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To keep stress at bay, room draw should remain in-person

Every year since I’ve been at St. Olaf, it’s been rumored that room draw – the annual process for students to self-select housing – will move online. While some argue that an online room draw could be more efficient and less stressful, I think that room draw should remain in-person.

There’s no question that room draw is stressful. First, you have to find one, or two or three people to live with and agree on a first choice, second choice and third choice dorm. Before my roommate and I started living together sophomore year, we argued “House Hunters”-style in a stairwell because I wanted to live in Mellby for its location but she wanted to live in Thorson because looking out the back window made her feel like she owned an old English estate. We ended up in Thorson and loved it.

The current process is unique, to say the least. One representative from each roommate group arrives in Tomson and, in order of lottery-style draw numbers, picks a dorm room from a whiteboard layout of one of eight residence halls.

While the current model might not be ideal, the stress of room draw would only increase if it was moved online. Online draw would have many similar aspects to registration: lottery style selection order, selection deadlines and unconfirmed results until the process is complete. Besides finals week and Christmas Fest, if there’s one thing that St. Olaf students stress about it’s registration, and that doesn’t also require coordinating with friends. I’m not naive; there is no scenario in which St. Olaf students arrange themselves into dorms without freaking out.

During my first year on campus, Associate Dean of Students for Residence Life Pamela McDowell spoke to me and my fellow residents in Hoyme about how room draw works. She preferred the in-person process because it allowed her to help students calm down and consider other options when they don’t get their first choice. Online room draw would likely rely on email correspondence to solve problems and would likely end up causing more stress to students.

I’m not naive; there is no scenario in which St. Olaf students arrange themselves into dorms without freaking out. – Emma Whitford ’18

Any online process would still suffer from human error: students not clearing their holds, roommates not signing or “approving” their draw slips, once-faithful podmates jumping ship at the last minute. But, it would also come with potential technical difficulties that couldn’t be remedied right away.

Another complaint about roomdraw is that, oftentimes, a lot of the sophomore class is waitlisted until mid-summer when they receive room assignments. I don’t think that’s a flaw of the system. It’s necessary for Residence Life to keep some housing in flux while they plan for the incoming first-year class, factor in students abroad and deal with other last-minute changes to enrollment and housing plans. Sitting on the waitlist is just part of being a sophomore.

Ultimately, even if students don’t end up in the dorm with their friends or the dorm they wanted, this is St. Olaf. We pride ourselves on our facilities and all dorms – even Mohn, even Kittlesby – are pretty good living situations. Free laundry, bathrooms that get cleaned every day, heating. We live within two square miles, and so no friend is really too far away. There is no circumstance in which 2,700 students could self-select their own housing and roommate situations to perfectly fill every residence hall.

Emma Whitford ’18 ( is from Middleton, Wis. She majors in political science. 

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