By Kallie Hoffman
A freshman’s first steps on a college campus can feel like walking in quicksand; the mind tells you to stride forward, but your feet do not seem to be able to move. This is, after all, not a journey into six weeks of summer camp, but a new home for the next four years of your life. A college campus is a place where you will form new friendships, take interesting classes with passionate professors, and be introduced to new theories, people and cultures. One of the first impressions of college a freshman will ever have is of his or her roommate, assuming one is not reconvening with an old friend or acquaintance from school. In some instances, colleges will allow students to personally select a roommate before arriving on campus, eliminating the element of surprise and mitigating some of the anxiety as you will already have a sense of that person’s interests, habits, and personality. At the same time, one of the most valued aspects of college is meeting new people and enjoying the evolving social dynamics of university life; you do not want to become overly dependent on existing relationships and miss out on the opportunity to explore a broader circle of friends. It will also be much harder to have privacy in college, whether for an hour or a day if you room with an existing friend. A mixture of old and new may be the best formula, in which you have the safety of a roommate that you can trust, but challenge yourself to join clubs and teams and attend social events in which you can broaden your social horizons.
Familiarity can breed attraction, but also contempt, so there is always a risk that rooming with a person you know can compromise an existing friendship. College is a time to experiment, test your boundaries, and step outside of your comfort zone into situations that are different from what you experienced in high school. To encourage the formation of new relationships, many colleges have begun to implement a random roommate selection process. The idea is to force freshmen into situations that will help them grow and develop, encouraging them to meet people from different cities, states, and countries with different religions/ethnic backgrounds, and expose young men and women to a greater diversity of ideas and personalities. We have all heard awful stories about random roommates, the ones who bring boyfriends home every night, who play Maroon Five mix tapes at three in the morning, who never clean out the hair from the sink, or who will not share the costs of the communal refrigerator. Yet, Senior Robbie Waxman is not concerned about these idiosyncrasies and is actually excited to receive a random roommate; in his words, it is a “spontaneous element to open up college life.”
New roommates are going to be uptight about their first day together, but they can bond over their anxiety; in fact, it is often the case that these individuals, strangers at first sight, later become extremely close friends. It is not unusual for two disparate students, when forced to share interactions, to gain an appreciation of each other’s interests and hobbies, musical tastes, sense of fashion, love of sports, political views and perspective on student life in general. Senior Samantha Abbruzzese would prefer a random roommate because while “she may have different interests than [her roommate], she will be more likely to get involved in activities that [she] has never tried before.” Samantha believes that if you show up at college with an old buddy as your roommate, it may seem that very little has changed from your years in high school or summer camp. Why go away to college if you are simply going to repeat the life you had in your hometown? It is true that a person will have no idea what to expect with a random roommate and the two people could be complete opposites and ultimately not get along, but this is not necessarily a negative. Having to become accustomed to something different, compels you to adapt and adjust to difficult situations and work through your differences. In addition, if you were to live with a close friend, you may feel obligated to bring them everywhere you go, which puts a great deal of unnatural stress on your relationship. It is also often the case that while you may be great friends with someone from your class, you are not destined to be roommates. There is no mathematical equation to determine if randomly pairing roommates is the best formula for success, but universities have conducted enough research to discern that the system has its benefits. Keep in mind that the idea is to gain a new friend – not lose an old one.
The concept of a random roommate selection process is not as arbitrary as it may first appear, since universities provide incoming freshmen with an extensive questionnaire to determine levels of compatibility and mutual interests among prospective housing partners. Some of the questions relate to the time you typically go to sleep, whether you smoke cigarettes, whether you are willing to tolerate mixed-gender bathrooms, what activities you enjoy when under stress, and how loud you like to play music. Senior Ryan Cohen thinks that this method is a good way to pair students; he wants to live with “someone new that likes some of the same things as [him], but is able to discuss a broad range of topics and offer a new perspective.” There is no guarantee that these questionnaires will link two people that are ideal roommates or even freshmen that are likely to become friends, but in the end, the first priority is to match people who will respect one another. Senior Evia Mascaro is looking for a “roommate that will be fun and exciting and can help her meet new people,” but she also “wants to avoid the type of person who gets into huge fights over minor problems.” To avoid this outcome, it is crucial to establish ground rules, communicate openly, and be willing to work through your disagreements. The concept of a random roommate is not foolproof, and it isn’t to say that you won’t end up with a person who decides to hold a wild party on the night before midterms, but this will actually help you deal with uncomfortable situations later in life. No matter what, you will get through it – and with less drama and trauma than you could have predicted. Many students have never been asked to share a bedroom before, but may come to realize that in having less space, there is even more room to grow!