Picking Roomies

Should School Officials or Students Decide on Living Arrangements in Residence Halls?

Do you want your school to make you live with the hoarder playing “Cockiness” on a loop for hours everyday? (Photo illustration by Savannah Schechter/The Observer)

Do you want your school to make you live with the hoarder playing “Cockiness” on a loop for hours everyday? (Photo illustration by Savannah Schechter/The Observer)


I went home every weekend at the beginning of my freshman year.  And it wasn’t because I didn’t love Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC). And it wasn’t because I didn’t have friends. It was because of my roommates.

Do you want your school to make you live with the hoarder playing “Cockiness” on a loop for hours everyday? (Photo illustration by Savannah Schechter/The Observer)

Let me paint you a picture of a day in the life of a room I so affectionatley call 3 Hell.  Wake up to the first of 12 alarms my roommate has set but will not wake up to.  Go to take a shower to find a laptop and a heap of dirty clothes blocking my entrance. An attempt to have breakfast while I wait for the bathroom mess to be disposed of ends in disgust as I notice a stench emanating from one of the cabinets.

A roommate’s potatoes, have gone rancid, not only staining the bottom of the cupboard with a thick, yellow-brown liquid but also attracting a swarm of flies. The flies split their time between consuming the fetid potatoes, hanging around the stench that emanates from the leftover dishes and preying on the four-day old macaroni and cheese my “chef” of a roommate made, nibbled on and left on the stove. I look on the fridge and notice that we—a group I am forced to include myself in even though I had nothing to do with the mess—have failed our room inspection. Shocker.

USA Today recently published a story on the ways colleges assign roommates, focusing on a divide in methodology that seems to be emerging between schools.  While some schools, including FCLC, allow students to seek their own roommates before being assigned to a room and a year-long living buddy, others, like Iowa’s Grinnell College and New York’s Hamilton College, refuse to allow “friends” to live together.  Some policies are so strict that roommates are revealed only on move-in day.

First-year FCLC students are assigned to rooms based on their answers to a questionnaire from StarRez, a system used by such institutions as Cornell University, Stanford University and Dartmouth, to name a few. Freshman and first-year students residing in McMahon Hall have the opportunity to request a roommate and while they aren’t guaranteed a room together, the Office of Residential Life (ResLife) tries to accommodate their request.  And while Jennifer Campbell, Director of Residential Life at FCLC, admits that in some cases individuals are not the perfect match, the system is believed to have a good overall success rate. ResLife, from my experience in McMahon Hall, is extremely helpful in cases where roommates may not get a long, intervening as they see fit to ease the transition to college through a mediation process followed by reassignment cases, like mine, where mediation was on the brink of impossibility.

Supporters of the “no-friends” rule believe that they are helping these young adults by “nudging” them out of their comfort zone.  But I see this as forcing them into a situation some people just aren’t going to be ready for.

College students are acrobats; sometimes we need a net for when we fall. Often removed from family structures that served as nets for 18 years, freshmen are already out of their comfort zone regardless of who they are rooming with. Denying a roommate request, like Grinnell College, then becomes like destroying an attempt at building a safety net in a new, often frightening place.

Isn’t there enough happening at a university to broaden our horizons? Shouldn’t there be a separation between when and where students should be forced to grow? Clubs, intramural sports, school-run events and even classes are all domains for social growth and moving outside of one’s own element. Why can’t these students have a place to call their own? I didn’t have a place to call my own.  I couldn’t stay in my room because I had higher standards in cleanliness and respect and spent as little time in my apartment. I became a regular in the fifth floor lounge.

Ultimately as students, our willingness to go outside our own comfort zone should be our decision: a decision made for and by us when we are ready. Isn’t that what college is for? Any sort of administration that tries to force this seems almost authoritarian in nature. Personal growth requires a welcoming environment that fosters individual decision-making, not an environment that forces you to room with a guy who Skypes his girlfriend at 3:30 in the morning.