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College Roommate Survival Requires Good Communication

By Jane Nicholson

BOONE–Put two strangers in a 12-by-15 room for an extended period and chances are disagreements will arise.

This scenario often occurs when freshmen head to college and begin sharing a room and bathroom, many for the first time.

But college roommates can survive living together in close quarters by using a few simple strategies, say student development professionals at Appalachian State University.

“Communicate,” advises Susie Greene, dean of students. “Right off the bat, talk with each other.”

People often hesitate to express their emotions or concerns to someone new, she says. “During the first couple of days you should talk about what it’s like to live together. “The more you address expectations at the beginning of the roommate relationship, even things as simple as who is going to take out the trash, the easier it will be,” Greene said.

Roommate squabbles can run from the trivial to the traumatic, according to Evelyn Wallington, associate director of residence life. “We have so many people who are not used to sharing a small space with another person. They have to learn to really talk and share with someone else.”

Conflicts can occur when roommates borrow clothing, use the other person’s stereo or computer, or take food from the refrigerator without asking permission. But most conflicts center on a roommate’s friends, including boyfriends or girlfriends, spending too much time in the room, Wallington said.

“For some reason, students have difficult saying, ‘Your friend is here too much.’

Students will very quickly tell their parents that they are having a problem with their roommate, but when it comes to sitting down and saying to the roommate, ‘I don’t like this,’ that’s when there is a lot of difficulty.”

Wallington and her residence hall staff encourage students to come to them if they have roommate problems. “When we learn of a problem, we have the students involved sit down with a staff member and talk things through and discuss all the issues,” Wallington said. “Sometimes the conflicts are resolved by creating a contract that lists conditions necessary for the relationship to work.”

“So many times freshmen come to college assuming people have same values, have had same opportunities, or hardships or experiences… and that’s not the case,” Greene said. “You don’t have to be like your roommate to get along. But remember the notion of the three R’s–rights, responsibility and respect of self and others. If you try and tie those together it will work out.”

Entering freshmen get tips during summer orientation to help ease stress points that can occur between roommates.

Among the suggestions: Roommates must respect each other’s privacy and space. This includes noise, having visitors and borrowing each other’s possessions. It’s important to find ways to bond with the roommate. Have dinner together, attend a school event, and meet each other’s friends.

Greene says the benefits of having a college roommate outweigh any rocky times.

“The value is learning how to deal with people and people with different values and experiences. You learn about the world and how to interact with others.”


Susie Greene, Office of Student Development, 828-262-2060

Evelyn Wallington, Office of Residence Life, 828-262-2535

Jane Nicholson, University News, 828-262-2345