Living with a roommate can be a rewarding and enlightening experience. But when music blares past midnight and dishes pile up in the sink, the claws come out. Like all aspects of college, it is not without its challenges and solutions.
Conor Grey, a senior pre-med major, is familiar with the more common problems that arise in shared living spaces – food theft, differences in hygiene and significant others who overstay their welcome, to name a few. He serves as a resident adviser (RA) in Walker Apartments. Having already worked as an RA in Finegan Hall during his sophomore and junior years, he has dealt with more than a few roommate disputes.
“The biggest problem is a breakdown in communication,” Grey said.
In most cases, he said, students seek outside assistance before trying to speak to their roommates directly.
“Until you actually talk to the person, I can’t really do anything for you,” he said, “because you have no ground to build your argument on.”
Grey said RAs typically follow an outline. When a student approaches him with a roommate issue, he first asks them to discuss it with their roommate. If the situation does not improve over time, he schedules mediation with both parties, during which they review the roommate agreement completed at the beginning of the year and see if it needs to be amended. If they are still unable to reach a compromise, Grey said, the students can apply for a roommate switch. Certain times at the beginning and end of each semester are designated “switch periods.”
Denise Golden, director of residence life, said that she encourages students to also seek help from resident directors, who are trained extensively to mediate conflicts.
“We’re not going to deny a room change just out of spite,” she said, “but there are times during the year where we can’t simply grant a room change.”
The exception, she said, comes when low-level disagreements over room temperature and sleep schedules become more serious.
“We’re on duty 365 days a year, 24/7,” she said. “If someone really feels uncomfortable or even threatened, we can put them in a temporary situation until we figure things out. That’s what residents always need to know.”
In these types of situations, students should immediately contact Police and Safety.
“Roommate respect for each other is paramount over all of our policies,” she said. “So even if our policy allows a visitor, if you constantly have somebody over who is offending you or something like that, that’s something you need to talk about.”
The Residence Life handbook states that each student living in the residence hall has certain rights, including the right to sleep, the right one’s personal belongings and the right to free access to one’s room. Additionally, the handbook addresses issues regarding personal privacy, clean living environments and verbal and written threats.
In his experience, Grey said he has found that young women face more roommate conflicts than young men. He said he thinks this happens because men are more directly confrontational.
Golden, however, said she sees the conflicts as more equally distributed between men and women.
“With females, it tends to be more detailed and more emotionally charged,” she said. “In my experience it’s been even, but you just never know what people bring to the table. They can make it emotionally charged, and I wouldn’t say that that can all be attributed to females.”
Regardless of gender, living with roommates is new to the majority of college students. Grey said he recommends being upfront as soon as issues arise.
“Just come right out and say it,” he said. “If something is bothering you, address it right then and there.”
Golden said she agrees, adding that residents should put aside any passive aggression.
“No slamming cabinets,” she said. “No texting. No leaving notes.”
Instead, she said that roommates should make an effort to find out why they do the things they do.
“Get to know each other,” Golden said, “spend time together, and if you can tell there are differences, talk through the differences and come up with a plan to keep those differences from controlling your life.”