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Moving In Together

In the weeks leading up to the first year of college, there’s no shortage of excitement or anxiety. Perhaps the biggest change involved is moving into a strange place called a dorm. The living embodiment of that strangeness is the unknown person with whom you’ll share your 10ft. by 15ft. box: the college roommate, one of the most significant unknowns in a landscape of uncertainty.

If you feel anything like this, you’ll be happy to know that there are people working on it.

As explained in a recent New York Times article, RoomSync is a roommate-matching app on Facebook that allows students to do the choosing themselves. Northwestern and the University of Massachusetts, Lowell have both recently begun offering RoomSync as an alternative to the traditional system, in which students are paired up by the school’s administration with only short questionnaires of questionable efficacy to go on. Morehouse College now allows first-year students to use StarRez, a housing management software company, to pick roommates, as does the University of North Carolina.

It turns out, of course, that colleges have a financial incentive in allowing students to pick congenial roommates: ensuring that students feel comfortable in their new homes improves retention rates. But students will no doubt appreciate having a say in the decision. Sometimes a survey just doesn’t cut it, because a great roommate relationship involves much more than comparable sleep schedules.

The article suggests that the primary risk of such systems comes from the fact that people tend to gravitate towards the familiar.  Roommate selection would allow students to avoid potential roommates of different races, religions, or backgrounds, and this is clearly counterproductive to the stated goal that many universities have of exposing students to exactly these sorts of difference. A diverse student body is one of the most highly touted aspects of today’s colleges and universities, and roommate selection could vitiate its enlightening effects.

It’s a complicated question. Do you have to live in the same room with someone who’s different from you in order for the famed world-expanding of college to take place? Won’t you meet all sorts of people in the other rooms in your dorm, in classes and, indeed, all over campus?

Perhaps, but there’s something to be said for the randomized mess that results in most dorms today. Combating, or at least slowing, the sheltering progress of cliques and smaller friend-groups seems worthwhile. Rooming with someone with whom you would not, perhaps, otherwise have been friends produces a temporary web of dorm-based friendship that cuts across those friendships founded on affinity. It isn’t really even about demographics, but rather about the fact that people tend to spend time with their mirrors, and it’s nice to throw a wrench in that for at least one year early in your life. Don’t worry: after freshman year you can move in with your best friends and forget that everyone on campus isn’t exactly like you.


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