Living with a roommate can be both challenging and rewarding. Sharing living space can be a wonderful growth experience. Successful roommate pairs work to establish mutual expectations, are able to express their preferences, and take initiative to respectfully resolve disagreements. Residing with a roommate provides endless opportunities to practice communication skills that will be beneficial in all areas of life!
For many of our students, freshman year is the first time they have shared a bedroom. Until living in a residence hall, many students have never had to consider that someone might have different living preferences and habits (and that they are equally valid as their own!). However, roommate conflicts are not confined to the first year. Upper-level students are able to select their roommate but may discover that being friends does not always translate to being successful living partners. As with first-year students, communication – especially about mutual expectations – is critical.
How to Help
Sometimes when students are frustrated with their roommates they just want to vent. Your advisee might need you to be a listener – someone who will validate his/her feelings of frustration – and not be looking for you to be a problem-solver. Often, a roommate issue feels huge but with the opportunity to process it with an impartial listener – and the passage of a little bit of time – the student’s perspective changes.
Let your advisee know that s/he isn’t alone in this experience: roommate problems are not uncommon. Very often conflicts are the result of one roommate not knowing that his behavior was bothersome. If your advisee has not mentioned the issue to the roommate, encourage him/her to do so. Students may simply be unsure of how to approach the roommate and fearful that mentioning a concern will damage their relationship. Assure him/her that living with someone else (even a person we love and with whom we are compatible – like our own partners/spouses!) at times requires effort. Many roommates encounter bumpy moments – figuring out how to deal with them is one part of the learning process.
If you are comfortable providing general suggestions for how your advisee could initiate a conversation with his/her roommate, here are a few ideas to offer in addition to your own. The most important thing is for the student to share his/her concerns with the roommate. A private and planned out conversation may help bring some issues out in the open. The advisee should try to determine when they will both be in the room and won’t have to rush off to another commitment. Prompt the student to think of concrete behavioral examples and to word them in a non-accusatory manner. [Ex. “I was frustrated when you returned to the room at 3am last night and turned on the overhead light” vs “you are always so inconsiderate….”] Encourage the student to identify ways s/he could offer to compromise around the issues. Ask him/her to identify some of the ways the roommate relationship is currently successful and to use that as a basis for figuring out a strategy to positively address the problem.
Encourage your advisee to share the problem with the Resident Advisor. This referral is especially important if the student remains reluctant to bring up the issue and/or has already spoken to the roommate, but the issue has not been resolved. RAs are specifically trained in this area and are often asked for help: during the 2011-12 year, 47% of RAs reported that they mediated at least one roommate conflict.
In some circumstances, when additional assistance is needed, a professional staff member in the Office of Residence Life also may meet with the student in an effort to facilitate problem resolution. The professional staff is involved if a student is interested in moving to a different housing assignment. The room change process is explained on the Residence Life website.
If your advisee has other questions about living on campus, please encourage him/her to visit the Residence Life website or contact a staff member.