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Student Life | Roommate Problems | March 5, 2012

6 Steps for Dealing With College Roommate Problems

By Taylor Cotter | StudentAdvisor.com Staff

Last week, news hit that a Stonehill College graduate is suing her alma mater because her roommate's inappropriate sex acts led her to anxiety and depression. As a former Resident Assistant (RA), I've dealt with quite a few roommate conflicts - though none that escalated to state court. Residence Life is a huge part of the college experience, but it's not supposed to be painful or unhealthy. Make sure you're aware of the resources your school offers for residents that are going through a tough time.

Try out these 6 Steps for dealing with college roommate problems:

1. Know Your Roommate's Deal Breakers

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You met your dream roommate on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, at orientation, or you were randomly matched up with your soul mate! Awesome! But having the same taste in television and music does not a good roommate make. Sure, some great friendships are born out of living in a tiny closet-like box for eight months, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have the most enjoyable living situation. Does your roommate want to have friends over every day? Does her major or class load means she wants to study all the time in your room? Sure, you might be laid-back and easygoing, but your roommate might have some caveats.

Have a 30-minute conversation where you throw potential BFF-ness to the side, and discuss your dealbreakers. Do you absolutely need eight hours of sleep? Does she have to wake up at 5 a.m. for a team practice? Be honest and take these things seriously - a conversation like this could have prevented Stonehill's now-infamous roommate conflict. If something brought up seems like it will inconvenience you too much, find another roommate. An entire academic year is too long to be living in close quarters with someone whose lifestyle doesn't complement yours. Here are five questions to ask your college roommate to get this conversation started and four things to avoid when getting to know your roommate.

2. Don't Leave Notes

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All of the roommate conflicts I dealt with during my time as an RA consisted of residents coming to me and listing complaints they had about their roommates. When I asked if they had approached their roommates about this, they always said no. Talk to your roommate directly. You are in college now - this means that a note on a whiteboard that says 'hey, thanks for cleaning up your side of the room!' won't make your roommate clean up her side of the room.

When you and your roommate are both in the room, ask her if she can pick up her side of the room before a certain day and time. Chances are, she'll agree to do it! If you're not comfortable doing this in person, send her a text message with a very clear request and 'due date.' As much as it's fair for you to ask her to do something, it's also fair to realize that she may have other things going on -- be reasonable with your time frames.

3. Have a Working Relationship with Your RA

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I was an RA for a building of about 300 first-year students and I'm well aware that the RA isn't everyone's favorite person. However, most of your RAs are truly interested in student life and development and want to be a resource for you. Do you have to be best friends - or even friends - with your RA? Absolutely not. But, if you have an emergency, roommate conflict, or even lose your keys, you need to be able to access your RA. If you can show your RAs that you're responsible and willing to work with them, they'll be more apt to take you seriously if you do have an issue and help you out quickly whenever you need it.

Find out why students become RAs on this StudentAdvisor Q&A.

4. Be Flexible and Reasonable

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The report from our resident from Stonehill says that residence life attempted to move her, but she wasn't happy until she got a single room. If you choose to live on-campus, you have to play by ResLife's rules. If you and your roommate just can't get along, moving out is only an option if you're willing to make concessions. Sometimes, things work out - you and your roommate want to switch rooms with a friend and his roommate, which is perfect! Most housing offices will let you do this without an issue.

However, if you want to move out, be ready to move into any room on campus at any time. You might be put in a worse room, with roommates you like even less. You might be moved entirely across campus, and have to leave your friends that live in your building. If your school provides bins and movers to help you when you move in September, those are probably not going to be available if you move in November.

Want a single room? Chances are that isn't going to happen. Single rooms are often snatched up by graduating seniors, and there are rarely going to be any available mid-semester. If you think that moving is your only option, be sure that you are ready to give up the luxuries of staying put.

Check out some advice on StudentAdvisor on moving out.

5. Understand That Emergencies are an Exception

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From my experience, what the resident from Stonehill was going through would be considered an emergency situation. If you're suffering mentally or physically because of your roommate, tell your RA immediately and don't undersell the gravity of the situation. Residence Life staff are trained to handle student health and wellness and consider your safety of paramount importance. Almost all colleges and universities have a "safe room" program where they can temporarily and immediately move students if there is an emergency. Being assigned to a safe room is not something that ResLife does gratuitously, but they won't hesitate if you feel as though you're in danger.

6. If All Else Fails, Consider Off-Campus Living

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Most freshmen are required to live on-campus, but it certainly isn't for everyone. If you don't think you can mentally or physically handle living in a confined space with another person, petition to live off-campus. As much as it seems like ResLife might be a bureaucracy with very few exceptions to their rules, your health is that exception. If you can manage, find a small studio or one-bedroom apartment where you can have complete control over your living situation. However, living off-campus comes with a slew of its own issues: buying furniture, dealing with realtors and landlords, paying bills - as well as losing access to the health and safety resources of residence life.

Check out this StudentAdvisor Q&A about the benefits of living off campus