Room draw program malfunction frustrates first-year students
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Room draw program malfunction frustrates first-year students

Wallace hall is a residence for sophomores. It is typically one of the most sought after living spaces in each year’s room draw. Photo: macalester on flickr
Those hoping for a seamless Room Draw process were left disappointed this year after the online software used by Residential Life malfunctioned and discarded all rising sophomores’ room draw numbers.

In the first stage of the room draw process, students are issued a random number through a lottery, giving an idea of the time that one will have to select a room. After those in double and group draws finalize their rooming groups, the software is supposed to generate a draw time for the group, based on the best individual number issued.

However, Monday night, before group draw was scheduled to begin, some students began posting to the Class of 2016 Facebook page and contacting the Residential Life Office, claiming the numbers of those in their group had been averaged unexpectedly. Others noticed that their numbers and draw times had not been affected at all, while some saw they now shared a room draw number with another person.

Tess Huber ’16, who was planning on using her good room draw number to land a five-person suite in GDD, checked the MyHousing to see that her draw number and those of her intended suitemates had been averaged.

“After the initial shock, we got over it. We thought there was no way that they could leave things as they were and that we’d get our number back,” Huber said.

According to Director of Campus Life Keith Edwards, Residential Life uses Adirondack’s program The Housing Director to assist with room draw. This is the second year that the school has used the program. Previously, room selection was conducted in person.

Adirondack could not be reached for comment.

When Residential Life staff went into the system to convert the numbers to draw times, the system was unable to do so and tried to give everyone new room numbers.

“In ways that we don’t fully understand, it reshuffled things,” Edwards said. “We’re still trying to figure out what exactly happened with that.”

He contacted Adirondack through the night and the next day, but those efforts were futile, as the original room numbers had simply disappeared. Representatives from Adirondack, according to Edwards, are as unsure as he is on what went wrong with the system.

April Fools’ Day prank complicates already-fraught room draw process

The issue quickly became how to communicate the problem to rising sophomores and proceed with room draw as smoothly as possible. Residential Life staff quickly sent an email to the class, explaining that this was a completely unintentional glitch in the system and new room numbers will be issued. Much of the next day was spent assisting students that came in to complain or ask questions about the disrupted room selection process.

“We did not change our mind. We did not communicate one thing and change our mind, and average [the numbers] at the last minute. That’s not the case,” Edwards said. “We spent a lot of time empathizing with peoples’ frustrations that afternoon.”

“[The staff] didn’t know what had really happened either. The only thing they could tell us was that our original numbers had been erased and no longer existed,” Huber said. “We felt bad for the staff, as they were clearly overwhelmed and confused but couldn’t understand how they couldn’t do anything at all about it.”

Some students came to Edwards and proposed that they postpone the room draw a few days, in order to allow students to catch their breath and reevaluate their housing groups. Residential Life never seriously considered moving it back.

“Postponing draw would’ve raised all sorts of anxiety. Everyone had draw times, and there’s no way we could’ve gotten those old numbers back. It’s not like [if we had] two more days, we would’ve been able to go back and fix it,” Edwards said.

Edwards conceded that a postponed draw would have given students more time to strategize about their housing choices, but they had at least 24 hours to decide, and he determined that time was sufficient.

According to Edwards, the actual room draw process, once underway, went fairly smoothly.

“By the time group draw started, it was pretty slick, and we didn’t have a lot of problems,” Edwards said. “Once people were going with the times they were given, everything worked the way it should.”

Huber’s group was one of two in the group draw that was not placed into a suite as they desired. They ended up splitting between a triple in Kirk and entering into the doubles draw. The other group had backup plans in store as well.

Two pairs of students were not initially placed into rooms in the doubles draw as they requested, as the available rooms all filled before their draw time came up. Residential Life was able to locate a double room for one of the pairs, and the other was given single rooms next to each other.

The incident was made even more complicated by the fact that the system glitch occurred on April Fools’ Day, leading some students to think this was a prank by Residential Life and their numbers would be restored in the morning.

In addition, Mina Bakhtiar ’13 actually did turn the incident into an April Fools’ prank. Soon after students began posting on Facebook that their numbers had been averaged, Bakhtiar responded, falsely claiming to be a member of the Residential Life staff, and telling everyone their numbers were planned to be averaged all along.

“I was sitting by a first year, who was looking on Facebook and saw that the numbers were averaged. I didn’t know what was going on myself, but I could tell people were freaking out,” Bakhtiar said. “I really wanted to pull a great April Fools’ prank on the school.”

Bakhtiar referred first-years with questions to another one of her friends, who does not work in Residential Life either, with the hopes of overloading his email inbox with concerns about housing from first-years.

The next morning, Edwards logged onto the Facebook group and saw Bakhtiar’s posts. He contacted her and asked her to retract her statements.

“[She] was falsely representing [herself] as someone working for ResLife, spreading information that’s inaccurate, and raising people’s anxiety and frustration when there’s already a situation that’s already making them anxious and frustrated,” Edwards said.

Bakhtiar said she received a mixed reaction to her prank.

“Some first years that I know, they told me it was hilarious. Some called freaking out,” said Bakhtiar. “I feel kind of bad that I capitalized on it, but it was hilarious.”

The draw for rising juniors and seniors went smoothly, according to Edwards. This year, they decided not to require people to select housing groups prior to picking a room, and they did not distribute room draw numbers. The housing selection period was open from 7:30am to 6:00pm in a free-for-all, and they could select any room, and any combination of roommates, that they desired.

“We wanted them to see all their options. The only way to do all of that is to have an open draw. That went very well,” Edwards said.

Despite the problems with Adirondack’s software, the school is committed to using that program in the future. For now, however, conversations continue with representatives from Adirondack, as they try to determine exactly what happened with their software.

“Not only do we not understand it, but they don’t understand it either,” Edwards said.

April 12, 2013

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