When then-incoming freshman Sam Buchbinder called his assigned roommate, Chad Harlan, last summer, both students were concerned at the end of their 10-minute conversation.
“I thought he was one of the weirdest kids I’d ever talked to,” Buchbinder said of Harlan. “I wanted to talk to him about what he wanted to major in and he kept saying he didn’t care.”
Harlan said he had his own qualms about Buchbinder. “I thought (Buchbinder) was a weirdo,” Harlan said. “He called me while I was hanging out and I just wanted to focus on the summer. I thought he was creepy.”
Though both soon-to-be GW students started their first semester in roommate dread, Harlan discovered quickly that Buchbinder was a highly proficient proofreader of essays and Buchbinder grew to appreciate Harlan’s sense of humor. They were never best friends, but they enjoyed each other’s company – each said the other made a good roommate.
The question of whom to live with freshman year torments students everywhere, and it’s no different at GW – maybe even worse. The University holds Colonial Inauguration before students have to solidify their housing plans, putting incoming freshmen face-to-face with hundreds of potential roommates.
Before students hand over their housing fate to the University and allow the Community Living and Learning Center to match them up with complete strangers, many students wonder how hard they should work during the three days of orientation to find a compatible housing partner.
Finding a roommate at CI
The jury is still out on whether it’s wise to live with a CI pal.
Before the start of this summer’s first CI, 209 members of the class of 2009 had already requested specific roommates. By the end of the final CI last year, 586 of the about 2,600 incoming freshmen had made such requests.
Spencer Smith, who was a Hall on Virginia Avenue community facilitator last year, said the roughly 15 residents on his floor who had teamed up at CI had noticeably more positive relationships with each other than the roommates who hadn’t selected each other.
“Those (roommates) who found each other at CI worked so much better than the ones that had been assigned,” he said. “They felt they could live well together.”
Some students said they thought CI was too short a time period to get to know a person well enough to evaluate his or her potential as a roommate.
Buchbinder, who, with Harlan, shared a Thurston Hall quad with two people who had requested to live together at CI, said he observed a seemingly match-made-in-heaven pairing fall from grace.
“At CI you can’t get to know someone well enough to know if you want to live with that person,” he said.
Dana Kathrins, who also lived in a Thurston Hall quad, agreed that the few days of CI did not afford enough time to make important housing decisions.
“Being randomly placed with a roommate is better than choosing someone that you meet from CI because you will most likely maintain the friendships you make at CI, and being paired with a random roommate can, more often than not, be beneficial,” Kathrins said.
What to look for
Many students will caution incoming freshmen set on finding their perfect roommate match before coming to school in the fall that good friends don’t always make good roommates.
Smith said two women on his floor who requested to live with each other were good friends but ran into rooming trouble when the crew season began. The one who was on the crew team had to be up for early-morning practices while the other girl’s first class wasn’t until noon. He said their schedules differed so greatly that they had a hard time living together.
He said it is important for roommates to have some commonalities but that they do not need to be kindred spirits.
“They should make sure they have something in common, but maybe that’s not the person you stayed up with until five in the morning at CI,” he said.
Tandice Ghajar, another former HOVA CF, said that compatibility of “lifestyle approach” is a big determinant of roommate relationship success.
“Good friends are good for going out with or confiding,” she said. “Good roommates share more surface similarities,” such as the same bed-times.
Harlan said he learned to appreciate the differences between good roommates and good friends.
“I went in expecting my roommate to be my best friend. By the end I realized that you can’t expect that,” he said. “The ideal roommate is someone who’s quiet and stays out of your stuff. That’s not the same person you want to raise hell with.”
Starting off right
CLLC matches students based on a five-question survey, which asks students basic questions about their habits when it comes to sleeping and activities such as smoking and listening to music.
James Kohl, director of residential life and education at CLLC, said the University does less to match like-minded students than some other private institutions because the school believes that living with different types of people can broaden students’ horizons.
“We encourage students to take advantage of the opportunity to live with someone different from themselves so that they can learn from others who may have had different experiences than their own,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Kathrins said she communicated with her roommates via phone and e-mail when she received their names last summer. She suggested that incoming freshmen try to engage in meaningful discourse with their assigned roommates before meeting in late August.
“I think it is important that you work on developing a friendship,” she said. “While my roommates and I discussed who would bring what kind of cleaning product and DVD collections, we also talked about ourselves – our
majors and hometowns – and we began to develop a friendship.”
Silencing scuffles – what to do when problems arise
Last fall, 203 students asked to change rooms “for a variety of reasons, including roommate conflicts,” Kohl said. There were about 7,200 students who lived on-campus last fall.
Students and CFs said the key to keeping the inevitable small disagreements from turning into major problems is confronting those issues immediately.
“It’s amazing how those little things can become major issues when they aren’t talked about,” Smith said.
QuickTakes: Roommate selection tips
Don’t judge a roommate by a phone call – first conversations can be misleading. Do not fret if your first conversation over the summer with your assigned roommate leaves you feeling uneasy.
A CI friend may or may not be a good match. If you decide to room with someone you meet at orientation, just make sure you are confident with your choice.
Good friends do not necessarily make good roommates.
Roommate agreement forms are more important than they seem. It is easier to confront a roommate about a problem if they violated a room rule everyone agreed on.
Scheduling is important. Common bedtimes and get-up times can be roommate saving graces.