It is a Monday evening around 11:00pm, you, the RA, are coming back to your room after a long day of classes, work, and meetings. You are looking forward to an hour of relaxation before you begin some English homework. However, as you are entering your room, Susan comes running down the hall demanding your immediate attention to discuss roommate issues. Susan is completely frustrated with the behavior of her 2 roommates. For the next hour you listen to Susan ramble on about her roommates; their inappropriate behavior with their significant others; their lack of respect for her and the overall, lack of cleanliness in the room.
RAs, does this scenario sound familiar? I am sure you all have dealt with similar situations in the last few weeks and can relate to the scenario. School has been in session for 6 to 7 weeks now and everyone’s true colors are being reflected through their words, actions and behavior within their rooms. As a result, your residents are coming to you expressing concerns and frustrations with their roommates, what are you to do? As a Hall Director for 500 first-year students, these last few weeks have been saturated with roommate conflicts and issues. My RAs have been faced with many roommate problems pertaining to all types of issues; cleanliness, disrespect, illegal activities, vandalism, etc. Each conflict has its own issues and concerns, which makes each situation unique as well as challenging. However, there are some basic tips and guidelines RAs can utilize when dealing with a roommate conflict.
Listen! When residents approach you about a roommate conflict, listen to their concerns and issues about the other roommates. Avoid agreeing or commenting about their concerns or issues with their roommates. Stating your opinion on the matter indirectly displays that you are supporting their frustrations and thoughts. You want to remain unbiased when speaking to all parties involved in the roommate conflict.
Go to the Source! You as the RA should encourage the residents to address and communicate with their roommates about these issues. The roommates may not be aware of the concerns and frustrations that are being communicated to you. Emphasize to them the importance of confronting their concerns to the appropriate roommates in a calm, non-threatening environment.
Mediation Time! If the residents have taken the initiative to resolve the conflict on their own, suggest a room mediation. A room mediation is a formal meeting with all roommates present, the RA, and perhaps the Hall Director. Your role within the mediation is to ensure things are being communicated appropriately between all roommates. Encourage everyone to sit in a circular fashion either on the floor or on chairs. Begin the mediation by setting some ground rules for the conversation: no derogatory comments, no speaking out of turn, address the person’s behavior constructively, and speak honestly. During the mediation, encourage the residents to compromise with each other and set “room rules” that must be upheld by all residents of the room. For example, if there was a problem with roommates borrowing each other belongings, encourage the roommates to write a list of the items they are willing to share with each other. The mediation is concluded once all issues have been discussed and resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
Room Contracts! A great resource and tool is a roommate contract, a document outlining all the rules and expectations that the roommates agree to uphold within the room. It can be used as a proactive tool that all roommates complete during the first week of school or it can be utilized during a mediation as a guideline to discussing issues. Below is a list of topics and questions to include in a room contract:
Beginning: Where are you from? What was it like growing up? Do you know what your major will be? What do you hope to do with that? What are some of your interests and talents? Are you are morning or night person? How do you like to study? Have you ever lived with someone before? What are ways that we can make sure that we communicate as roommates?
Room Condition: How would you like the room kept? What is the best way to organize a cleaning schedule? How often should the room be cleaned?
Studying/Sleeping: I like to study between the hours of? What noise level is acceptable while studying is going on in the room? Can the TV or radios be on? Are you an early riser or a late person? Can the lights, TV, or radio be left or turned on while someone is sleeping?
Sharing: If we want to borrow something, do we have to ask first? Do you want to answer each other’s phone? Are there possessions that no one can touch but the owner? Would you prefer that the windows are kept open or shut?
Visitors/Guests: Is it okay to have guests/visitors in the room? If yes, then how many at one time? How much notice does everyone need to give in advance of the arrival of a guest? Can significant others spend the night? What about having sex in the room? What times are not good to have guests? How are we going to let each other know that it is inconvenient to have a guest/visitor? Which items can my roommates’ guests use when I am not present? Will social gatherings be allowed in the room or suite?
The above suggestions are tips and hints that I have found very useful when handling a roommate conflict. However, as stated in the beginning each situation is unique and will present its own challenges. Effective communication among the roommates is the key to resolving any type of conflict, particularly roommate issues.
“When people communicate, there is no limit to what they can do”
-AT & T
Submitted by Jeanne Clark, Residence Hall Director, Quinnipiac College