Students who aren't used to sharing a room may have difficulty compromising with roommates. Different personalities, friends or study and party habits can make it hard for students to maintain rules that work for everyone.
Colleges and universities typically provide students with tips on how to get along in the beginning of a school year, but many students struggle with communicating issues effectively year-round.
Learning how to get along with roommates isn't a skill that only new students will need. As upperclassmen migrate to apartments and other living arrangements, delegating chores and setting up rules can be just as complicated as living in a dorm room.
As a junior at the University of Florida, Vanessa Miller and her two roommates agreed on two simple rules: no illegal substances and no noise during exam weeks.
But Miller learned how complicated it can be to negotiate with other students when one roommate's continuous partying and indifference to the group's concerns led to tension in the apartment and sleepless nights for Miller.
Miller, who wasn't able to resolve the problems with her roommate, said the living situation was difficult, but she learned the value of dealing with problems as they surface.
"I should have told her constantly, 'Please don't do this, please don't do that. You can do whatever you want on the weekends, but you're my roommate and my friend and I hope that you would respect that,' instead of holding it all in and blowing up at the last minute," she says.
[Learn how to choose and keep a college roommate.]
Students who are living in an uncomfortable living arrangement shouldn't suffer in silence. Experts recommend students try the following to resolve their issues with roommates.
1. Talk it out: Resident life directors recommend that students sit down face-to-face and try to reach an agreement by themselves before seeking intervention.
"Conflict is a healthy part of a relationship. It can lead to good things if managed early and if talked through and if negotiation and compromise can take place," says Kendra Hunter, director of university housing at Arizona State University.
When problems emerge, students should revisit their roommate agreements – the contract that students created in the beginning of the school year to lay out housing rules – and reexamine and discuss the rules they had set up.
[Learn how to get off to a good start with a college roommate.]
"Specifically communicate about what you need, what you have to offer, how you like to communicate in general since that is going to set up any relationship, whether it's living with someone or working with someone, or working on a group project with someone," says Wendy Wippich, director of campus living at DePauw University.
2. Communicate in person: Technology is a huge part of many students' lives, so it can be easy for them to share frustrations in a text or tweet. But divulging your feelings online can often cause more problems.
[Know your roles and responsibilities as a roommate.]
Diane Andrews, senior director for residence life at Pennsylvania State University—University Park, says her staff sometimes has to intervene in situations where roommates aren't talking to each other because of something posted on Twitter.
"People will say a lot of things on Facebook or through texting and Twitter, but they're not comfortable having a rational conversation face-to-face, so we try to talk to students about how to do that," Andrews says.
3. Keep outsiders out of the conversation: "The thing that puts the most strain on a roommate relationship is bringing other people into the dynamic that don't need to be there," DePauw's Wippich says.
Roommate conversations often deal with personal subjects, and things can get emotional quickly. Wippich says that even when your intentions are good, involving friends can leave one roommate feeling attacked or bullied.
"Be mindful how you're using other people as support or as sounding board and how they can be involved," she says.
4. If you live on campus, consult your resident assistant: "RAs are really skilled at navigating and embracing the awkward that comes with some of those roommate disagreement conversations. They're really skilled at mediating them, asking the questions and helping students understand that sometimes it takes a little time to navigate a difficult dialogue with someone but the time is worth it in the end," Wippich says.
If a roommate situation is particularly bad, most campuses have resident life staff who can evaluate complaints on a case-by-case basis and help students make the best choice for them, even if that means switching rooms or taking other action.
"Ultimately they're here at the institution to pursue their academic interest and get a degree and, fundamentally, that's what we as resident life staff are here for – to help them get that degree – so anything that we can do to help and assist is in our best interest and theirs as well." Hunter says.
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