photo by Joe Shlabotnik

About halfway through last August, I had the great pleasure of meeting a current Princeton senior. I have no idea if she remembers meeting me, or frankly if she even knows who I am, but that’s really beside the point. After some opening pleasantries, she asked if I knew where I’d be living. When I said that I was in Mathey, she responded that she had been in Mathey. Then I said I was in Joline. She proceeded to tell me that she was in Joline and asked what entryway. When I said “Entryway one,” she immediately asked which room. “Joline 111,” I responded. I don’t remember if she laughed or not when I said that, but she went on to tell me that she had lived there her freshman year, and that it was one of the worst rooms on campus. “But don’t worry,” she said, “the rooms usually get better as you continue.” Or at least that’s what I thought she said.

Fast forward about a month. I’m sitting at trivia in the Mathey Common room, and a certain junior who works for the Nass and I have a similar conversation. Again, he tells me that it’s not a great room, but that it should get better next year.

Fast forward again, this time to Monday, March 25th, the day when room draw times are posted. I get a message in a group text that says, simply: “HAHAHA Charles and Joe are the second to last draw time!” Needless to say, I didn’t respond so well to that news. I quickly logged into the housing website and looked at the draw times for Mathey myself, hoping that my friends were merely playing a prank on me. Unfortunately, they weren’t.

After I recovered from the initial anxiety, shock, and downright frustration that hit me when I learned about my draw time, I started to grow apathetic. It really is pretty extraordinary how your draw time impacts your thought process about room selection. Prior to the release of room draw times, my draw group partner and I probably spent close to three or four hours researching and ranking all the singles and two-room doubles in Mathey. Of course, we didn’t have any idea what our actual draw time would be, but we, in an admittedly pigheaded manner, made the bold assumption that our time wouldn’t be THAT bad. But after we saw our draw time, we just stopped caring about looking at rooms. We came to the realization that there was no point in looking at rooms off the available rooms list, as we figured that there would only be around five or so rooms left by the time we were drawing. Although having the second to last draw time is hardly a good thing, it certainly did make the room draw process less stressful and much simpler. As I watched my friends “waste” time visiting rooms and looking up floor plans, I was able to sit back and relax, just waiting for my fate to come to me.

And my fate did come, on Friday, April 5th, just before noon. All that morning, my friend and I watched as the remaining singles and big one-room doubles went, and realized that if people did not opt for the waiting list, then there would actually be no rooms left for us to select. While I had heard stories about there not being any rooms left at the end of the draw, it did not seem like a reality until around 10am on Friday morning when I did the math out myself. And let me just say: the idea of exiting room draw without a room is really bleak. An integral part of the college experience is living away from home. But unlike the “real world,” housing is not supposed to be an issue in college; you don’t have to go look for apartments or houses, and you don’t have to worry about bargaining over rent and the like. Housing in college is supposed to be—at least in my mind it was meant to be—a given, and it is not until you are on the edge of not getting a room that you realize how much you take this ease for granted.

Now, I did end up getting a room, and I even had a choice of rooms when I drew. For an event that was such a prominent part of my first year at Princeton, I am embarrassed to say that I don’t really remember how many rooms were left. I know that there were at least three, and two of them were in the basement of Blair. As my friend and I sat there in the Friend Center lobby, we came the realization that our best bet was to go for raw square footage. Unlike those of our friends who had the luxury of critiquing the shape of their rooms, closets, and windows, my roommate and I really had our backs to the wall. In many ways, the choice was made for us. The difference between 193 square feet and 225 square feet was just too big to pass up. We, without any hesitation, both made the choice to go for the biggest room left: a one-room double in the basement of Blair.

One could say therefore, that my situation is not exactly ideal. And as much as I would love to blame the room draw system for what happened to me, I have to admit that room draw as it stands now is about as fair as it can be. Of course, part of me wonders if the room draw gods shouldn’t take into consideration the quality of your room the year before. Clearly, there are many issues with this system, the first one being: how do you rate the quality of rooms? Square footage is definitely not the only consideration, as different people look for different things in rooms. The other issue that would arise from a system like this is that it would require Princeton to acknowledge that there are discrepancies between rooms, and that some people are just going to, by complete luck of the draw, be worse off than their classmates. Personally, I have faith in this institution and therefore believe that the powers at be realize these discrepancies, but I don’t think it’s worth the heartache to openly declare that not all rooms are created equal.

Plus, could you imagine how much more drama there would be if room draw was decided like that? I think about my own situation: my draw group partner (and future roommate) has a massive single in Edwards this year. If the room draw prioritized those with bad rooms, I very well might have thought twice about drawing with him.

What is more, I fully understand that if I had had the best draw time (for a sophomore) in Mathey, my outlook on the whole process would be quite different. The room draw process is, when it comes down to it, a game of chance and I lost that game. Now what sucks—big time, might I add—is that I lost the game two years in a row, and have no confidence that I won’t lose again.

One thing that does bother me about room draw as it stands now though is how “public” it all is. It sort of irks me that every Princeton undergraduate can see your draw time. Maybe this is just my idiosyncrasy, but it really pissed me off when, for the rest of the week after draw times were posed, every time I walked into a room in Mathey, somebody mentioned how bad my draw time was, and made a joke about it. It just got really old and really annoying. And yet, I don’t think people made jokes out of spite or underlying angers towards me. No, I genuinely believe that I embodied the “worst case scenario” when it came to room draw, and everyone made fun of my situation as a way to subliminally say “I am glad that didn’t happen to me…” I also think that these thoughts represented an underlying sense of schadenfreude. But none of that made the jokes any more bearable. My room draw time was completely out of my control, and while nobody was accusing me of being responsible for having such a bad time, it was just really frustrating when the subject was brought up, time and again, as if that was my defining characteristic for the week.

I must admit though, that this “open” system has one major benefit: you can look at the groups ahead of you and figure out what types of rooms the people ahead of you will take, so that you can plan accordingly. The housing office could keep this beneficial aspect of releasing all the draw times while maintaining anonymity by merely posting the number of people in each of the draw groups at their assigned times. I think it is worth saying though, that I write this suggestion with the realization that many people will probably think it is stupid and pointless, especially because everyone would ask everyone else about room draw times, making them essentially public. I guess for me it’s the principle of the thing: I would prefer to not have my shame accessible to everyone.

And so, as I reflect upon the room that I chose and the room draw system as a whole, something that has hit me is how singularly focused I am on rooming. Not only do I take having a room for granted, but I also really care about how nice that room is. But college is supposed to be all about mental growth; therefore, why do I care so much about a physical space? I guess it’s the same reason that I compulsively check the dining hall menus before meals to find the best food: both your room and meals represent an escape from the work that you are so focused on as a student here, and you want those escapes to be nice. I often joke with my friends that I love eating meals because they represent something I can accomplish: I can finish lunch in 30 minutes, whereas you never really “finish” your work here. In the same way, you can go to your room to relax and forget about work in a way that you can’t do in a library or classroom. I also think that, at least for freshman and sophomores, rooms can be an integral part of your social experience, as they are a place to hang out with your friends; a social hub at times.

But what’s finally somewhat refreshing about the room draw process is how you can’t do anything about it. Sure, I have a really bad room next year that I am not pleased about, but it’s all out of my hands as this point. And quite frankly, as I reflect back on everything, I think the thing that bothered me most was the fact that I had such a bad draw time. I simply thought it was unfair that I should have such a bad room two years in a row. But you learn to adapt. For instance, the fact that I had a bad room this year forced me to leave my dorm and meet new people and infiltrate their rooms. If I am not studying in an empty classroom or library, I am almost always in somebody else’s quad sitting on their couch, talking to them and just hanging out. I also think that I was “forced” to take advantage of communal areas like study rooms more as a result of my room this year, and I can’t say that that is something that I am terribly bitter about, especially because it has allowed me to meet those passerbys who stop in to print something or try to get some work done themselves.

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