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Help! My roommate is driving me crazy!

One of the biggest challenges college students face when they head off to school is fostering a positive relationship with a new roommate. Not only are students thrown together seemingly at random, but many of the students in college today are sharing a room for the first time in their lives. Those conditions often make for less-than-ideal circumstances, and can negatively affect an otherwise positive college experience.

What can students do to head off a problem? The key, the experts agree, is mutual respect.

“Respect is the most basic and important requirement for successful living between roommates,” says Susan Mead, assistant dean of residence life. “Students really need to be open to learning about and appreciating each other’s needs and style of living, and they need to respect their differences. There will be similarities and differences—all you can do is plan on them and be willing to compromise.”

To get off on the right foot, consider these suggestions:

Attempt to communicate with your new roommate as soon as you receive contact information from your college or university, and begin a working partnership. Send back duplicate possessions to avoid wasting space and confer on room decorating decisions. “You should put your joint together jointly,” says Liz Scofield, managing director of Lehigh’s Zoellner Arts Center and etiquette expert.

Begin discussions about personal preferences to smooth out misunderstandings. “Don’t let issues build up, hoping to be a nice guy,” Scofield says. “You can do this tactfully, of course. But it is best not to save them up because the issues aren’t going to improve, and neither is your disposition.”

She suggests talking about sleeping and study habits, personal living preferences (are you a slob or a neat freak?), visitors, having boyfriends or girlfriends in the room, or quirky habits.

“Some people can’t go to sleep unless they have some type of distraction such as music or a fan running,” Mead says. “Others need complete silence. These are the kinds of things that may seem minor, but can eventually cause frustration between roommates.”

In general, both Mead and Scofield agree, don’t assume anything about your roommate based on appearance or possessions. Get to know each other before formulating harsh assessments.

Take advantage of your residence life staff members who live and work in your residence hall. Should a conflict become repetitive and/or serious, the residence life staff will assist you in roommate mediation. Room changes may occur after exhausting every means possible to resolve differences and create a workable relationship. At Lehigh, residence life and residential services staff will assist you with this process.

Keys to getting along

Want to be the perfect roommate? Try these suggestions from Scofield and Mead:

Don’t take over your roommate’s “territory,” even if you arrived first. “Territorial issues occur when one person takes over the room,” Mead says. “If you arrive first, keep the other half open so your roommate feels welcome when he or she gets there.”

Be respectful. Successful roommate relationships are based on mutual respect. If your roommate doesn’t like anyone borrowing her clothes, respect her wishes, Mead says. Adds Scofield: “Don’t borrow clothes without asking, and don’t assume that ‘what’s hers is mine.’ ”

Be courteous. “Courtesy is contagious,” Mead says. “If you’re polite to your roommate, he or she will likely follow your lead.” Common courtesies can include taking messages and conveying them promptly and offering to pick up items when you’re out running errands.

Be willing to compromise. You and your roommate may not agree on everything, but both parties will need to compromise every now and then. If one is a slob and the other is a neat freak, find a way to live with each other in a respectful manner. Scofield offers a few suggestions for other incompatible traits:

--If you need to go to sleep unreasonably early, wear room darkeners and earplugs.
--Don’t over-use the snooze button if you have to get up, but can’t bring yourself to get out of bed. It disturbs a roommate unnecessarily.
--Don’t blast music if your roommate is sleeping or trying to rest or study.
--Try to be reasonably tidy. If that’s impossible, at least keep the mess confined to your side of the room.

Recognize that you and your roommate probably won’t be best friends. “If it works out that way, great,” Scofield says. “But chances are that you won’t because it’s just a little too much togetherness.” Her advice: Be cordial, be welcoming and pleasant, but cultivate other friendships, too.

Make mediation a last resort

When all else fails, Mead suggests considering these tips before taking the conflict to the next level:

--Make sure you have all the facts straight and have a solution in mind.
--Avoid checking with other residents on the floor before you talk to your roommate. Speak only for yourself.
--Try to separate yourself from any anger. You may get better results by remaining calm and rational. Anger may just make the situation worse.
--Make sure you are prepared to discuss criticism aimed back at you.
--Be assertive. The longer you wait to address your concerns, the worse it may become.
--Anticipate a defensive reaction, even after the confrontation. Give your roommate time to think about your concerns.
Keep in mind that your roommate deserves to be heard. By listening to your roommate’s point of view, you can better understand and resolve conflicts together.
--Don’t assume a “victim” mentality—it is within your control to address the situation and take action. Inaction is an option, but then you must accept the consequences of avoidance.

If you have tried all these methods and have had no luck, contact residence life staff to help initiate a mediation session.

For more helpful information, check out our handy First-Year Survival Guide.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Friday, August 20, 2004

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