Communication 101: Roommate Edition Resident assistants weigh in on sharing a space

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If you’re a freshman just moving out of your hometown and experiencing independence for the first time, the world and all its hardships may seem a lot bigger than they did before. While living in the dorms or an apartment is one of the best parts of college, it also creates the potential for a problem that most freshmen have never had: dealing with roommates. That’s why ing Magazine interviewed two RAs about their experiences with roommates and residents. 

ing: As an RA, what are the most common problems you encounter between roommates on your floor?

C: “The most frequent problems are disagreements around daily routines. These are the things that get repeated the most, so it’s easy for an annoyance to become a grievance when it happens every day. The second most frequent problem is probably when people disagree on how often guests are invited to the room. We see a lot of issues with significant others coming around too often and roommates being bothered by that.”

M: “I guess the base part is communication. They don’t [communicate], they’re still learning how to address conflict and confrontation. So residents who complete the roommate checklist end up having a better year … It can be uncomfortable but it really does help in the long run.”

ing: How do you recommend solving these problems?

C: “Usually, my job as an RA is to mediate discussions between roommates when there is a conflict. I’ll sit everyone involved down together and create a space for conversation where the goal is to be honest and seek out solutions.”

M: “We try to make it so residents feel comfortable approaching the RA, but also feel comfortable meeting other people on the floor. You know, make those connections that can continue on after that year. [As an RA], you listen, take it in and document it. If they’re not willing to talk, that’s when you schedule a mediation. We have to listen one at a time; from there, if they really don’t want to live with each other, we’re like ‘let’s get a different situation.’”

ing: Have you had problems with a roommate yourself? 

C: “Yes, I didn’t get along with my roommate at all. We disagreed on almost every aspect of our daily routines: I liked the window blinds open, she liked the room dark at all times. I stayed up studying most nights, whereas she preferred to go to sleep around 10 p.m. … Little problems like that piled up and combined with our very different personalities to the point I no longer felt welcome or safe in my own room. Unfortunately, I never talked to my RA about it, and so I was never able to get help.” 

M: “I went in blind with an international student and we became best friends. We still talk to this day! I’ve always had good roommate experiences.” 

ing: What advice do you have for people living with roommates for the first time? 

C: “Talk! The earlier you set boundaries and expectations with each other, the easier it will be to address problems as they arise. Trust me, it’s kinder in the long run to tell your roommate whenever you’re upset before it festers into something worse. It’s a life skill we all need to learn as adults to speak openly with others.”

M: “Be open-minded … Just being considerate of the other person and being willing to compromise or sacrifice. It’s just talking; get to know that person from day one. And if a situation arises and you don’t feel comfortable confronting the person, get the RA. And that can help establish a baseline. You can make an agreement.”

If you find yourself in an awkward situation with your roommate, refer to these tips, or talk to your own RA!