GW needs to stop surprising students with new roommates

As the fall semester drew to a close, two of my suitemates informed me that they were not planning to return to our Amsterdam Hall unit for the spring semester. One had decided to study abroad and the other had chosen to move off campus.

My remaining roommate and I wondered what this would mean for us. Would we have the whole unit to ourselves, or would our departing roommates be replaced with new folks? We waited for a heads-up from GW that never came. We never received an email, physical notice or phone call notifying us that two students who had not been on campus in the fall would be moving into our room. Had we not gone out of our way to check the housing portal, we would have been totally blindsided by this change in our living situation. GW should notify students as soon as they’re assigned a new roommate to give them time to communicate before the shift.

One can imagine how daunting it must be to enter into a new living environment where the rules and norms were created without you. It may take time before both parties feel comfortable asking each other to quiet down or get on the same page about chores. Common spaces like countertops, cabinets and refrigerator shelves may have been divided up evenly at the beginning of the academic year, and new residents might have a hard time getting an equal share. Sometimes these points are settled on paper and sometimes agreements are made more naturally – things are addressed as they come up. Students who were not around when decisions were made might feel like they have no agency, that they are guests in someone else’s home.

I’m finding out, in the early stages of my new arrangement, that these issues tend to be ironed out on an as-needed basis, but the process could have gone more smoothly if we had the chance to communicate beforehand. I showed my new suitemates the cabinets their predecessors had used, and I asked them to speak with me if they had any problems, but after that we’ve all pretty much kept to ourselves. Sometimes I wish I could start at the beginning and get everyone on the same page, but with this semester’s staggered move-in, that would have been very difficult. Thankfully, my new suitemates are very friendly and polite, but they could have benefited from a little support from our residence hall community coordinators to ensure that they don’t feel like they have to do things our way just because we were here first.

At the beginning of the academic year, on-campus students are encouraged to fill out a roommate agreement form, which everyone in the unit agrees to and signs. Students who join a pre-existing living arrangement are not always extended this formal opportunity. Since traditional resident advisers have been done away with and replaced with less approachable community coordinators, it is easier for students to handle disagreements and disputes on their own. If there is a process for updating this document when new people move into the unit, students are not made aware or encouraged to do so. This is a missed opportunity to fully integrate new students into their living space, to give them an authentic sense that they are just as in charge of the unit as the students who have lived there since the fall semester. Roommate agreements only hold any weight to the people who agreed to and signed them. Once students come and go from a unit, that unit is now a brand new living arrangement, and the students who live in a new arrangement ought to have the roommate agreement as a resource to avoid confrontations and aggravation in the future.

Next year, when spring housing adjustments are made, students taking on new roommates should be notified via email as soon as someone gets added to their unit, and residents should be encouraged to reach out to get to know one another before they start living together. Residence hall community coordinators should also email these students with guidance on how to collaboratively create a living environment that works for old and new residents alike.

Every on-campus student deserves to feel at home at GW. If incoming students and the unit’s existing residents have an opportunity to coordinate before the fall semester begins, and then get a chance to draw up a new roommate agreement, everyone can feel like they have a say and that changes were not thrust upon them by surprise. The bare minimum approach to midyear housing adjustments puts both incoming and pre-existing residents at a disadvantage and should be updated to avoid the stress and distraction that may arise under the current system.

Zachary Bestwick, a sophomore majoring in political science, is an opinions writer.

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