Whether you want to or not, you may get pulled into your student’s roommate conflict. When roommates have a disagreement, your student is going to want to tell someone who will be sympathetic to their side of the argument. Very often, this person will be you!
Even in the best of circumstances, having a roommate can be a challenge—especially for a first year student. For some, especially those who have never had to share a room, it’s one of the most difficult things they’ll have to face as they adjust to life at college. Finding ways to live with a roommate can be one of the most important lessons college provides. The roommate experience, when done well, is an exercise in human relationships that can lead to lifelong friends—or at the very least lifelong skills in getting along with others.
So, if your student calls and is upset about something their roommate did, you can tell them to think about it as a cross-cultural experience. Their roommate will probably have different ideas about when to get up, when to go to sleep, and what is appropriate and where. He or she will have different tastes in music, movies, food, clothing, and friends. Habits about organization, academics, fitness, money, and use of the phone and computer are likely to differ. And remember that your student’s roommate(s) are probably calling their parents with the other side of the argument. We’ve provided several tips and suggestions to help your student navigate the rough waters of roommate conflicts. In addition, there are experienced staff members available in the residence halls to help your student.
Here is how you can handle a conversation with your student when they’re involved in a roommate conflict:
- Murmur sympathetically, of course. Sometimes your student will need to vent a little to clear their head.
- As gently as possible, ask your student if they told their roommate that something bothered them, or did they ask them to stop? How did they ask them? Sometimes students will think they’ve been clear with their roommate, when in reality they weren’t. Starting these conversations can be a challenge, especially if it’s about a sensitive topic. However, it can also help set precedence for dealing with roommate issues. It will be easier to talk about other problems later in the year if they’ve already done it once.
- Be aware that sometimes the problem being discussed isn’t the actual issue. College is a big adjustment, and it can be stressful for students on many different levels. Your student may feel frustrated about the general lack of privacy in his or her new living situation or surprised that her or his classes aren’t as easy as they anticipated. Ask them probing questions about how their day went and see if you can uncover anything else. Sometimes a roommate conflict is just the surface conflict.
- If your student has talked to their roommate and hasn’t gotten anywhere, encourage them to talk to their RA or Hall Director. These staff members are trained in conflict mediation, which is always the first step to resolving roommate issues. If a room change is deemed necessary, your student’s Hall Director is the person who can start the process of finding a new space on campus. Please be aware that this may take time when there is a shortage of space!