Freshman roommates random

by Sarah E. Warlick | 11/19/98 6:00am

Freshmen are discovering more about their roommates' quirks as the year progresses, and many are probably wondering what the Office of Residential Life was thinking when it placed them together in the same room.

Director of Housing Services Lynn Rosenblum explained that the designation of freshmen roommates -- a decision that can have a huge impact on a student's first year -- is actually a much more random process than one might imagined.

Here's how it works. The summer before matriculating, incoming freshmen fill out the housing application that asks students just a few questions: if they consider themselves more neat than messy, if they smoke and how they like to study.

An ORL student employee enters the applications into a computer database with fields for the answer to each application question, the applicant's gender, whether the applicant has applied to live in East Wheelock or Butterfield and whether the applicant has a medical need. This database is then used to make random matches.

Making decisions

Rosenblum said she assigns students with medical needs first. She then moves on to Butterfield, the substance-free housing, which only has 21 available spaces for freshmen. Approximately 60 members of the Class of 2002 applied to live in Butterfield this year.

Rosenblum divides Butterfield hopefuls according to how they answered the generic questions on their application.

She said little weight is actually given to the required essay questions on why they want to live in the substance-free dorm. Rather, the essays are helpful in determining who is genuinely interested in living in Butterfield and which students only filled out the application under pressure from their parents.

Rosenblum decides East Wheelock residents next. East Wheelock residents have access to intra-cluster social and academic events. Interested students check a box asking to be considered for the cluster and residents are selected from the students who check the box.

Currently, applicants to East Wheelock do not need to answer essay questions about why they want to enter the program, but that may change starting next fall.

Roommate matches in East Wheelock are also determined by students' answers to the lifestyle questions.

After East Wheelock matches are made, the remaining applications are divided up into piles according to how students responded to application questions.

Rosenblum and a student assistant make matches dorm by dorm. Rosenblum tells the student what she needs, like three females for a triple, and the student randomly gives her the appropriate applications from the sorted piles.

Singles are generally given to those students with medical needs or who are significantly older than most of the other freshmen. Someone who took a year off after high school or completed post graduate year might not have a roommate, Rosenblum said.

Joe and Joe

Rosenblum does try to follow a few guidelines when assigning roommates. For example, she said that she will not put people with the same first name together, as that is bound to cause confusion.

Rosenblum said she tries to "mix people up geographically," but this gets difficult toward the end of the pool since many students are from the Northeast.

Rosenblum also said she tries not to fill entire halls with people who gave the same answers to the application questions.

Race and ethnicity are not considered in the assignment process, and Rosenblum said she does not even have access to that information.

"I don't think I'd like making those sorts of decisions," she said. All she sees for each student is a name, gender, birthdate, home address, phone number and the answers to the application questions.

Rosenblum said she could not describe the perfect residence hall. "I don't try and create anything preplanned or preconceived," she said.

Rosenblum said that most roommate problems arise because many students have never shared a room with anyone else before.

ORL follows a specific protocol when a student has a conflict with a roommate, Rosenblum said. First, it tries to help the students resolve the problem, soliciting help from Undergraduate Advisors, Area Coordinators and the First-Year Dean's office.

If it becomes an extreme situation, then people may be moved. The student asking to move is given a list of vacancies in first-year rooms and must talk to the occupants of each about the possibility of moving.

Singles are not usually given to students asking to be moved because that might be seen as encouraging, or even rewarding, a lack of cooperation, according to Rosenblum.

Most of the freshmen asked about their roommates said they are happy with their situations. Some admitted they think of their roommate as simply a roommate and not a close friend, while others said their roommates are their best friends.

Several students said they initially thought the application was too short and generic, especially compared to those of other schools, but now feel that it served its purpose to match up different, but compatible, students.

Jordan Benke '02 said he likes that roommates do not always resemble each other. "It's nice to have someone who's not exactly like you," he said.

Most freshmen interviewed by The Dartmouth said they felt their floors and halls are highly diverse, even if it is a result of random choices by ORL.