Compromise, respect are keys to good roommate experience
Aug. 13, 2013
By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services
The Emilys may sound like a musical group or movie title, but they’re just roommates at East Carolina University.
Emily Nelson of Havelock and Emily Wilder of Wilmington were randomly placed together in Umstead Residence Hall as freshmen in 2012. They have become such good friends that they finish the others’ sentences and are part of each other’s families.
Thousands of students moving in Aug. 15-18 may hope for a similar roommate experience. However Aaron Lucier, director of housing operations at ECU, advises students and parents to lighten expectations.
“The only expectation that students should have of their roommate situation is to be a good roommate,” Lucier said. “You are under no obligation to be their new best friend or their future bridesmaid or groomsman.”
A study by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte found roommate problems to be the second largest stressor for college students.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” Lucier said of moving into and sharing a small space with someone new.
Angst and social media
There is the usual anxiety, angst and awkwardness that students have when meeting their roommate for the first time, and social media can help or hurt.
“I think some students just dive in, and Facebook has relieved apprehension and allowed them to communicate, but by and large, it’s been the enemy,” Lucier said. “Sometimes people judge a book by its cover.”
Nelson admits she ‘Facebook-stalked’ Wilder when she learned she would be her roommate. Would the person pictured online be the same in real life? “It’s easy to overanalyze,” Wilder said.
Finding common ground is essential, Nelson said. “Your dorm room is your home. Who wants to go to your home with tension?”
Since each was accustomed to their own rooms – and more square footage - at home, they created more living space by getting lofts for their beds. It also helped that they didn’t have any classes together and spent several hours apart each day. Wilder plans to major in nursing, and Nelson is a biology and chemistry major looking toward medical school one day. This fall they will be in separate rooms in Umstead because Nelson will be a resident advisor.
“I think we hit it off because we’re so different,” Wilder said. “We’re different, but we go together.”
Wilder said she’s shy and passive, while Nelson has a strong personality and is more assertive. Both blue-eyed and blond, they have the same sense of humor and ability to laugh with each other. They even have the same breed of dog back home. They love football and baseball, and Nelson often tailgated with Wilder’s family, many of whom attended ECU - including Wilder’s dad, Bill Wilder, who played baseball at ECU.
The young women relied on each other’s strengths, and valued each other’s opinion, often serving as a second pair of eyes on papers or projects.
Learning to compromise and establishing respect are two of the most important things that roommates can do for each other, they said.
“You’re living in a 12 X 13 room for so many months of the year. You have 6 ½ feet to yourself. There is no privacy,” Nelson said. “We did argue but you can’t stay mad at someone when you have six feet in front of you.”
Adapting to a roommate’s ups and downs, navigating class times or unusual habits are good life skills, Lucier said.
“Even if you’re not good friends, you still get to know that person,” Wilder said.
With 15 residence halls housing almost 5,500 students, this is the second year that ECU has offered an optional Facebook roommate matching tool called ‘RoomSync’ that aims to increase compatibility. “It puts finding a roommate entirely in their (students) hands and the onus is on them to find a compatible match,” Lucier said.
ECU has taken requests for roommates for years but hasn’t tried to use any special tools to match students because of conflicting research on whether matching provides better results than random placement, Lucier said.
Since offering RoomSync, the number of roommate requests has gone up significantly. “The jury is still out on if it has impacted satisfaction,” Lucier said.
Housing keeps the app up about one month starting in late March or early April to offer a large number of possible matches to students. Roommate requests are due May 1.
All data generated from the RoomSync application complies with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and meets Fair Housing Law standards, according to the company.
After assignments are made, ECU officials provide email addresses to roommates and leave the rest up to them. “Some have coordinated everything down to sheets, towels and bedspreads, and others have barely chatted” before arriving for fall semester, Lucier said.
Rooming with friends
Incoming freshmen who choose to room with a hometown friend have mixed success. “You have to ask yourself is it worth risking your best friend?” Lucier asked. “Often it doesn’t allow you to explore any of the other options that college provides.”
At first, Nelson said she wanted to room with someone she knew because she was scared. “But I decided I can’t stay in my shell forever,” she said.
While there are pros and cons in living with someone a student already knows well, rooming with someone new can expand a students’ perspective on life, Lucier said.
“You have more in common than you can possibly imagine compared to just meeting someone on the street,” Lucier said. “And the time you have together is where you’ll find more of those commonalities exist, which sometimes will surprise you.”
And if it doesn’t work out, ECU offers mediation to resolve roommate differences and a room change policy that doesn’t require forced mediation like some other universities. The period to change rooms usually opens around the second week of classes and lasts for several months, Lucier said.
To request a change, students contact the Neighborhood Service Office for the campus neighborhood where they want to live. The offices will list open rooms, and once a student finds a room, they can start moving their items into the new space, Lucier said.