Many college students have faced a roommate problem at some point in their lives. Incompatible roommates are a recurring headache for many on-campus housing directors across the country, leading to frustrating conflict-resolution procedures or even the dreaded room change. Even more frustrating however, is that, at some universities these problems are self-inflicted wounds.
Why some universities would prohibit self-selection of roommates or assign roommates in order to get students “out of their comfort zone” is beyond me. University administrators need to be aware of the unintended consequences of such policies.
Not allowing students to choose roommates interferes with the natural social relationships people build during their college years. According to a recent USA TODAY report by Mary Beth Marklein, Stanford University students can’t choose roommates nor do they learn who their roommates will be until move-in day. Entering freshmen who might know people going to Palo Alto in the fall are forced to make friends with random people when they move in, possibly negatively impacting their freshman year experience.
And the logic presumes only freshmen will live on campus. Many sophomores decide to remain in residence halls another year, meaning Stanford’s roommate selection process will inevitably hinder the friendships made the year before.
Choosing roommate combinations that place different sorts of people together, can result in awkward living situations and unintended results. Most people like to choose the kinds of people they befriend. To pretend this does not continue after college in the “real world” is naive at best and somewhat dangerous.
Let’s suppose, for example — and this is only to describe a hypothetical situation, not any particular views of my own — an American student is paired with an international student at an American university. Without having asked the young man whether he was fine being paired with an international student, housing administrators can create a conflict that can arise out of completely different backgrounds, language barriers, etc.
The tragic incident of Rutgers Univesity student Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide just days after his roommate spied on him and bullied him, helps to prove the point that some people just don’t get along with certain others. Forcing such people to coexist for at least a year can be harmful to both parties, and this policy should be pursued with caution.
While creating combinations of students with different backgrounds might be what universities want, the students’ preferences should still come first. Look at it this way: the student is a paying customer, using certain facilities and services — the university — with the expectation his or her experience will be an enjoyable one. Why sacrifice this in the name of artificial and forced cultural exposure? Students who like to be taken out of their comfort zones will definitely seek out opportunities to do this on their own.
I believe Tech’s roommate selection process is decent. Students can choose specific roommates even as incoming freshmen. Students can also choose random roommates, within certain basic criteria such as a student’s smoking habits and preferences of visitation hours. This works well enough, but could improve with the help of more selection factors.
Marklein’s article notes the example of Rochester Institute of Technology, which will begin use of a software program similar to Match.com in order to match students with those who they are most compatible with. This approach ensures compatible people will have a chance to room together, making for, if nothing else, a more predictable freshman year.
Last spring, I participated in a speed-dating-style event held in East Ambler Johnston in order to find a roommate for this year. While I didn’t choose a roommate from among the people I met, it was only because I preferred a random roommate. Fortunately, I lucked out, being paired with a cool international student from Trinidad and Tobago: Jose Gonsalves, a.k.a. Juicy.
I like meeting new and interesting people; however, not everyone is like me. Therefore, having restrictive one-size-fits-all roommate selection practices is not appropriate for many reasons.