Stop choosing your roommates through 'hospiteren'!

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Law student Stephan Verhulst would like to see an end to 'hospiteren', the act of interviewing several candidates to find a suitable roommate. According to him, this practice promotes discrimination. "What does it actually say about your position in society if you need ten to thirty people to find someone you could get along with?", he wonders.

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All the student houses I know choose new roommates through ‘hospiteren’. My first time trying to score a room in a hospiteeravond (hospitality evening) was an immediate success. Whether that was luck or it also had something to do with my white skin and blue eyes…. I don't know.

Over the years, I have seen many students come and go, and every time we held a 'hospiteeravond', I felt that something was not right. Most applicants are students without a migration background and the few ones with a migration background that do participate are much less likely to be chosen. Moreover, sexism and xenophobia are common in this selection system: a recent study revealed that women are two times more likely to participate in these evenings five or more times before finally landing a room. But that's not all: many student houses indicate in advance that they will only accept Dutch students.

I am happy to argue why this selection process should stop.

Where the problem lies:

1. The number of students
Student housing provider SSH has recently increased the number of participants allowed in such an evening from ten to fifteen. It is also possible to invite another fifteen participants if the first fifteen aren't considered good enough. Therefore, up to thirty students may apply for a single room. SSH also encourages student houses to invite as many students as possible – “otherwise, you might miss out on a dream candidate” – so students should strive to have at least five candidates visit the house in person, even though ‘hospiteren’ is a source of great stress for students. As a result, student houses are less inclusive, because candidates feel as though there's a high threshold to get in. In 2015, the SSH told DUB that they had no intention to put an end to ‘hospiteren’, even though there was no difference in preference between houses where roommates had been selected through 'hospiteren' and those where new roommates were placed directly.

As far as I am concerned, there's a more fundamental question at stake: what kind of society do we prepare students for if we normalise picking and choosing between ten to thirty people? Surely there is no selection based on identity at your football club. You don't select your neighbors either, do you? What does it actually say about your position in society if you need ten to thirty people to find someone you could get along with?

In my opinion, the ‘hospiteren’ system does not match the essence of our society: a place where everyone should be able to interact with everyone. Besides, considering it's the students who are above average who end up occupying leadership positions, this group of young people should learn to care about diversity and inclusion from the start, in order to be able to form inclusive and diverse teams elsewhere in the future.

2. How students are chosen
This is where the diversity problem is really evident. Several studies have shown that people tend to choose candidates who are very similar to them, both in appearance and identity. That's why politicians and companies are making radical changes concerning the selection process for new positions, such as establishing a women's quota or anonymous job applications. Organizations are realising more and more that managers often do not intend to discriminate – rather, they have a strong, unconscious bias. Therefore, choosing in a structurally inclusive and diverse way isn't actually possible. In our own lives, we are often not aware of our biases and the systems that perpetuate (indirect) discrimination and racism. There is, in many cases, no intention to do so.

In a response, SSH has indicated that it is conducting an independent investigation into possible criminal elements within the housing system, such as discrimination, and expects to get the results at the end of this year. That is good news, although I still wonder whether the SSH – as well as other student housing organizations, private individuals, and student associations – dare to acknowledge that the current system doesn't work by definition. You cannot eliminate the bias.

So, how can we solve this problem?

You can encourage or require having an inclusive online ‘hospiteren’ page, so that it is clear to minority groups that they are just as welcome. But that alone is not enough. Draw one person among the candidates who will be allowed to visit the house. Then, you can choose to welcome that person or draw a second name. That way, you reduce the bias, increase inclusivity, and you can filter out that one student who wants to smoke in the house (or not). Will you miss out on that “dream candidate”? Perhaps, but that is a risk worth taking if you want to drastically reduce discriminatory, sexist and other harmful practices. Don’t forget there are quite a few “dream candidates” who are left out by the current system.

Young people are the future, right? Do you also agree that diversity and inclusion are important? Then you should stop ‘hospitering’.

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