In just a few months, the school year will be over, and students across campus will leave Duke for the summer. For many students, summer is a time spent taking jobs or internships, traveling across the country or abroad or taking classes. But for Duke’s newest incoming class, summer is a time spent preparing for the first semester of college. Between the pressures of choosing their first college classes, preparing to live away from family and celebrating the end of high school, rising freshmen have a lot to do. But one of the most anxiety-inducing aspects of preparing for life at Duke is waiting to receive the freshman year roommate assignment.
Relationships between roommates are extremely important for students, especially in the first year of college. At a time where so many things are new and sometimes overwhelming, having control over who you live with can be comforting.
Helping freshmen students feel comfortable in their new surroundings is one of the reasons behind Duke’s current roommate selection model. In it, students have two options—request to live with a specific person, or choose to be randomly assigned a roommate based on answers to a short housing survey. Giving students the ability to voice their preferences can make for a more enjoyable housing experience: At a school that is academically and socially demanding, it feels good to have a place where we are not as stressed.
But there is real value in exposure to different types of perspectives, and the ability to select a specific roommate can undermine this. Having a roommate that they already feel comfortable with robs freshmen students of a prime opportunity to have significant interactions with people who are very different from them.
Some incoming students have become so wary of being roomed with an unfamiliar person that they have taken to using Facebook surveys and matching sites to find a roommate. This is a dangerous way to approach the first year of school, as it makes college seem like a customizable experience based on personal preferences. Students can miss out on the diversity of their classmates when they isolate themselves, especially when their choices are based on often superficial survey results.
Colleges and universities have developed different ways to deal with roommate selection. At Stanford University, students are not informed of their roommate assignment until move-in day. Wake Forest University and Hamilton College do not allow students to live with friends. Other schools match roommates based on housing surveys.
We would like to propose a compromise: Randomly assign freshmen students based on their housing surveys, and, in special cases, allow students to live with specific people. We accept that there are special situations where a student’s lifestyle would make it hard for new people to adjust, or where their quality of life would be greatly affected by living with an unfamiliar person. In these instances, it is OK to grant exceptions if the reason for a non-random assignment is deemed significant by the University. But students have much to gain from living with new and unfamiliar people, and making this change would be beneficial.