HMC Peer Academic Liaisons Given Housing Pre-Placement Despite Student Criticism

The exterior of Drinkward Hall, one of the residence halls possibly affected by the recent decision to give Peer Academic Liaisons (PALs) pre-placement in room draw for the upcoming year. (Chloe Ortiz • The Student Life)

Some students at Harvey Mudd College were left feeling disgruntled after Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Lori Bassman decided to give housing pre-placement to Peer Academic Liaisons despite widespread student disapproval.

PALs offer “peer-to-peer support regarding academic life and [help] connect students with academic resources at HMC and beyond,” according to the Division of Student Affairs resource guide.

Bassman sent an email to the HMC student body to explain her decision.

“I requested pre-placement for PALs so they can participate in training in parallel with the other student [residential] leaders and so they can have full connection and trust built with the first-year students that they support,” Bassman wrote in her email. “Prior and current experience has made it clear how important it is for PALs to live in the dorms where they do their work.”

ASHMC was asked to help determine how PALs would be pre-placed, after which dorm presidents were instructed to gather feedback from students. When they reported back, it was clear that a large portion of the student body was against the move, according to Maggie Gelber HM ’19, an East Dorm president. The pre-placement program was implemented anyway, leaving some students dissatisfied.

“It seems like [the Division of Student Affairs] went to ASHMC and told them what would be happening, and that’s kind of it,” Luis Viornery HM ’18 said. “I feel [the way PAL pre-placement was handled] undermines the idea of real shared governance or students’ ability to understand their own needs.”

However, Bassman wrote in an email to TSL that this was not a decision for students to make.

“While ASHMC does not set Academic Affairs policies, I certainly wanted to do all I could to minimize the effect on room draw while still gaining the support for students that is really needed and valued, and I appreciated the input,” Bassman wrote.

Some students said they recognized that Bassman was not obligated to abide by the results of student feedback on this issue.

“In my opinion, this is not a decision that they had to come to the students on, and I appreciate that they did,” Gelber said. “Of course I think it’s a little bit unfortunate that we thought we were getting a choice in the process as a whole when we weren’t, but I don’t think it was … ‘You get a choice, we said no, and they said well it’s happening anyways.’”

Bassman responded to students’ concerns by decreasing the number of PALs from 19 to 13 in order to take fewer rooms away from room draw, soliciting feedback from proctors in the PAL selection process, and deciding to treat next year as a trial period for PAL pre-placement.

“It was ... recognized that many students were unhappy with the general idea, but the decision was to continue as planned since the overall effect would be positive in expanding academic support avenues,” ASHMC Senate Chair Marissa Lee HM ’18 and ASHMC President Lupe MacIntosh HM ’18 wrote in an email addressed to the student body. “Thus, while the changes based on our comments may not have completely [eliminated] concerns, they were intended to mitigate them.”

Historically, there has been pushback whenever a new group received housing pre-placement due to the competitive housing draw at HMC, according to Gelber. Pre-placement makes it more difficult for rising juniors and seniors to get singles in the dorms in which they want to live.

For example, although mentors now play significant roles at HMC, “I know that [when] mentors started getting pre-placed, there was pushback against that,” Gelber said.

The decision to pre-place PALs was especially criticized because many students do not see their PALs as an important part of their support network at HMC.

“I only actually spoke with my PALs for PAL purposes twice this past semester, two meetings that we were required to have with them,” Aely Aronoff HM ’21 said.

Some current PALs believe pre-placement will help them be more effective. Currently, some PALs do not live in the same dorm as the students they are supporting.

Jenny Lee HM ’18, a PAL, said she believes the change would “make the PALs more effective in terms of communication between the [Residential] Life team, which includes the proctors and mentors of the dorm, and coordinating with them to make events for the freshman.”

Bassman wrote that she plans to expand the PAL role to include helping students foster good academic habits and connect with resources, planning dorm-specific events on academic topics, and supporting students through academic placement tests during New Student Orientation.

This article was updated on Feb. 16 to correct the spellings of Gelber and Aronoff's names.