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Managing Roommate Relations

Getting started...developing a healthy roommate relationship

Living with a roommate can be a challenging experience. Most students entering college have never shared a room with another person before. In addition, a residence hall room might be smaller than the room you live in at home, minus the roommate!

Do not despair! A roommate relationship in college can be managed, and many result in close relationships that are sometimes maintained long after you have left the college experience. Building a positive roommate relationship takes work however, but it is better to put work into this relationship than endure the problems that arise when things do not go well with a roommate.

The key to a successful roommate relationship is honest and open communication: This should start from the moment you move into the residence halls, and continue throughout your entire roommate relationship. Some residence life programs on college campuses require incoming freshman to establish formalized roommate agreements. If your school's residence life program does not require this, then you should take the initiative to complete this process on your own.

When establishing an agreement on how you will live successfully together, think about the issues that are important to you, as well as the expectations that you have for a roommate. Some things to consider discussing are:

Are you a morning person, who likes to go to bed early so you can get a quick start to your day, or someone who stays up late and eases into the day slowly?

Do you intend to share personal belongings? If so, is everything in the room O.K for common use, or are some things off limits?

How will you manage issues of overnight visitation, if it is permitted at your university/college? Do you have different feelings about same sex verses different sex visitation? How frequently will this be permitted, and are their guidelines that you can set with a roommate to make this situation manageable? Is this something that you are simply not comfortable with?

Will there be set times for quiet in the room to permit study and sleep? When will those "quiet" times occur, and how will this be managed?

How frequently should guests visit in the room, and are there "no visitation" times that could be set to guarantee periods of privacy in the room?

How are you going to manage problems with each other if they arise?

Honest open communication is critical to a successful roommate relationship. In addition to setting expectations for each other, you also need to live by the expectations that you set. As a college freshman, you will experience many different situations and through these experiences your initial expectations may change. If this is the case, then you may need to revisit your roommate agreement and set new expectations. You and your roommate may not always see things exactly the same (and that can be a good thing), but you should always work to be sensitive to each other's needs. Being able to compromise and understand your roommate's perspective will be important as you work to learn about each other and live together. Sensitivity, ongoing honest open communication, and the ability to listen and hear what your roommate is saying, along with compromise, will move you along the road to successful roommate relations.

Fixing a problem...managing a roommate conflict if it occurs

Things you need to do on your own: Let's face it. Sometimes you can do all the right things and still end up challenged by your living arrangement with your roommate. Getting back to that communication thing, it is important that you discuss concerns with your roommate as soon as they arise, in a calm and rational fashion. In many instances, simply bringing a concern to your roommate's attention may alleviate the problem. You should always communicate confidentially with your roommate, and in a respectful way. Be fair when you discuss concerns, by sitting down alone with your roommate. Be honest, state your concern, and discuss how the concern might be resolved. The initial step to sorting through a roommate conflict is with you, although upon request your Resident Assistant should help you prepare for this meeting with your roommate.

Working with residence life staff to resolve a roommate conflict: So you have spoken to your roommate and things do not seem to be getting better. As a next step you should discuss the problem with a residence life staff member who works in the building. Your Resident Assistant has most likely been trained to mediate roommate problems, and they can sit down with both you and your roommate to attempt to sort through the issues that are a problem for you. Typically staff in the residence halls are reluctant to get involved in a roommate conflict until roommates attempt to sort through the problem on their own. If you have not yet spoken to your roommate about the problem your Resident Assistant will most likely ask you to go back and talk to your roommate. If things don't seem to get better after you have attempted to sort things through with your roommate, the Resident Assistant will most likely meet with both you and your roommate to work to resolve the conflict. If after this meeting your roommate conflict continues, you should speak with the graduate or full-time staff member who supervises your Resident Assistant, who will also work to resolve the roommate conflict with both you and your roommate. They will assess the situation, attempt to mediate, and if it does not appear that mediation will resolve the problem, they should discuss with you other options that will solve the problem, such as a room change. Even if you feel that you are right and your roommate is wrong, remaining in an unhealthy living environment will be detrimental to you, so if your are unable to resolve the problem, leave it behind and move on to a new room and roommate.

Managing an irreconcilable roommate conflict: Although it is not the norm, some times roommate conflicts cannot be resolved. In these instances, your alternative to staying in a negative situation is to relocate to another room in the residence hall, if space is available. In many instances although roommates are sometimes miserable with their living situation, a sense of pride and righteousness keeps them from wanting to move to another room. If your are in a bad roommate situation that is making you miserable, don't let your pride get in the way of relocating into a healthy living situation!

In some instances, although miserable, both roommates may refuse to relocate. To deal with this situation, many residential living offices have established an irreconcilable roommate policy, which states that in the event of an irreconcilable roommate conflict where neither roommate agrees to move, both roommates will be required to relocate to another room. Although this policy may not seem fair to you, residence life staff may choose this option, as opposed to leaving two roommates in a negative living situation.