What if your student hates a roommate?
Learning how to live with a roommate is part of university life – and sometimes an experience in conflict management.
Families shouldn’t be surprised if they hear more complaints about roommates this time of year, particularly amid the stress of midterms. Learning to live together in a small space is bound to create friction, but can families help? Should they?
Soundings talked with Griffin Uchida (‘06 and ‘08), a resident director in the Beta and Gamma Halls in the Ridgeway Complex, whose three years as a Residential Advisor gave him lots of experience helping WWU roommates get along.
"Part of being an adult is taking responsibility upon yourself and standing up for yourself."
Why are roommate problems more common this time of year?
People have gotten comfortable. Part of that is good, but part of that becomes complacency. Maybe the garbage isn’t being taken out as regularly, and the laundry’s piling up. You want to come across as polite and non-confrontational early on, and eventually you come to the realization that maybe these issues won’t resolve themselves.
So what can families do if their students are complaining about roommate troubles?
I think the biggest thing the parents and families can do is reinforce the idea that college living and living on campus is the bridge into adulthood. And part of being an adult is taking responsibility upon yourself and standing up for yourself in these situations. That can be a difficult thing sometimes for families – you have to be more passive than you may want. But I think our system is set up pretty well to allow for residents to take some responsibility upon themselves with the help of resources here on campus.
What help is available for students who want to work out conflicts with their roommates?
It starts at the very beginning of the year. “Roommate Agreement Forms” are informal contracts between roommates that establish guidelines for things such as quiet hours, sharing privileges, cleanliness, when it’s acceptable to have guests in the room and so on. At the very least, it allows roommates to have a document they can refer back to.
RA's "work to get the residents to come up with their own solutions."
Really, the RA is the best kind of built-in resource they have, because that’s part of what we train them on: dealing with roommate conflict and being mediators rather than judges or problem-solvers. We work to get the residents to come up with their own solutions. Students can also talk to counselors if they’re concerned about a roommate and don’t know how to approach him or her.
But what if they can’t work it out? What then?
We would rather have happy residents than residents learning to grit through terrible situations. Each hall has an administrative assistant and they keep a waiting list and track what space is open in which community. Once a new quarter begins, open rooms fill up with transfer students and others who move on campus.
But talking with the RA is the best first step. Maybe moving is the only option you see, but not the best option. RA’s are good a providing other solutions. Sometimes, the grass looks greener on the other side. Moving to another community may solve some of your problems, but may cause other issues. If it’s too quiet in one community, it might be more social somewhere else, and that brings up different problems.
Is there ever a time when families should step in and talk to University Residences on their student’s behalf?
I don’t want to say there’s never a time. We do push the idea that these students are adults. Ask the student what they need from their families. Ask the student, ‘Have you tried these options? Have you gone to the RA?’ If the student says ‘I’ve talked to the RA and the RD and things aren’t getting better,’ at that point, yeah, the family can intervene and maybe advocate -- but with the student’s blessing. If students don’t know their parents are trying to advocate on their behalf, that’s when it can get awkward for everyone. Then if we try to question the situation, students wonder how we found out, and they’re caught off guard.