(Orientation) Dorm Life 101: Living with a roommate

Emily Mills

Learning how to live with another person in a residence hall is something that can be just as challenging as your chemistry or algebra class.

Kent State requires students to live on campus unless they have reached junior status (60 or more credit hours), live with their parents within 50 miles of the university, are 20 years old or older, married, a single parent, a member of the military, completed two years of college or lived in on-campus housing for at least four semesters, a member of a fraternity or sorority living in the organization’s house or other extenuating circumstances (such as medical conditions or financial hardships.

If a student doesn’t meet any of these requirements and didn’t request a single room, they’re most likely going to live with a roommate.

Living on campus helps students connect to the campus, said Jill Church, director of Residence Services, in a 2015 interview with The Kent Stater.

“(It) is important … to help students meet other students, to help students learn the campus (and) to help students get engaged with activities on campus and become part of the Kent State community,” she said.

Living on campus can also have benefits, both academically and personally, according to the Department of Residence Services’ website.

“While living in an environment that promotes safety, students also benefit from the opportunity to learn about other cultures and lifestyles, form lifelong friendships and make lasting memories,” the website said. “The concepts of self-respect and respect for others, tolerance of and celebration of diversity, ethical behavior and personal growth are fostered via staff intervention, community-based educational and social programs and the expectation that hall residents hold one another accountable.

The website also said that students who live on campus are more likely to have higher GPAs and stay in college.

But learning to live with another person while balancing all the other changes during the first few weeks of the semester can be challenging.

Jacquelyn Bleak is the director of Student Mediation Services, a free, confidential organization that offers mediation services for students experiencing roommate conflicts, as well as individualized conflict coaching and training. She said 50 percent of their workload is roommate-related.

Bleak also said common issues between roommates include having visitors over, distinguishing between common and private space and different lifestyles, such as when you go to bed or wake up or cleanliness habits.

“Probably the most common challenge is miscommunication,” she said. “When something arises between roommates, this can be exacerbated when roommates don’t talk with one another about what’s bothering them.”

Bleak said it’s important for roommates to communicate about their issues.

“A lack of communication is a huge reason why conflicts arise,” she said. “One roommate may not address a problem until it is too late and they end up blowing up because they feel like they can’t take it anymore.”

Shelby Denton, a senior music education major, had three roommates her freshman year.

She said she and her first roommate got along well, but they unfortunately only lived together for a few weeks, as they were living in temporary housing in lounges when the university did not have enough residence hall rooms for incoming students.

Denton lived with her second roommate during the fall semester of her freshman year.

This roommate, Denton said, was messy and kept her belongings in Denton’s dresser and desk. She  always had people over, frequently skipped class and would not come back to the room for days at a time.

Denton said it was difficult to get along because “she was so very opposite of me.”

Denton’s third roommate in the spring semester of her freshman year was messier than any other roommate she had.

“I have distinct memories of the dorm constantly smelling like burnt pizza bagels,” Denton said.

This roommate also rearranged Denton’s belongings and always had her boyfriend over, which Denton said was a major issue.

If a conflict becomes too large, RAs or residence hall directors are there to help resolve the situation.

“If somebody feels themselves getting upset to the point that they’re not able to be civil, or they’re just not sure what words to use or how to approach somebody,” Church said, “that’s where you want to pull somebody in and at least brainstorm some ideas of how to approach (the roommate).”

Bleak said conflicts worsen when roommates don’t talk to teach about them.

“A lot of times, people don’t address the situation directly,” she said. “They may vent to a friend or RA but don’t speak to the person they are having the problem with in the first place.”

Bleak said students can also make small problems into much larger ones, which is easy to do when frustrated.

“We also tend to dehumanize people we are feuding with and attribute the problem to people’s character. So it’s not just that my roommate doesn’t pick up their clothes; it’s that my roommate is disgusting and is trying to ruin my life,” she said. “If we can recognize when we do that, it tends to de-escalate the situation.”

Luckily, Denton had stayed in touch with her roommate from Destination Kent State during her sophomore year. She has lived with her for the last two years because they get along so well.

“We give each other space, we lend listening ears when the other needs to vent (and) we give advice,” she said. “We’re upfront with each other, even when the truth hurts, but we embrace it and hug each other all the time. We have girls nights, we make time for each other (and) we are friends. It’s all a very perfect situation.”

One issue which can be common for roommates is dividing up chores, but Denton said she and her current roommate share the responsibilities, so it doesn’t become an issue.

If things get completely unbearable with a bad roommate, you can ask to switch rooms, which is what Abbi Wright, a senior educational studies major, did.

Wright decided to go with a random roommate her freshman year and took the roommate compatibility survey from Residence Services. However, the two did not get along.

“I grew up sharing a bedroom with two sisters, so I knew how to have a roommate, “ Wright said. “(However), she was an only child and had no idea how to live with someone, so I tried to stick it out.”

Wright said the survey failed to match her with a compatible roommate and she did not want to stay in the room any longer.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘is it really worth it?’ In my case, I’d gone months in a situation I didn’t want to be in. So it was worth it,” she said. “I was just so fed up, I didn’t want to resolve it. It was the perfect way out and I’m glad I took it sooner (rather) than later.”

However, Bleak said it can be better to try to resolve issues before it gets to that point.

“Being open and having good ways to communicate often helps resolve common issues that roommates might have,” she said. “Being a good listener can vastly improve situations, but many of us are too busy thinking about what we want to say next when someone is talking to us. Take time to listen to someone when they are talking with you and put your phone down when having important conversations—it will make communication more efficient and effective.

Church said it is best to be honest with roommates to prevent future conflicts.

“I think my biggest advice would be to acknowledge that it’s never always going to be perfect,” she said. “So expect there to be things to navigate. One way to navigate those well is to really take the roommate agreement seriously when they first move in. Being honest about how you like to receive information is helpful, too.”