By SARA ARTHURS
It’s exciting to be a college freshman and to fledge the parents’ nest, but adjusting to dorm living and especially a new roommate can pose challenges.
Most university students have not had to share a room before, said Justin F. Courtney, director of residence life and director of polar careers at Ohio Northern University, and Brian Treece, assistant dean of students and director of residence life at the University of Findlay. Both said with good communication, new roommates can have a good relationship.
“I think the primary thing that I would suggest is be open-minded,” Courtney said. He said there will be differences “and they could be minor or they could be major.”
He said he advises students that there is a choice: “You can be right and have no relationship or you can choose to have a relationship and not always be right.”
Treece said often “the littlest things bug people the most.”
That is, one roommate might want to sleep with the television on and the other with it off, or one roommate might want just a quiet alarm clock while the other requires a “five-alarm fire” to get out of bed. Or there may be conflicts over when they want guests in the room, or the music they listen to.
Treece advised students to realize that they will be different from their roommate and embrace that. The college years are probably the only time in a person’s life when they’ll live in the same building with others from all over the country and the world, getting to know so many different people, he said.
“It can be a very fun environment,” said Karyn Westrick, director of counseling services at the University of Findlay.
Westrick said often a student will assume that their roommate will become their best friend, but she advises them to look at it as a functional relationship, one in which they are sharing space. An incoming freshman will find that his or her roommate has had different life experiences and has a different view of the world. They don’t have to agree but they need to respect that that is their view, Westrick said.
She encourages honest communication early on. Sometimes when roommates first meet they want to be liked so they won’t say what they want “and then come October they wonder why somebody didn’t read their mind,”
Westrick said. She said it’s easy to make assumptions. For example, if one roommate goes out to dinner with some new friends but doesn’t invite her roommate, the roommate may assume she doesn’t like her. Or another may assume that “she must know that I like the lights out” and is therefore leaving them on on purpose, Westrick said.
Westrick said a common issue can be when it’s OK to have others in the room, including friends and romantic partners.
Again, she focuses on communication and “keeping a sense of humor. … This too will be a learning experience.”
Westrick said students who are naturally more introverted may have to spell it out for others that they need down time and not to take it personally.
If the roommates are open to new experiences “you have the chance of really broadening their horizons,” Westrick said.
University employees face the challenge of matching up potential roommates. In the old days this was a laborious process but today it is done by computer. Courtney said Ohio Northern has an automated system.
Students fill out an application in which they are asked questions like whether they are a morning person or a night person, what type of music they like and what their major is. The computer system weighs attributes to determine good roommate matches, and a human checks it over once the computer software has come to its recommendations.
It’s a far cry from when Courtney began in the role in 2004. Back then, students filled out paper forms and staff had to go through them to make matches. Courtney spent 36 hours straight, with no sleep, matching roommates his first year.
About half of the University of Findlay’s students live on campus. Treece said there are single rooms but freshmen generally have double rooms.
About two-thirds of Ohio Northern’s 3,200 students live on campus. Courtney said about one-third of those who live in student housing are in traditional residence halls, with two to a room and a shared community bathroom. Sophomores may move into a suite style of housing, or one with private bathrooms. Upperclassmen can live in student apartments.
When it comes to deciding what to pack, communication even before the school year starts can help. Treece encouraged roommates to talk ahead of time about how to divide up larger purchases such as a microwave, refrigerator or television, “so that two of everything don’t show up.”
Westrick said to keep in mind “it is a limited space.” Roommates might negotiate what to pack. If one roommate has parents who live nearby while the other’s family is several states away, they may decide the latter will get more closet space since the former can go home and swap out her wardrobe.
Westrick said social media has made it possible for roommates to communicate before moving in. She has known students who use the picture website Pinterest to share ideas for how they want to decorate the room.
Courtney said in general, it’s a good idea to bring items that will “make it feel like home” such as photographs of loved ones, but not to pack too much.
“Don’t bring everything,” he said.
Of course, living with a new roommate doesn’t always go smoothly. Even when roommates have good intentions, conflicts do arise. Courtney said it’s often over space issues and miscommunication is a big part of it.
Both Courtney and Treece said it’s important for students to talk face to face to resolve their problems. Often students are used to texting or tweeting or leaving notes, Treece said.
Residence halls have resident assistants on staff, and Courtney said they go through a lot of training including role playing possible scenarios and getting training in crisis management. These people are usually the first ones residents turn to if there’s a conflict.
If a mediation with a resident assistant doesn’t come to an agreement, they will work with the resident director and possibly Courtney himself. He said roommates usually come to an agreement with mediation.
Treece said a resident assistant can help draw up a roommate agreement where the residents can put their expectations into a formal document.
Sometimes it’s the students’ first time dealing with a conflict on their own and they just need a little help in how to confront the other person in a positive way. Often the conflict makes students uneasy but they may learn and grow from it, he said.
Starting college can be an adjustment in general, Treece said, “going from having a lot of structure to a lot of freedom to make your own choices.” Homesickness is common.
Westrick, as a counselor, said adjusting can be hard for some freshmen. But while most may not feel ready for college, they find they’re more ready than they think they are.
She likened it to the start of kindergarten, when a student is plucked out of everything he or she knows and put in a new place. The difference is kindergartners get picked up after several hours, while college freshmen don’t get picked up for months.
“College is an amazing time and it’s a very new experience,” Treece said. “Just embrace it.”
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