Living with Roommates
While most roommate living experiences are positive and rewarding, learning to live with other people can also be a challenge. As everyone comes to college with a different set of values, lifestyles, and expectations, conflict may occur at some point as you learn to adjust to living with another person. Conflict is normal and it doesn’t have to be negative.
Living with roommates can provide an important opportunity to learn how to navigate and resolve conflict in a productive and positive manner. Conflict management and advocating for oneself are learned skills, which is why we created this resource for you to use if a disagreement occurs.
Being a Good Roommate
Residential and Dining Services believes the most positive roommate relationships are built on a foundation of respect, understanding, and open communication. It is the responsibility of each individual to honor the principles of The Social Contract and act in good faith to resolve any issue or conflict. A ‘good faith’ attitude means it is your responsibility to engage in a conflict resolution process in a sincere and honest attempt to resolve the conflict with the other individual(s).
Another important part of being a good roommate is voicing your needs and wants. All roommates are equally entitled to a positive living and learning environment. Our hope is for you to feel comfortable advocating for your own needs while respecting and listening to the needs of those living with you. Be clear from the beginning about what you need and what behaviors are bothersome to you. For example: Do you mind if someone uses your cooking pans? After a long day, do you like to be around people or have some alone time? How do you feel about your roommate pressing the snooze button three times in the morning? Be upfront and clear about your preferences to help prevent problems down the road.
Lastly, we think it essential to keep communication lines open, respect the privacy and property of those you live with, and remain open to other lifestyles. After all, a big part of the college experience is expanding horizons and embracing differences.
Building a Healthy Roommate Relationship
When you are assigned to a room in housing, you will be notified (when possible) of the names and contact information for any person(s) you are living with. We encourage you to contact your roommate(s) to introduce yourself before you move in. This is a good opportunity to share personal interests and discuss the items you will be bringing, including items to be shared (furniture, microwave, etc.). Use this opportunity to open the lines of communication and start your relationship off on friendly footing.
At the start of the academic term (or whenever a new roommate moves into your unit), your Resident Assistant can facilitate a group meeting with you and your roommate(s) to discuss your living needs. In this meeting, you and your roommate(s) create a Living-Learning Agreement, a shared set of expectations about how you will live together. Your RA can help you construct this agreement and discuss relevant roommate issues like guests, sharing personal property, cleaning responsibilities, and communication.
While it is important to do your best to honor the mutual expectations you set as a group, you and your roommates can revise the LLA at anytime during the year. Sometimes it takes a few weeks to realize certain agreements do not work for everybody or to recognize your own living and study habit needs.
What To Do When You Have an Issue with Your Roommate(s)
When you become aware of an issue or conflict with your roommate(s), it may help to first reflect on what is challenging you and why. Some questions to consider: What specific behaviors are bothering you? What do you think your roommate’s intentions are when they do XYZ behavior? Is your roommate aware they are bothering you? Is this issue addressed in your Living-Learning Agreement (LLA)? What level of responsibility do you have in contributing to this issue or conflict? How do you feel about addressing this issue with the person?
Taking some time to think through the issues surrounding the conflict can help you sort out your feelings, gain a balanced perspective on the situation, and create an effective strategy for addressing the conflict with the other person(s).
Once you have a good idea about the source of the conflict, your next step should be to try to directly address the issue causing tension between you and your roommate(s). There are several effective ways for approaching a roommate:
- For most conflicts, approach the person in private and ask if they have time to talk
- Schedule a meeting. As a courtesy, give the other person(s) an idea about what you want to meet about.
- In general, avoid writing a note, texting, leaving a comment on your roommate’s Facebook wall or e-mailing. It is too easy for written communication to be taken out of context and passive communication does not allow for discussion and resolution.
When you are talking to a roommate, try to keep the following strategies in mind:
- Address the person directly. Avoid talking about the person behind their back to other people; this will only cause distrust or hurt feelings between parties.
- Talk about the issue, not the person. Stay focused on addressing the problem (e.g. dishes are being left in the sink) not the person (e.g. your roommate is a slob)
- Use ‘I’ statements. Speak for yourself and from your own perspective. For example: “I would like the room to be quiet at 12 a.m. so I can go to sleep” or “I feel uncomfortable when guests come over unannounced.”
- Give everyone the opportunity to talk and share. Everyone’s perspective on the issue should matter and needs to be shared before a resolution can be made.
- Try not to be defensive if the other person brings up an issue they have with you.
- Keep your voice calm and low. While conflict can involve a lot of emotions, raising your voice or using aggression is counterproductive to resolution. If the other party raises their voice, ask the individual to kindly lower their voice. If the individual does not lower their voice, then request the conversation be discontinued until emotions have simmered. If the next attempt results in raised voices again, then politely end the conversation and talk to a Resident Assistant.
To identify a solution to the issue(s) at hand, it is encouraged you do the following:
- Avoid “win-lose” attitude.
- Enter into the conversation with the intention of leaving with everyone feeling satisfied and respected
- Be open to ideas and solutions.
- Allow each other to suggest solutions without making immediate judgments or saying ‘no’
- Come up with a resolution or compromise all parties are comfortable with.
- Do not try to bully anyone into a solution they are not comfortable with – it is less likely to be successful in the long-term!
- Develop a plan of action.
- Talk about a timeline, how you will communicate, and when you will check-in with one another again
- Consider a ‘trial run’ with any suggestion solutions. For example, agree to try turning off the lights at 11 p.m. for a week and then meet again to see how the new plan worked for each other
- Occasionally, conflict stems from one person’s behavior and choices, whether that behavior is being noisy, or involves illegal substance use or having guests over who violate policy. Some students do not want to feel as though they are snitching on another student and have a difficult time addressing issues that are policy violations. It is important to keep in mind that behavior that violates policy is also a violation of our community expectations. In most instances, Evergreen treats policy violations as learning opportunities for students through our student conduct procedures. Do not remain silent about these concerns, you deserve to have them resolved. Letting staff know immediately when problems arise is optimal, or whenever a pattern of behavior seems to be forming. Asking for assistance after you have endured an extended period of conflict with someone, and your level of frustration is high, is not a good recipe for successful resolution.
What if that doesn’t work?
If you met with your roommate(s) and the issue still has not been resolved, it may be time to contact your Resident Assistant (RA) for assistance. Resident Assistants are trained to serve as an objective, third party facilitator to help you and your roommate(s) talk openly about your needs and concerns. Your RA can help you revisit your Living-Learning Agreement and create a safe and supportive space for all parties to share their living expectations, needs and wants.
If your living condition does not improve after you have employed the above strategies, please contact your Resident Director on the third floor of A Building or at (360) 867-6132 to discuss other options. Additionally, counselors at Evergreen’s Counseling Center can also assist you in talking and working through conflict with others.
Residential and Dining Services is committed to helping resolve conflicts, but we need for students to advocate for themselves and let us know about situations so that they can be addressed. Asking for assistance after you have endured an extended period of conflict with someone, and your level of frustration is high, is not a good recipe for successful resolution.