Getting Warmer: Higher Degrees of Student Agency
M.Arch I, 2020
January 10, 2019
Last semester the M.Arch I class of 2020 was given the opportunity to choose their spring semester studio critic. In an effort to bridge the gap between the core sequence and the advanced studios, the fourth-semester studio titled, “City: Lampooned,” allows for the multifarious exploration of urban issues surrounding the Marx Brothers Playground in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Each critic provided students with a brief, which outlined how they would address “play” through research, drawing, mapping, and making. The critics’ differing approaches allowed students to evaluate what they would prefer to spend the semester working on.
After participating in a lottery with M.Arch II students for the upcoming summer programs, in which every student who participated received their first choice between Rome, Sweden, and Madrid, students found that the studio lotteries were highly contested and required more gamesmanship to achieve a satisfactory outcome. Last minute alliances, which would have made Professor Alex Garvin proud, shifted firmly held rankings as the pre-lottery straw poll numbers appeared on the board. While the successes of some students may be attributed to confusion on the part of other students, the core studio lottery was invaluable preparation for the advanced studio lotteries set to take place in fall 2019.
Giving students the responsibility to run two additional lotteries in the fall was a sign of good faith from the administration in the students’ ability to run the lottery in the most open and transparent way possible. Unfortunately, a delay in the announcement of the results (which still required a sign-off from the administration) meant that for nearly 24 hours a handful of students involved in running the lottery were privy to information that others were not. Typically this would not have been an issue, but the fact that this studio is predicated upon working in a team throughout the entirety of the semester made the wait particularly painful and borderline unfair to those left in the dark. At 4:41 p.m. the next day, an email announcement from Lottery Committee Chair Larkin McCann set off a flurry of frantic texts, emails, and occasionally Facebook messages to potential studio partners.
The success of the summer program lottery was undoubtedly an improvement upon the previous process, which led some students to receive neither their first nor their second choice. Additionally, the new core studio lottery, while problematic in some ways, is vastly preferable to the alternative: random selection. The system remains in need of further improvements, but providing students with more opportunities to tailor their own educational experience is a huge step in the right direction.