Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Get Out of My House

Another class essay, this one is about college room lotteries. Enjoy!
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At some point in time, I think almost everyone has lived with a roommate. I'm not talking about living with parents or even a relative. I speak to those who have been tossed into a living situation where they must co-exist with a total stranger. This situation is encountered mostly by college students who, because of lack of funding and high enrollment rates, often have to live with someone else to survive. Most students have little to no say as to who they end up living with. If they are lucky, the decision is made based on compatibility surveys or personal choice. However, students are often placed together based on an arbitrary room lottery system. This kind of arrangement can throw two people together who might not even be compatible as friends, much less as roommates. Room lotteries take two or more random people and force them to share a living space for at least one term (or semester) if not the entire year. Room lotteries do not take personality, living habits or cultural background into consideration. With a room lottery, it is always possible for two people with incompatible personalities to be matched together. People generally try to avoid others with whom they share no common ground. A room lottery will match these people together and then expect them to live together without difficulty. If students were allowed to participate more in the process of selecting a roommate, they could focus more mental energy on doing well in school.
Not everyone has a bad experience with a roommate assigned to them at random. Sometimes, students are assigned someone that they end up being compatible with. The roommates become friends and sometimes they remain living together for the entirety of their college career. Even if the roommates don't end up being bosom buddies, this type of living situation can help students develop tolerance for those that have differing opinions. It also can teach students how to appropriately deal with conflict and respond to stressful situations.
Room lotteries are a quick way to assign housing to a large number of students at once. They also eliminate the possibility of people choosing not to live with anyone but themselves. With student housing being at a premium, there often isn't enough room to accommodate people who wish to live alone. Group situations are also cheaper. With the costs being divided between multiple students per living space, even colleges that take care of housing as part of tuition can cut costs by filling dorm rooms with as many students as possible.
Everyone has their own personal habits, personality quirks, and tastes based on cultural background and the environment in which they were raised. The whole process of college is stressful, especially to students who are leaving home for the first time. Many of these students have not had the opportunity to live in an environment where they are free from parental influence. They are not used to having to motivate themselves to pick up dirty socks or kill the mold monster in the sink. On top of this, students are expected to make progress on an academic level. The whole idea of being self sufficient and self motivating is difficult when one has total control of their environment. More problems occur when there is another person, or several persons, are added to the situation. Each member of the arrangement desires some measure of control and disagreements are bound to happen, even in ideal conditions. Too often, roommates in a dorm situation are in disagreement before they meet each other. They may not share the same beliefs, or have beliefs that are in direct conflict. An extreme example would be a Christian being paired with a Satanist. When people disagree on a sensitive topic, it affects every interaction they have with each other. The disagreement will also be tenser because everyone has to remain in close proximity. A simple complaint about someone forgetting to vacuum can turn into a catastrophic argument that ends badly. The recent trial of Amanda Knox shows what can happen if roommate rage is allowed to fester for too long. In the trial, evidence was presented to suggest that Knox was angry with her roommate and that because of this anger she stabbed her roommate several times. Most roommate disagreements do not reach this level of violence. There are several college students, however, that have been through at least one situation where they feared someone would get violent if things didn't improve. Many students are hesitant to bring up these issues to Residence Assistants or other people in authority for a variety of reasons and so they deal with the situation by avoiding it. They find themselves staying with friends or in extreme cases, sleeping on a park bench.
Fundamental disagreements can also breed an environment full of mistrust. Safety concerns for college students are numerous. New students are cautioned heavily on making sure they lock their doors and that they don't walk around alone at night. They must constantly be aware of threats found in the world outside their dorm room. On top of all of these concerns, many students find themselves in a situation where they don't trust the person or persons they are living with. This mistrust can arise from people simply having a difference of opinion. Not trusting the person one lives with is extremely stressful. It also can lead to poor choices in reacting to situations as they arise. For example, student A has a difference of religious opinion with student B. Student A is convinced that student B is a heathen, based on their first meeting, which involved both students simply unpacking. Student A noticed that student B had a piece of literature that went against his beliefs. Later in the term, student A ends up missing some property. Even if there is a possibility that student A simply misplaced his property, his first reaction is to accuse student B. On the other hand, some people will exhibit poor judgment and steal from their housemate. There is no typical reason why someone chooses to steal another person’s property. It could be vengeance for real or imagined slights, jealousy, or even because the person just has a compulsion to steal. Whatever the reason, the possibility of losing things makes it difficult to focus on getting an education.
When I lived in a dormitory situation, I found it very difficult leaving valuable personal property alone with my roommate. The roommate did not initially do anything to betray my trust, but because I was dealing with an unknown entity, whose beliefs differed greatly from mine, I found it impossible to let my guard down. At the same time, my own issues and hang ups prevented me from discussing the issues I had with her. As a result, the conflict between us escalated to the point where there were threats of violence. Complaints to the Residence Assistant fell on deaf ears and the school did not offer any other sources of mediation. At the time, I was not familiar with how to deal with the situation at all. I am sure I am not the first and only college student who has problems dealing with conflict. I can say with certainly that I would have benefited with more information on how to deal with conflict. If the school insisted upon matching people up randomly, some instruction, even if it was through print or sent electronically, could help students better prepare for conflict. More and more, colleges are instituting programs and classes that deal with conflicts between roommates. College is a time of transition and suddenly having to live with someone else adds even more stress. I believe that students would benefit from more resources on campuses for mediating conflicts. With mediation, students also would learn how to deal with conflict in an appropriate way and hopefully feel that they could do something before the disagreement got out of control.
Dealing with drama involving roommates is often cited as a reason for poor academic performance. Unfortunately, most schools don't accept this as an excuse even though conflict is created through room lotteries that are often mandatory for students wishing to live on campus. If colleges do not want to eliminate the room lottery system, they must acknowledge and give allowances for the problems that room lotteries potentially cause. Even though more proactive steps are being taken to deal with conflict between roommates on college campuses, something has to be done about the way students are placed with each other. Living with another person is a large commitment that shouldn't be taken lightly. Dating couples who are contemplating marriage prepare for the commitment of living together by often seeing counselors or seeking religious counsel. It is a little bit different with college students because the living situation is expected to be temporary. A married couple is presumably staying together for the rest of their lives. They combine their possessions and resources in anticipation for a permanent arrangement. College students are not expected to combine bank accounts or buy property together. College students are also not expected to spend a great deal of time with their roommates, certainly not the kind of time people typically spend with a romantic partner. Still, care should be taken when placing students together because they do have to live with each other. It is impossible to completely avoid someone sharing a common living space. Filling out compatibility surveys is a good start but I think students should at least have the opportunity to meet with each other in person, if possible, before they are expected to live in the same space. If meeting in person isn't possible due to distance or time constraints, the people involved should meet via telephone or through an internet conference. Having a roommate isn't an easy thing to deal with in even the best of circumstances. Colleges should be mindful of the diversity of students and try to match people based on similar interests and beliefs so that students can focus more on getting an education and less on being angry at or fearful of the person they live with.

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