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Stanford Residences Promote Variety

By Frank Dabek

As MIT continues the process of redesigning its residence system, The Tech presents a series of articles intended to inform the Institute community on the variety of residence designs in place at our peer institutions. This article is the first in a series of articles profiling the residence systems of universities around the country.

While the proposed addition of a “sophomore shuffle” to MIT’s residence system was seen as a major revision, students at Stanford University are already accustomed to a sophomore, junior, and senior shuffle. Stanford’s residence system is marked by a greater degree of randomization in housing assignments but exposes students to a wider variety of living arrangements.

According to Kathleen Bransfield, Manager of Housing Assignment Services at Stanford, incoming freshmen rank types of dorms during the summer. Freshmen can choose between single-sex or co-ed all-freshmen or four-class housing. Based on their preferences freshmen are assigned their dorms and rooms by the time they arrive on campus. Freshmen may not live in fraternities at Stanford. About half of freshmen live in all-freshmen housing.

Fraternity rush in spring

Of the 15 fraternities at Stanford, seven are housed on campus in university-owned independent houses. Stanford bills fraternities for the houses, and the day-to-day management falls to the student residents. Only about 10 percent of Stanford’s male students live in fraternity houses, compared to nearly 50 percent of MIT men.

Rush at Stanford occurs in the spring “right before the period to apply for housing [the] next year,” Bransfield said. Stanford does not need incentives such as the proposed shuffle to encourage freshmen to consider moving after their freshmen year -- “students have to re-apply anyways,” Bransfield said.

Stanford’s control over fraternity housing is much more complete than it is at the Institute: MIT fraternities or their national organizations own their own houses for the most part. While Stanford can revoke a fraternity’s housing privileges and allow the space to revert to general housing, at MIT the space would most likely simply be lost from the housing system.

According to Bransfield, the housing system “does need all those spaces... [which are] really popular housing.” Stanford has revoked the housing of fraternities which failed to utilize the space in their houses by recruiting enough members, she said. Fraternities have also lost housing privileges for disciplinary reasons, a step MIT cannot take easily due to the dependence of our housing system on the spaces provided by the fraternity system.

Like MIT fraternities, every fraternity at Stanford maintains a resident adviser. However, Stanford resident advisers are chosen by and employed by the university. Fraternities are part of the “same RA selection as everyone else,” Bransfield said. At MIT, the houses hire and write the contracts for their RAs but the advisers have to meet the approval of the Institute.

Moving on out

It is “not common for students to be in the same place” from year to year, Bransfield said. Students in the dorm system must enter the “draw” every year and are not guaranteed to return to the same dorm each year.

Although the debate over MIT’s housing system has argued that continuity in living arrangements builds community, Bransfield said that “students do want to experience a variety of living options.” Students may form groups of up to eight students and draw together, however. In addition, room assignments within a dorm are done on a local level after freshman year.

Stanford does offer a wide variety of living options for students to experience. Upperclassmen can live in one of forty independent houses, only some of which are fraternities. Many of the independent houses feature themes, such as a language or an area of study. Students must apply to and be accepted by these houses.

Cross-cultural houses dedicated to African Americans, Asians, Mexicans, and Native Americans are also part of Stanford’s system. In these houses one-half of the residents are of the house’s ethnic background; the other half of the spaces are reserved for the general population.

A new “frosh/soph college” will be another living option for incoming freshmen. This project “combines residence life with mentoring,” Bransfield said. The college will feature seminars, workshops, organized study groups, and faculty presentation all in the dorm.