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Are random roommates overrated?

Sep 1, 2011

Who can forget that moment when you dropped your boxes at the door and shook hands with the person that – for good or ill – would be sharing a tiny square box with you for at least a semester? In many cases our college roommates opened our eyes to a viewpoint or perspective that was wholly different from our own. In many other cases we angrily complained to campus housing (and anyone else who would listen) about the slob-like behavior or late night carousing of the person we were forced to share a room with. But today’s freshmen may not get that chance. More and more colleges are depending on online systems and social media to allow students to choose who they’ll room with. At schools that don’t offer housing choice, kids can still go online, check out their potential roommate and start complaining to the housing office if they don’t like what they see. The Association of College and University Housing Officers International says roommate selection cuts down on conflict and frees up housing personnel, but does it also rob kids of an important rite of passage? Studies have shown that students who have a roommate from a different ethnic background become more open-minded about race. If kids choose, will they choose someone just like them and miss out on the opportunity to broaden their horizons? On the other hand, when roommates can find no middle ground there’s a chance real harm can come to one of them, as in the case of gay Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who jumped to his death after his roommate videotaped him having a sexual encounter with another young man. Clementi had asked for a transfer from university housing, but was waiting for it to be granted. And what about YOUR experience with your own college roommate? What was the experience like for you?

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