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Playing the Lottery

Most student housing at Kenyon is left to fate: Every year, students wait for an email containing the housing lottery number that determines where they will live the next year. This year, some students attempted to take matters into their own hands by buying better lottery numbers.

One rising senior, who requested anonymity, hoped to live in a North Campus Apartment (NCA) next year. She and her future housemates all received bad lottery numbers, ruining their chances for an NCA. But then they heard about a potential loophole: a group of students selling their enviable lottery numbers to others who were less lucky. In exchange for a low lottery number, the rising senior and her housemates offered one individual $100 and several cases of beer.

“We heard through the grapevine that some guys … all had numbers in the top 30 and were selling their numbers,” the senior said in an interview with the Collegian. “I texted one of them asking if they would want to do a switch, and he told me they already had 13 offers, and one person was offering $2,000 for his number.”

Colin Cowperthwaite ’18, a rising senior, also heard rumors about students buying and selling lottery numbers.

“The lottery process at Kenyon is such a drama-inducing process that most often it leads to mass hysteria where students feel like they have to compete against high numbers with their own elaborate configurations made by switching rooms and buying numbers,” Cowperthwaite wrote in an email to the Collegian.

The housing lottery, which took place during the last week of March and first week of April this year, operates under a seniority system, with numbers assigned randomly within class years. This year, students allegedly sold their numbers off to other students. The most popular housing options are often the first to go, but this year they became unavailable faster than usual. Last year, the NCAs were available until lottery number 81. This year, all NCAs were filled by 51, which left some students confused and frustrated by how quickly the NCAs filled up compared to previous years.

“In this case the lottery for rising juniors was unusual because the NCAs filled up before the Aclands did, and fewer people with lower numbers opted to live in singles in Old Kenyon or Watson,” another rising senior, granted anonymity by the Collegian, wrote in an email. “There was also a lot of cheating, with people trading, and in some cases, selling their [low] numbers to other groups.”

The Office of Housing and Residential Life (ResLife) hears concerns and complaints about students selling low numbers every year, according to Associate Director for ResLife Lisa Train, who runs the housing lottery. Although lottery numbers cannot be transferred, students with a high number could pay a student with a low lottery number to go through the lottery and select the housing option the first student wanted. The student with the low lottery number will likely not live with students in these arrangements, as they often make plans to live in other spaces unofficially. Students will then switch rooms without ResLife’s knowledge.  “A junior will take a single in, say, Old Kenyon and and then switch rooms with a senior in an NCA, and I have heard that people are exchanging money for this to happen,” Train said.

Many students have legitimate reasons for switching rooms, including accessibility issues, medical reasons or incompatibility with roommates, and receive ResLife’s permission to switch. For this reason, regulating room switches is hard, according to Train. Recently, Train’s office began examining housing lottery numbers when students asked to switch.

“We do look at lottery numbers when someone wants to switch and try to see if it is a legitimate switch or if it is a situation where people are trying to circumvent the system by buying off someone with a good number,” Train said.

To some, the idea that students are paying for better lottery numbers infuriates them, especially because of how self-indulgent it appears to be.

“The thought of buying a number is ridiculous — it emphasizes an idea I have that Kenyon students are entitled and think they deserve the best place to live,” the first rising senior said. “If one group was willing to throw down $2,000 [for a lottery number], it just seems selfish to me, but at the same time, my group was also willing to pay.”

This rising senior and her housemates ultimately did not pay for someone else’s lottery number.

Not every student has to face the uncertainty of the housing lottery. Some students receive housing assignments before the lottery, meaning those rooms will not be available for selection in the lottery. This pre-housing is mostly for students in theme or division housing, as well as students who require accessibility accommodations. More rooms than usual were unavailable this year due to the demolition of Farr Hall this summer. The pending demolition makes 22 single rooms unavailable, most of which typically go to seniors. Rising seniors this year who did not want to live in an apartment took South Campus singles instead; this contributed to confusion over the differences between last year’s lottery and this year’s lottery, according to Train.

On top of this confusion, many students feel cheated by deals some students make to manipulate the lottery system. But the under-the-table nature of these transactions makes them difficult to regulate. “It’s difficult to stop people from buying numbers because we don’t see money change hands and it’s hard to prove,” Train said.

Cowperthwaite agrees, and thinks it will be hard to correct any wrongdoing. “No policy is likely to fix this — students will always find their way around,” Cowperthwaite said. “This is just a fact of life that comes with the housing lottery.”

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