Housing Advisory Council Works to Reform Selection, Implements Blocking

As students prepare for dorm selection, a new Housing Advisory Council is working to update a system that sparked negative blowback last year as shown in a recent report by the Student Government Organization (SGO). The council, formed Spring 2024, is composed of thirteen students from all class years who serve as the “eyes and ears for the Housing Office [and]… liaisons between admin and students,” according to Director of Residential Communities Amanda Atkinson. The group has had three meetings this semester, each with about half of its members in attendance to discuss topics including blocking, the disability accommodations process, and the housing lottery. 

At the most recent meeting on March 5, Student Disabilities Services (SDS) Director Monica Vance attended to clarify the housing accommodations process following a school-wide email sent on Feb. 28. Students requesting accommodations for disabilities or other needs must submit documentation to SDS; while certain types of documents are preferred, requests are considered on a case-by-case basis. If approved, the request goes to the Housing Office where it is categorized into one of three groups allowing for needs such as air conditioning or central proximity. Students with accommodations select housing first; if they desire, they may waive their accommodation during this to select a different room. They are not allowed to pick particularly desirable rooms that they would not get without an accommodation, such as unusually large or spaces taken by seniors. 

Darby Creegan ’26, a member of the council, was originally concerned about this right to waive and students using it to gain better rooms. However, after learning from Vance about the process, she sees it differently.

“After hearing about how the accommodation process works, genuinely if someone is actually falsifying an accommodation they’re going to the ends of the Earth to do it, because it’s not that easy. It’s not like it’s impossible. They can’t make it impossible,” Creegan said. “SDS was not willing to make the process more restrictive…There is an unknown amount of people who are falling through the cracks. But they’re also like, ‘Yeah, but sometimes the people who fall through the cracks need an accommodation anyway, and we’re not willing to tape up the cracks because we don’t know who we’d be keeping out who genuinely needs accommodation. There genuinely cannot be that many people who are legitimately gaming the system.’”

Kiran Mahurkar ’27 faced inconsistencies between the SDS and Housing Office when seeking an accommodation. After receiving her request from SDS, the Housing Office sent it back asking for clarity, pushing the accommodation past the typical lottery period and creating uncertainty. After observing a friend with an accommodation placed in a room where a student was already living, Mahurkar was inspired to join the council to bring clarity. 

“[Accommodations] are run through to separate groups because you have to first get a letter from Disability Services and then take that letter to Housing and they give you a room. That’s where you get issues like what happened to me where you have the letter, Housing doesn’t understand the letter, you take it back to Disability Services, they say the letter is perfectly clear and by the time you’re able to clear things up, there are no rooms left,” Mahurkar said.

Mahurkar also serves as the Housing Coordinator of the recently chartered student organization Swarthmore Disability Association (SDA). The group is hoping to provide a centralized guide for incoming students on accommodations. Mahurkar suggested more communication between SDS and Housing, or more staffing (SDS currently has only two full-time employees). According to Atkinson, Housing is adding a spot on the Housing Portal where students can see if their accommodations were granted.

Last summer, some members of the class of 2026 were placed on a housing waitlist until August as rooms were held for freshman accommodations and not made available for selection in April. In November 2023, SGO collected data – led by Creegan in an independent, non-Council SGO role – from over 200 students on housing experiences and desires. Included in the report was a request for waitlist clarity and increased transparency about whether roommates would get separated. According to Creegan, Atkinson shared in council meetings that the waitlist was made undesirable and unclear to encourage students to pick Mary Lyon rooms instead. 

“Sophomores expressed extreme discontent in the overall housing process and many felt like it was particularly unfair for the class of 2026. We recommend making the waitlist process clearer for students who are unable to select a room,” the report read. “Additionally, we understand that it’s reasonable to have a disincentive for students who choose to be on the waitlist instead of selecting from the available pool, but find it unreasonable to offer them so little information and the potential to be with a different roommate. We ask that the disincentive for being on the waitlist is the lack of knowing where you will live until the end of the summer and students who selected a roommate stay with them.”

The report also included student opinions on blocking: students reserving a wing of rooms to live close together. About 78% of respondents said they would like blocking to return, while 12.3% responded that they were first years and unsure of what blocking meant. The report suggested blocking return in Mary Lyon and Worth dorms and proposed blocks using floor plans to be assigned based on an averaged lottery number of the blocking residents. 

The council has decided to bring blocking to Mary Lyon and most likely Worth as well and is currently determining how much of the buildings should be blocked. During meetings, students and Atkinson have discussed the pros and cons of blocking. Some members are concerned that blocks will take singles from students who wish to live alone, and Atkinson stressed students should make a trade-off between a single and living with friends in a double: “Regardless of blocks, students can always prioritize being near their friends over other aspects of housing.”

According to Mahurkar, students in the council have also presented a concern that blocks will be solely claimed by athletes and larger friend groups. She also mentioned that friend groups with different accommodations may have trouble blocking if a block of singles does not fit their needs. 

“It feels slightly like it’s prioritizing certain types of friend groups, which I mean, there’s not really anything wrong with that, but also, it just feels slightly morally wrong,” Mahurkar said. 

Creegan sees the lack of singles available after blocking as a false constraint, and believes that given the support shown by the survey blocking should be instituted. She also clarified that only Worth and Mary Lyon are being considered for blocking.

“If there’s anyone who has a ‘why blocking is bad’ manifesto, I want to read it because I want to know why someone thinks blocking is so bad,” Creegan said. “I think the argument that I’ve heard against blocking is that it takes too many singles off of the free market of singles, to which I respond: this would only be a net change of maybe 50 rooms in which people will still be living in singles. It’s not like a block erases the singles. It reallocates them. I see no reason to bar people from living with their friends.”

While the council holds closed meetings, student members hope to gain more input from the larger community. Councilmember Cohen Manges ’27 said the council is creating an electronic suggestions box. Both Creegan and Atkinson also urged students to email them or the council with any suggestions. Manges joined the council after hearing about negative selection experiences from last year, and was surprised that student input is being considered for changes.

“It surprised me that students have a say in it at all,” Manges said. “I thought it would be a more fixed system, but it’s really up in the air and so which I think is great because that means we can change things and make them work for us better.”

Creegan hopes to see other changes to housing in future years, including a weighted lottery system where students’ position in choosing a room is determined by previous positions. She also has pushed for the Housing Council to include a member represented by a student from the First-Generation/Low-Income (FLI) Council, rather than an internally-decided committee of private students. 

Atkinson stressed that rising sophomores should be aware of the extreme unlikelihood of getting a single without an accommodation and create a roommate plan. From March 25 to 29, Housing will be holding roommate matching events. Additionally, students can look at the Housing website to see how many of each class year are placed in singles and which rooms they can get. 

“I know ML seems far from campus, but those rooms are amazing! Plus the walk is quite pretty. I encourage anyone who hasn’t seen ML, to take a stroll or ride the shuttle there to take a look,” Atkinson said. “For blocking in ML, we’ll take a double that’s connected to another double with a shared, private bathroom and offer those together. Four friends who want to live together can have a really nice setup. This will be a great option for rising sophomores.”

Moving forward, the council will discuss the lottery process and finalize blocking. Students can email the Swarthmore Housing Office at housing@swarthmore.edu to share their thoughts or email Darby Creegan to access blocking proposals from the housing report. Housing has set the timeline for this year’s housing selection as April 3-5 for selection numbers coming out, and April 8-12 for room selection. 

Some halls will also receive construction updates over the summer. According to Director of Capital Planning and Project Management Janet Semler, Alice Paul, Mary Lyon, Wharton, Parrish, Roberts, and Willets dorms will all be undergoing minor repairs including ceiling, alarm, and window replacements. Kyle and Woolman Houses may be receiving centralized air conditioning given equipment availability. Wharton, Kyle, and Woolman will get OneCard access for student room doors, and Parrish North will get new washing machines. All dorms will be available for selection, regardless of construction. 

Manges emphasized the community-wide impact of the council’s decisions. 

“Please try to interact with us and give us suggestions because we’d really like to hear what Swarthmore has to say,” Manges said. “We want to know what we don’t like as a community, because housing is supposed to be a community-run event. We want to make it best for everybody.”

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