of the residential college system can have drastically different housing experiences. Weinberg freshman Meri Danielyan lived in Jones Hall this year, the most southern dorm on campus.

MERI DANIELYAN: It’s like far away from Blom(quist), from my classes. The doubles are relatively small. Our common rooms are — most of them are not super nice. And the showers are crusty. And the rooms get super dusty as well.

PAUL O’CONNOR: For Ayala-Pérez, the desire to get into a residential college led him to search the internet for the best strategies.

ADRIAN AYALA-PEREZ: On Reddit, they did say if you came in with a roommate that you mutually wanted in a residential college, it’s just easier for the residential colleges to get you as a package deal, rather than do random assignment. But that’s like the equivalent of citing a TikTok. It could be completely wrong.

PAUL O’CONNOR: However, many students aren’t even aware of the housing system strategies until it’s too late.

MERI DANIELYAN: When I was applying for housing my first year, I couldn’t find much. But I didn’t know that you could gather points and those would help you get into a residential college later. If I had known that, I would have applied for a residential college, probably.

PAUL O’CONNOR: Unfortunately for Danielyan, the general selection process left her with few options. Her priority number was in the 1,600s, forcing her to room in Jones Hall for a second year in a row.

MERI DANIELYAN: I’m not pleased with it. I feel like I already made a compromise living in Jones my first year. I don’t think it’s fair for someone to get a very nice dorm two times in a row and someone else get one of the worst dorms two times in a row.

PAUL O’CONNOR: How can the living situations of undergraduates from the same class – paying roughly the same price – turn out so drastically different? It’s outcomes like the one Danielyan experienced that make people question how the housing system works.

MERI DANIELYAN: I think priority numbers should not be random. Maybe dorms can be ranked into tiers. And if you’re in a lower tier house that is maybe not super nice, then you will have a chance in your second year to be in a higher tier dorm and vice versa, just so you get more of a diversity.

PAUL O’CONNOR: But, it’s a debate that seems to die as quickly as it flares up.

ADRIAN AYALA-PEREZ: I don’t think there’s gonna be a system that makes everyone happy. Because the demand exceeds the supply.

PAUL O’CONNOR: Whether it’s abolishing residential colleges, or getting rid of the two-year on-campus living requirement, students like Ayala-Pérez and Danielyan are always proposing solutions for a problem that never seems to go away. But whether it’s a residential college like Willard or a residential hall like Jones, a sense of community can really grow anywhere.

MERI DANIELYAN: I really like my roommate. And I love the friends that I made in Jones. The dorm itself? I don’t mind the keys that much.


PAUL O’CONNOR: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Paul O’Connor. Thanks for listening to another episode of Digital Diaries. This episode was reported and produced by me. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Mika Ellison, the digital managing editors are Ava Mandoli and Erica Schmitt, and the editor-in-chief is Alex Perry. Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear more episodes like this.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @stallthepaul

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