By: Drew Satter, M. Ed., Area Coordinator in Housing and Residence Life
When arriving at college, many students have stars in their eyes and think they will be best friends with their roommate. Many students have an initial honeymoon period in which things are great and they love their roommate. Once the students are a few weeks into the semester, many may start to have conflicts with their roommate. Often, this is a natural progression for students, especially when some of them may be sharing a space with someone for the first time. Roommate matching can only do so much when assessing a student’s compatibility with another student, and is even less effective when a parent or loved one fills out the application for a student. You can read more about this here.
Once these individuals meet – or maybe they already know each other – and things start going south, we have a few tips on how to properly navigate the relationship.
Roommates should be filling out a room agreement between themselves. Many students fly through this as they are still in the honeymoon phase and don’t believe that their roommate would ever do (fill in the blank)! Well, once the roommate crosses the line that was never discussed, how is that roommate supposed to know that the line was crossed? Sometimes there are apparent things that people should know, but the roommate may not have lived with anyone before or doesn’t have the social or self-awareness needed. There are considerations in relation to living styles that aren’t readily apparent to different groups of people. When I was in school, I didn’t have very much money and my sister brought me some Sun Chips, which were my favorite chips at the time. I wanted to make sure to share these chips at an opportune time with my friends. My roommate helped himself to my chips, as he figured that we would just share all of our food. When I returned and noticed that half the bag was gone, that was a bit upsetting (even though it was a pretty small thing). It was also awkward to bring this up, as we didn’t talk about how we would share food in the room, plus I actively avoided conflict as a first year student. Anyway, I ended up avoiding the situation for quite some time and would only passively address things as they would come up, such as his smell and lack of general hygiene. Current Drew is disappointed with freshmen college student Drew and I wish that I had handled that situation better. If I would have taken the time to take the roommate agreement seriously by establishing boundaries and expectations as well as approaching my roommate directly, I could have saved some time and stress.
As awkward or “not lit” as it might be as a student to address a roommate directly and clearly, that is a healthy way to address a student’s roommate situation. People don’t know what they’re doing unless they are told! Students have so much going on in their lives outside of their collegiate home that they may just expect it to go well and may not pay much attention to what is going on. This is completely understandable, yet for something that can cause so much strife if not taken care of, the roommate situation is sometimes overlooked. If there is something troubling a student, refer to the roommate agreement and, no matter what, it is ok to be kind and direct in a request. When bringing up an issue that one student has with a roommate, please remind the student that they may also probably be doing something that (gasp!) annoys their roommate! As I’ve facilitated roommate disagreements that have gotten out of hand, that is something that I’m sure to mention to all parties involved and probably 80% of the time, this has not occurred to the student. I still do that with my spouse and we’ve been happily married for nearly six years.
We hope that students will be able to handle conflict on their own, as it helps develop important life skills that Residence Life wants to instill in our students. If your student has addressed the situation and still does not know what to do, or might need some tips on how to address conflict, we have staff on hand to help! Each student has a Resident Assistant they can contact in order to meet and talk through their situation. The RAs and Residence Directors have been through ample training and should be able to help students struggling with any roommate conflict. If the conflict gets to the point that a mediated conversation needs to happen, our staff is also trained to help with that. Our staff can guide students through many situations. As a last resort, room changes are available, but there is a lot of value in working out conflicts with roommates if they arise.
I hope this has been helpful for helping your student with addressing their roommate issues. We are happy to help and we know that parents and other loved ones hear some of the situations that may not hit the ears of our staff. Also, please know that sometimes there will be different versions of the story that come up to parents when compared to the staff. Sometimes they will use loved ones to vent and the initial feeling is much more dramatic and impactful than how the student feels the next day. After I’ve worked in Residence Life for the last 12 years, these are the things that I’ve seen arise more than a handful of times. Again, we are here to help, so please encourage your student to reach out to staff if needed!