Roommates! What You Need to Know

In early August every year we release roommate information to our incoming students.  There is always a plethora of excitement and anxiety about the release of roommate information.  Students and their families have reached out to us on social media, via email, in person, and on the phone.   Some students have selected a roommate while others have chosen to go potluck.  Regardless, students are anxious and parents are nervous and many respond within minutes with joy or frustration depending on their roommate assignment.  Here’s a little secret, though.  We are nervous and anxious too.  We want your students to have a terrific housing experience and to succeed at IUPUI, and the roommate relationship can impact that significantly. Also, we are not able to place everyone with his or her desired roommate for a variety of reasons and we know that can cause a great deal of consternation.

 I have worked as a college housing professional for 14 years and the one thing I know for certain is that for most roommate relationships the key to success is not whether you knew your roommate prior to college or selected them prior to move- in day.  Rather, it is the relationship created by the roommates who live together and the management of that relationship throughout the year.  I have seen best friends become enemies within a few months of living together, and I have also witnessed roommates who thought they would hate each other become lifelong friends.  While I am sure that familiarity with your roommate or roommates is certainly an important factor to roommate success, I am also sure that that familiarity is redefined when you move in with someone.  It’s actually the creation of that new familiarity, with someone you know, or familiarity, with someone that you do not know, that is pivotal to the success of the roommate relationship.

 Last spring Housing and Residence Life embarked on a multi-year project examining roommate relationships and what makes them successful.  For many years, we have looked at trying to solve roommate issues from the lens of what is going wrong.  The reality is that most roommate relationships go well and it’s easy to focus on the ones that do not because we understandably hear most from those students.  In March of 2015 we sent out a message through our online roommate management program, Roompact, and asked students “what makes your roommate relationship work.”  We received over 150 responses and it became apparent that there were nine major themes.  We put those themes into action statements that could be rated in terms of frequency and importance and sent a new survey out to all of our residents.  We also asked questions about gender and building type and whether or not students knew their roommate before they arrived to college.  We had 378 students respond to the survey and what we found was amazing.  Additionally, we have used the information to completely overhaul the way we work with roommates.  Here are some key findings:

  • Frequencies of positive impact behaviors were more significant than a resident’s rating of importance of any factor.
  • Whether or not the students knew each other before living together had no significant impact on the roommate relationship. 
  • The three most important positive impact behaviors for the roommate relationship that were identified were:
    • Engaging in casual in-person communication daily.
    • Spending time with each other eating, cooking, watching a TV show, movie or sporting event, going places together, walking to class, etc. at least three times per week.
    • Setting aside at least one time each week to have a perspective shaping conversation about the roommate relationship.
    • In short, we found that students who rated their roommate relationship three of out of three talked daily, spent time together 3 times a week, and had one perspective shaping conversation per week.

 I mentioned earlier the concept of familiarity and how important it is for that to be created between the roommates in their new, shared living space.  It’s not surprise that the positive impact behaviors that showed the most value in our roommate research all revolved around building familiarity between the roommates.  While it may take a lot of work initially for roommates to build that goodwill toward each other, it will pay off major dividends in the long run.  Let’s face it.  It’s awkward when you start living with someone, especially someone you don’t know and it’s difficult.  Also, though, it’s a great life lesson and one that can be used in the future when our students graduate and start lives in which they may want to find and live with a life long partner.  I don’t know about you, but my wife and I have the same issues that college roommates have.  We fight about cleaning.  We disagree about chores.  We sometimes are passive aggressive with each other when we are stressed.  However, through our daily causal in person communication and time spent together, which helps us build goodwill toward each other, we can survive the disagreements and passive aggressive behavior.  If we did not have that positive history, though, then there would be nothing to balance out the tough moments.  That is why it is so critical for our roommates to build that positive history early on because tough moments happen and it is so important to have positive history to balance that out.  In order to help residents build this goodwill, every program we facilitate during the first six weeks this year is geared to help roommates build that positive history because we know how important that is to their success.

Often, parents will call and ask our Residence Life Team what they can do to help your student.  Here’s what we would suggest:

  • Reinforce that your student should talk each day to their roommate/s to build that positive relationship.
  • Ask if your student is spending time with their roommate/s building that relationship and encourage activities that do so.
  • When your student is frustrated with their roommate/s, ask if your student has talked with their roommate/s about it.
  • Have your student connect with the Resident Assistant that lives on the floor or with the Residence Coordinator (Professional Staff Member with a Master Degree in College Student Personnel) that lives in the building. 

I hope that your student has a terrific fall semester and develops an outstanding relationship with their roommate/s.  Thank you for taking the time to read this and have a great fall.