What can be worse than finding out your roommate is, dreadfully, a morning person or sleeps with the television on full volume? What if their untidiness overflows to your side of the room, or they start borrowing your personal belongings without any notice?
Having to share a small space isn’t always ideal and many of these questions can create unwanted anxiety about moving into a dorm. As uncomfortable as it might be, it’s necessary to discuss ways to avoid stepping on each other’s toes. You don’t want to come off as uptight or a total neat freak, yet you want to stand your ground. Luckily, colleges in this generation are beginning to issue roommate agreement contracts to sort out living habits between residents and bring up the issues that you might be too shy to point out.
Syracuse University is one of many colleges in the area that distributes roommate agreement contracts to residents each year, so roommates can come to an understanding on how they’ll be sharing their space. It’s one of the largest colleges in the area, with 17 different residence halls available to students. SUNY Oswego also issues contracts to residents, as does Onondaga Community College. Even at relatively tiny Le Moyne College, the contracts are used as a form of mediation between roommates who are having trouble getting along.
Whether you’re living with somebody you’ve known for years or a complete stranger, it’s helpful to lay out all your boundaries up front, rather than find out later in an ugly confrontation.
P.J. Alampi, a student at SU, will be spending his junior year as a resident assistant (RA)—it’ll be his second stint. This past year, he was an RA living on the third floor of Sadler Hall. According to Alampi, each of the residence halls issues the same general contract across the board. Keeping the contracts gender-neutral avoids offending students and stereotyping living behaviors.
“I feel like the contracts are an icebreaker because they burn off any tension when it comes to not knowing what your roommate is interested in and also what your roommate generally thinks of certain habits,” says Alampi. “At SU, we work with the students to have them go through each portion of the contract, looking into their own life and how they lived at home, and how they’re looking to live on campus.”
The roommate selection process at SU is completely random, so the odds aren’t always in everyone’s favor. “Even if you know the person and fill out a million questions, there will be conflicts that will come up,” Alampi adds.
RAs encourage residents to work out problems on their own before taking more drastic measures. “It’s one thing for the RAs to go in and say you did this wrong, or you did that wrong,” he says. “But it’s another thing for those residents to actually talk to each other and understand each person’s side to the story.”
The agreement contracts are dispersed to residents at their first general RA meetings, where they are encouraged to fill out the questionnaire together with their new roommate. Andrew Muckell, a sophomore at SU, had it easier than most moving into Sadler Hall with a friend from high school. Still, Muckell believes the contract was just as useful because no matter how well you think you know someone, you don’t truly know them entirely until you live with them.
“My roommate, also named Andrew, is in the ROTC program so he had to be up early every day, and valued a good night’s sleep,” says Muckell. Both agreed on not having guests over past 10 p.m. and keeping the noise level down. Of course, that was subject to change during exam week when both needed late nights to study.
Muckell and his roommate were able to come to an understanding on how to live together without upsetting each other’s schedule because of their mutual respect. “I think they should continue to do the contracts because it’s a great way, especially for freshmen, to really get to know each other before finding out just by living together,” he says. Muckell and his roommate are planning to live together again this year, in a four-person suite. Now with four guys in a room, Muckell jokes that one important point to address in the contract will be keeping the area clean.
What to Consider
Study Habits. Maybe you have an easy semester where you’re able to stay out late every night
partying. Just remember, this could be the toughest semester for your roommate. Or vice versa. Either way, you should be aware of each other’s study habits. Some people need a quiet area to concentrate while others can tune out the noise. Whether you decide that the person who needs to study should go to the library, or that the party should be moved down the hall, roommates should work out a solution where everyone is happy.
Sleep Schedule. Party all day, party all night only works for so long before someone wants to run screaming out of their dorm room. While comparing schedules with your roommate, you should address when there’s a need for quiet nights or when it’s all right to stay up late. It’s also important to be considerate of your roommate when they are asleep, both early in the morning and at night.
Guests. Does your significant other really have to sleep over every night? Maybe it’s getting on your roommate’s nerves or maybe they couldn’t care less. You should discuss a guest policy with your roommate, including having friends over. Most of the time, it works out when you share the same group of friends, but that isn’t always the case. Instead of having people over every night, it might be best to find a new hangout spot a few days a week.
Personal Belongings. Back at home, you and your close friends shared everything—from laptops to clothing. But don’t assume your new roommate is the same way. If you want to expand your wardrobe to the other side of the room, talk it out with your roommate first. Maybe they’re lenient with most of their possessions, but a few expensive commodities could be off-limits. Or, maybe all you have to do is ask. The biggest mistake you can make is testing their boundaries by running off with their brand new iPad or staining one of their favorite shirts that they didn’t even know you borrowed.
Problem Solving. After you’ve sorted out all your pet peeves and bad habits, you’re thinking nothing else can go wrong . . . until somebody breaks the contract. Despite the usefulness of the document, it might still take some trial and error before you and your roommate are getting along swimmingly. The best thing you can do is talk out your problems before making them a bigger deal than they really are. Sure, your roommate might have told you in the contract that they’re all right with having friends over, not knowing it’d be an everyday occurrence that’s now getting on their nerves.The contract is susceptible to change, not to mention maybe there are some things it didn’t cover in full. If you find you’re still not getting along after several discussions and broken promises, then talk to your RA about getting switched out of the room or maybe mediating a conflict before it turns into a conflagration.