Hi, everyone! My name is Emma Blaiklock, and I’m the Assistant Director of Residence Life here at Clarkson University. My experience managing and mediating conflicts between roommates during while working in Res Life has taught me some of the best ways to prevent roommate conflicts in the first place and also gave me helpful tools for managing conflicts when they do occur. I am excited to be able to pass this knowledge along to you, our newest incoming students, so you can reap the benefits!
Conflicts are Learning Opportunities
First, it’s important to understand that conflict is part of life — and that includes college life. Roommate conflicts are a normal, natural part of the college experience and teach you how to manage conflict in the “real world” once you graduate. Conflicts help you understand how your behavior is perceived by others and how you affect people around you. So, even though a roommate conflict can make you feel like your whole world has turned upside down, try to take a step back and understand that there are lessons to be learned from these uncomfortable experiences.
Conflicts are Normal!
Another important point to remember is that, for most people, college is the first, and sometimes the only, time they are expected to share a small space with another person. Sometimes this person is a friend, sometimes an acquaintance and sometimes a complete stranger with an entirely different background than you. This is your first journey into the world of college cohabitation, so it is understandable if there are bumps along the way. If you did share a room with a sibling or family member growing up, you may be one step ahead as far as understanding what goes into living in close quarters with another person.
Starting Off Strong: Sharing Your Expectations
A great way to get off to a smooth start with your roommate is to discuss your expectations of how your shared and individual spaces will be kept. You can even write these expectations down and make sure all roommates have a copy so you can refer back to it later in the year. This may sound lame, but it really isn’t any different than what you would do if you shared an office with a coworker. Talk about how clean or messy you both prefer to keep your spaces and agree on a standard you can both live with. You may want to discuss compromises, like, “I am a neat freak, so my bed will always be neatly made, and my side of the room will always be spotless. You prefer a more casual space, so you probably won’t ever make your bed, but you’ll agree to run the vacuum once every week or two and make sure never to leave dirty clothes on the floor.”
Boundaries are Important
Make sure to discuss boundaries, too. Is it OK to sit on your roommate’s bed? Should you leave the room if your roommate gets a call from home? Be clear about whether food, electronics, clothes and other items are OK to share.
Discussing Your Visitor Preferences
Talk about your expectations concerning visitors. Do you want an open-door policy for your room or do visits need to be discussed in advance? Is it OK to have overnight guests? How much time can significant others spend in the room? Is it OK for a visitor to be in the room alone? Some of the most difficult roommate conflicts often stem from roommates being uncomfortable with how often and when visitors can be in the room. Remember that it’s important to compromise and that whatever rules you decide on are applicable to both/all roommates!
Understanding Your Lifestyles
Be sure to discuss other lifestyle issues, such as what time you like to go to sleep — and wake up, noise levels and alcohol/tobacco/other substance use. Many college students experiment with these substances as part of their development process and to determine what role these substances will play in their lives as adults. Even if you don’t think either of you will be using alcohol, tobacco or other substances, talk about what you expect from each other should one of you choose to imbibe.
Ask for Help!
If you’ve followed this advice and still find yourself with a roommate conflict, don’t worry! There are other ways to resolve the situation. Talk with your Resident Advisor (RA) to get advice on how to communicate about the situation. Ask your RA to mediate if you need help. This means your RA will likely meet with you to understand your complaints and then meet with your roommate separately to hear their side of the story. Then, your RA will bring you and your roommate together and facilitate a dialogue that will hopefully result in both of you feeling comfortable with your living situation. If your roommate conflict requires a little extra assistance, your Residence Director (RD) or Area Coordinator (AC) may step in to help. RDs are former student RAs who have at least one year of experience in Residence Life; Area Coordinators are full-time, professional, live-in staff who already have at least a bachelor’s degree.
Exercising Your Independence
Many students vent to parents, family members and/or friends when they have a roommate conflict. While it’s perfectly normal to air your frustrations, make sure your listener understands that you are capable of handling this situation on your own, or with the help of your RA, RD or AC. When parents, family members or friends get involved in roommate conflicts or try to intervene on your behalf, it makes things more complicated, and it doesn’t help to resolve things more quickly. All students will be supported equally by Residence Life in the event of a roommate conflict, regardless of whether a family member has talked with staff.
Moving Rooms as a Last Resort
If you still cannot resolve the conflict after working with the Residence Life staff, sometimes Residence Life may — as an absolute last resort — consider a room change. Room changes may also be considered when someone feels that their safety is threatened. Residence Life rarely forces anyone to move, so, sometimes, this means you may be the one who has to “be the bigger person” and agree to move.
Sometimes, Roommates are Just Roommates!
It’s important to remember that roommates don’t always have to be friends, you just need to coexist peacefully. It’s wonderful to have a roommate who shares your values and interests, but it isn’t necessary. Don’t expect to be best friends with your roommate. If that happens, wonderful! If not, know that every year is a new opportunity to make great friends and to grow and expand your horizons.