We Should Trust the Algorithm

Photo courtesy of Julia Cardwell ’19

Julia Cardwell ’19

Let’s turn back time to January 30th, 2016, around 6:15am. I was a first year—youthful, bullish, not yet beaten down by the continuous walks up and down the hill and the copious B-pluses that never seem to tip the scale to an A—and I picked up the phone to call my mom (as I did for all major and minor turns in the road we call life). 

“They’re coming, Mom! They’re almost here!” My mom’s voice, confused and groggy, takes a concerned tone. “Who’s coming? Are you in some sort of trouble?” In her dazed state, she’s forgotten that this day has been all I can talk about since returning to Davidson for the start of my second semester—Self-Selection morning.

My friends and I stood in the hall watching our First Belk hallmates get picked up by their respective houses. I closed my eyes and wished for my first choice, and I got it. I was officially a Turner Frog. I donned my new self-selection t-shirt and joined my fellow frogs where we ran, screaming, to the house. As I ran, I had no idea where this community would lead me. Eventually I became house manager, then secretary, and eventually president of Turner House. 

This year’s self-selection played out a little differently for some people. I had heard rumors that Turner wasn’t as popular this year—as goes the ebb and flow of Eating House popularity. No house stays on the top, or the bottom for that matter, for long. Through my four years, I’ve seen houses rise and fall in popularity due to complex mechanisms that I still don’t understand. This year, like every year, I’ve also heard insidious stereotyping of the houses—Turner included. There’s no need to rehash those stereotypes here because I don’t care to add any undue credence to them. It’s unfortunate and frustrating to hear that these stereotypes continue to persist and grow. I take these judgements personally because they, in absolutely no way, represent my experience in Turner, and I’m sure this rings true for members of other houses as well. If you’re helping to spread these assumptions, stop. Nobody has anything to gain.

 These stereotypes are doing nothing but challenging the notion of acceptance that the idea of “self-selecting” is based on. I challenge you all, no matter the house you’re in, to question them. Don’t allow them to inform your experience in your house. Give your new house a chance. An Eating House is simply the sum of its members—a temporary representation of some section of the student body. Its membership is impermanent, turning over completely every four years. An Eating House doesn’t hold any intrinsic value except the value that its members give it by working to make it what they want it to be. 

An algorithm ultimately decides what house you’re in. But you decide what that house means to you. What you put in is what you get out. Call me a sentimental senior (I’ve been crying about graduation a lot), but this self-selection, I couldn’t help but think back on my past four years at Davidson. I feel truly lucky to have been able to call Turner home for all of them. I strongly believe that my experience in Turner was so great because I put in the work to make it great. I worked to change things I didn’t like and to foster the things I did. Don’t dismiss your house, but also don’t assume things will change just because you want them to. Sometimes we have to work for what we want. 

I’m not going to tell you that it doesn’t matter what house you’re in. I’m not going to tell you not to be upset if you didn’t get your first pick. But you all have a choice—make the change you want to see in your house. Get involved, be active. Make the house what you want it to be. And remember that the algorithm didn’t fail you, and you should be conscious not to fail the algorithm.

Julia Cardwell ‘19 is an Environmental Studies major from Chevy Chase, Maryland. Contact her at jucardwell@davidson.edu.

Comments are closed.