Roommate selection impacts college experience

By Noelle Westfall
February 24, 2010

The deadline for fall college applications is quickly approaching, making many students nervous about what their four years will hold. Along with entrance essays, financial aid papers and class registration, there is one more thing many prospective Cabrini students have on their mind: roommates.

Many say having a roommate is part of the essential college experience, because one learns how to adapt to people outside of their family and becomes more aware of different living styles. No matter what college campus you go to, there are bound to be stories of roommates who have been less than spectacular and quite often just plain rotten.

“For some extra money [my roommate] decided to take up prostitution from our dorm room,” Rachael Ryan, 2003 Moravian College graduate, said. “There was one time when I came back to our dorm room and there was a random middle-aged guy there passed out on the floor. That was one instance. All the time there were random guys coming and going.” Ryan was a freshman at the time.

“At one time I had a roommate that would wear my clothes, use my nail polishes, blow dry her hair while I was sleeping and break my dishware all while trying to get me to get kicked out of housing,” Jessie Holeva, 2009 Cabrini graduate, said. “Living together will either bring you closer or tear you apart. In this case I learned that people are not always what they seem.”

Learning to live with people, despite one’s differences, is another key factor in sharing a room while away at school. Roommates might not always respect one’s space, privacy and personal commitments.

“My roommate last year ordered Dominos like twice a day,” Mary Jacobs, sophomore communication major, said. “Now the room permanently smells like buffalo wings.” For Jacobs, a vegetarian, this was not the most pleasant living arrangement.

Living with a roommate prompts one to find ways to compose themselves with more tolerance in a way they normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to just seeing each other in classes. This is a trying period for students and, while some are willing to put up with their roommate’s idiosyncrasies, others prefer to get assistance from campus authorities.

“If a student is having roommate problems, they will speak to their residential assistant first, who will attempt to help the roommates solve their problems through mediation,” Laura Shapella, assistant director of housing operations at Cabrini, said. “If that does not work, they can have a mediation with their area coordinator. If problems still persist, the area coordinator may approve a room change.”

Sometimes help isn’t so quickly available and the student is forced to deal with their issues longer than expected. This is not the ideal situation, but with campus housing becoming more demanding there are often not enough people around to help out a distressed roomie.

“The other time it was midterms, I was sick and in between tests one day, I came back to the dorm to lie down until my next exam,” Ryan said. “I thought she was working on her paper, but I woke up practically eye-level to her and her boyfriend going at it. I pulled the covers over my head and kept thinking, ‘I do not want to see this!’ I was feeling nauseous before and that really pushed me over the edge so I just walked out of the room to the bathroom. So another girl walks in the bathroom and says ‘You know your roommate is going at it with the door wide open?’ Of course the R.A. wasn’t there.”

For freshman students at Cabrini the roommate process begins when they fill out a questionnaire answering personal questions to find a good roommate match. These questions include: what time the student goes to sleep, how they feel about having guests in the room and several other issues. There is also an option for students to participate in the Living and Learning Communities, so students are able to live near the same students for a year and take the same classes together. Upperclassmen are able to choose whom they would like to room with for the upcoming year.

“For the majority of sophomore year, I shared a four-person room with one excellent roomie- very courteous, fun loving and quite often naked,” Holeva said. “Yes, I had the ‘naked roommate.’ I’d walk in and she’d be sitting around eating cereal in the buff. She’s so easygoing that I doubt she’ll be fazed by me saying this.”

“Most students come to college eager to try and get along with their roommate and with a few exceptions here and there, they do,” Shapella said. “Our staff can help them learn to communicate better with their roommate, making for a more pleasant living experience.”

It’s important to weigh all the risks and benefits involved in a roommate situation. With a roommate there are more potential headaches, but less financial burden. Living alone is pricier, but can give much needed solitude. It all depends on what kinds of stress a person can take. A bad living situation can change one’s college experience for the worse, but there are benefits to a tough dorm assignment as well.

“It teaches you a lot about people and helps you grow up,” Holeva said. “I think to gain the full college experience you need to be submerged in the lifestyle and being cramped with another person in a small living space is part of the rite of passage.”

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Noelle Westfall

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