Editorial: First-years should have the option to choose roommates

The Class of 2022 is the first class of students mandated to be randomly assigned roommates in their first year. The Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) changed their roommate selection policies last year, hoping to group first-years of disparate identities and thus “broaden their horizons.”

The policy takes the pressure off of incoming students to find a roommate on social media and deters students from gravitating toward students from similar backgrounds. It theoretically fosters diversity, as first-years are paired up with students from different cultures, religions and interests. According to data provided by Director of ResLife Joshua Hartman to the Daily in an email, there were only 11 roommate switches related to roommate issues in the fall semester of 2018.

While the randomized rooming policy has worked for many, we believe ResLife should continue to offer an option for first-years who wish to choose roommates.

While this data demonstrates high retention among random roommates, the policy change might not have benefitted all students. For some, random roommate assignments are a major source of discomfort and stress. Students with mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, for example, may feel more comfortable living with someone that they know and trust. Students prone to high stress may need similar accommodations. While the roommate survey attempts to bring together students with similar living and studying patterns, the ambiguity of some of the questions preserves the probability that randomized roommates will end up having very different social and academic lifestyles, which could cause conflict.

It is important to note that, while there seemed to be a relatively low amount of first-year roommate changes recorded from fall 2018, some roommate changes are unofficial and are not reported to ResLife. In addition, these statistics do not account for the many first-years who were very unhappy with their living situations but decided that it would be too stressful or awkward to ask for help or request a roommate change. Roommates are highly determinative of the quality of the first-year experience. First-years should have the option to pick the person they will live with for the entire year.

Additionally, the shortage of on-campus housing for Tufts students has thrust many students into forced doubles or triples, worsening standards of comfort and cohesion in dormitories. The lack of independent spaces on campus to study or find privacy can further contribute to first-year discomfort when they are at odds with their roommates.

Getting rid of randomized rooming would not necessarily fix these problems, and ResLife should continue to revise the process. If a first-year is particularly uncomfortable with being randomly matched, they should have the option to choose their roommate. Additionally, the rooming survey should include more detailed questions about social, living and academic habits as well as room for describing interests and passions. ResLife could administer a pre-survey for next year’s class, in which Class of 2022 students could give feedback on their first-year roommate experiences and suggest what questions future first-years could be asked. It is crucial that ResLife ensures that students are adequately matched up based on the criteria they provided in the survey.

Taking this choice away from students is unfair. There are plenty of other institution-wide changes that can be made to foster growth and diversity among students, and forcing all first-years to be matched up with strangers is not the best way to do that.