The Dorm Room Peace Accords
For one, do yourself a favor and bypass your RA. They’re usually only one year older than you and also have no idea what they’re doing.
By Jesse Sisler, DePaul University
You’re rooming with somebody for the first time in your life—that is what living in a dorm freshman year means.
Whether you go with the long-time friend who you thought you knew everything about, the acquaintance from high school who seems nice enough, or the random roommate, you will inevitably be faced with some form of conflict, minor or major. Knowing how to deal with conflicts with a roommate is a valuable skill, and it can prevent things from getting nasty.
Not sold on the importance of managing minor conflicts before they get worse? Be warned: those annoying habits like shower-hogging and leaving garbage on the floor can blow up in everyone’s faces if left unattended.
Before your roommate throws your comb in the toilet and you retaliate by destroying their video game discs (happened to a friend of a friend), here are some tips.
If you’re going random, don’t put much value in online profiles:
Kids lie, especially online, and extra especially online when they know adults are looking. A profile survey that asks if you like to party and do drugs is seldom going to get filled out with a “yes,” because dorm administrators read those responses.
I remember reading the profile of a kid who said he never drank and didn’t like to party, only to find the kid hosting a party the first weekend of school. Furthermore, the questions they ask are totally subjective.
For example, I might think waking up at, say, eleven a.m. on a Sunday is late, and my roommate might think waking up at eleven a.m. on a Sunday is insanely early. I might think keeping the room warm means seventy-five degrees, and my roommate might have the body temperature regulation of a 90-year old retired Floridian.
The one chance for a prospective roommate to separate him or herself from the pack usually comes in the “describe yourself” section. Problem is, most college kids are either lazy or busy with other stuff, so they write the most vague, generic answers possible: “I like hanging with friends, listening to music, and watching movies.” So yeah, online profiles suck.
Set boundaries right away:
This is absolutely critical. My roommate and I really struggled to set important boundaries. As soon as you get a little comfortable with each other, set boundaries. It might seem obsessive compulsive, but if you share the TV, set up a schedule; let each other know what hours visitors are acceptable; be open with each other about when you need alone time so neither of you end up spending your homesick, lovesick, or otherwise vulnerable hours in the dorm lobby or laundry room.
These all seem really obvious, but living with someone else is tough. It’s hard to get a feel for each other’s habits, and it’s hard to tell when somebody just needs the room to themselves for a little while. Nobody wants to be put in a situation where they have to awkwardly slide out of the room in the middle of their dorm-mate’s phone convo with their long distance significant other. Just tell each other if and when that might happen so it’s easier for everyone.
Make decisions quickly:
Do not let things grow to the point of no return. Scope out each other from the get-go. Frankly, some habits are hard to kick. Asking a peer to throw away their shit and stop using the carpeted floor as a garbage dump is reasonable, but if you do that and the behavior doesn’t change after a few weeks, that’s a bad sign.
If you like to party and your roomie likes to stay in, neither of you are in the wrong, but you might be a bad fit.
Some will tell you that switching rooms is being childish, but it’s actually the opposite. Childishness is convincing yourself that an issue will resolve itself when it clearly won’t. Detractors will tell you to tough it out and learn to live with other people. Again, that’s absurd. Part of living with other people is knowing when things are not working.
You wouldn’t give that advice to someone in a bad relationship, so why would you put that burdensome expectation on somebody struggling with someone they’re living with?
Bypass your RA and go straight to a dorm administrator
This might be unpopular, and the dorm administrator may end up telling you to go back to your RA, but that’s just a product of a broken system. It makes no sense that the person in charge of settling conflicts would be a peer.
My RA was one year older than me, and I felt really bad for making him deal with our issues. It was unfair to everyone involved. For one, all that qualifies a person to be a Resident Advisor is a decent GPA, a well-written resume and interview skills. Plus, you have to deal with the fact that your RA lives on the same floor as you and organizes social events, so they have a personal relationship with the involved parties.
RA’s are also incredibly low on the bureaucratic totem pole, so nothing really gets done by them, only through them. By going straight to someone at the top of the chain, you get results. The people working in dorm offices are usually twenty-somethings training to become counselors or teachers, and they’ve seen it all. Shit smeared on the bathroom wall? Check. Kids leaning out of windows like Jenny from Forrest Gump? Check. There’s no reason they can’t handle a squabble between two eighteen year olds about bathroom usage.
Nineteen-year-old RA’s, on the other hand, only have one more year of co-habitation experience than you do. Just like singing that remix you heard on SoundCloud, leave it to the professionals.
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