Preparations Made for Pandemic Rotation

The annual opportunity for Freshmen to choose a house is being put on hold

By Snigdha Saha | Published 09/28/2020

Rotation is one of the most integral aspects of a student’s transition to Caltech. Through ten days of events and house dinners, upperclassmen provide a glimpse of the different house cultures. The goal is to ensure prefrosh can find their own smaller community in their house or in Bechtel, which they choose at the end of Rotation.

However, no undergraduates are on campus for fall term. This raises an important question: how should Caltech proceed with Rotation?

To answer this question, the Interhouse Committee (IHC) sent out a survey to all the upperclassmen to gather opinions. As Adam Abbas (MS ‘22, Blacker), the IHC Secretary says, “Rotation is a whole-campus activity”, and thus it is difficult for the IHC to make any decisions without any input from students. Following the survey, the IHC held a meeting on September 5th, but the answer continues to be difficult without definite knowledge of the pandemic’s trajectory.

The IHC is looking at a few options: Virtual Rotation in the Fall, Virtual Rotation in the Spring Break, In-Person Rotation in Spring Term, or a two-class Rotation in Fall Term 2021. Kriti Devasenapathy (CS ‘21, Ricketts/Ruddock), the IHC Chair, believes that the best “option is that things are normal in the winter, and we just run with regular rotation...virtual rotation is difficult to coordinate, and just doesn’t feel the same”. Jeffrey Ma (CS ‘22, Fleming), the Interhouse Athletics Manager, agrees that “there are a lot of aspects of Rotation that are specifically more suited towards an in-person experience”.

However, both Devasenapathy and Ma realize the limitations with having an in-person experience, as does the Dabney Hovse President, Logan Apple (CS ‘21). Apple mentions that a virtual rotation is a “realistic possibility” and advises the house social teams to “prepare” for such a situation.

Despite the uncertainties, there is a general consensus that a two-class Rotation in Fall Term would be a terrible idea. Devasenapathy is strictly against this because “only one class would have experienced rotation” from an organizing perspective after the class of 2021 graduates. Ricketts Hovse President Alex Guerra (CS/Math ‘21) echoes this sentiment, stating that such a situation “seems like an absolute disaster” and does not “see that going well in the slightest”. Apple agrees that this will be a “logistical nightmare for whoever takes it over” since the present IHC will no longer be in session and the new IHC would have to work with twice as many students.

Regardless of the final decision, it is safe to assume that Rotation will be very different this year. There are several aspects central to Rotation that will be difficult to recreate in a virtual or even a restricted in-person Rotation. Michelle Hyun (ACM/PS ‘22), Lloyd House President, mentions that “generally showing up to houses and talking to people” was the most valuable part of her own Rotation experience, which allowed her to “get a feel for how the houses work”. Guerra mentioned that being “relatively introverted”, Rotation helped “ease the transition” into college.

From an organizing perspective, Ma says “being on the other side and showing something that you enjoy to others” is one of the best parts of Rotation. Similarly, Abbas mentions that the “line of people” for each event is a great way to have “twenty-minute chats” with new freshmen, while Guerra states that the lack of expectations from freshmen allows the upperclassmen to create fun and new experiences. However, with restrictions on large gatherings, it is impossible to tell if these experiences can be recreated.

It is highly possible that the Class of 2024 will be spending at least one term without a house, which is an unpleasant prospect for all the classes. Guerra is worried that “a lot of freshmen will try to do the fall term on their own” which will lead to an inability to “get their head above water”. On the other hand, Hyun is afraid that house cultures will “blur together” to appear as “residential homes”, when the houses are more than that.

Although final decisions regarding Rotation are yet to be made, the IHC has made some modifications to pre-Rotation Rules to provide freshmen with some insight into the house culture. On September 24th, Devasenapathy sent out an email to the undergraduate population with a document of pre-Rotation guidelines as well as an invite to a massive Discord server. The guidelines allow freshman and upperclassmen to have honest and insightful discussions regarding houses, and also include some examples of right and wrong conversations. The Discord server facilitates these discussions, with channels and sections divided by house.

With all the difficulties of Rotation in a pandemic, another important question arises: should freshmen be allowed to re-rotate in the next possible physical Rotation? The opinion on this is conflicted. Devasenapathy personally thinks this should be allowed but she is unsure of the scope. Similarly, Apple believes it depends on the circumstances and the number of students who are interested; too much interest could lead to a double class rotation. Ma believes that there are enough opportunities at Caltech to be social or full members of other houses, and that the goal of rotation is not to have freshmen re-rotating until they find their first choice. It seems that this question will be revisited based on how Rotation is eventually addressed.

It can be said without doubt that many opinions and perspectives are being taken into account to create a successful Rotation for the current prefrosh. However, the ultimate decision is not with the IHC or the Office of Residential Experience, but with the health status of the world around us.

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