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Letter to the editor

Last week, we were heartened to read of Duke’s decision to bar incoming students from hand-picking a first-year roommate. We did not have anything to do with this decision, but we agree that it’s the right call, and a step in the right direction in regard to our mission, for several reasons.

First, random assignment of roommates used to be the norm. Before social media allowed students to pair off in advance, most Duke students went random. Reading through past issues of The Chronicle, we have found no evidence of an epidemic of random roommate strife in Duke’s past. Besides, many other universities exclusively use random assignments, and the policy works for them.

Second, roommate pre-selection had gotten out of hand in recent years. A raft of new online tools—Facebook groups, Skype calls, and Google forms in particular—have allowed incoming students to size up prospective roommates. Online shopping may work for purchasing textbooks, clothes and laptops, but we’re skeptical that it should be used for “selecting” human beings. This element of your Duke experience should not be customizable.

Third, a randomly-selected Duke student should not scare you. There is sure to be a more detailed lifestyle survey than years’ past, where one might better express their own identities, behaviors and even their discomforts (if they are so extreme to be noted). 

But beyond this added safety net, we understand that the transition to college can be uncomfortable and disorienting at times. It’s natural to worry that you might not get along with a total stranger. Indeed you might think, as columnist Mitchell Siegel put it, “Some people simply don’t want to associate with certain others.”

We want to challenge this view. You might think you don’t want to associate with “certain others.” But you could be amazed to discover what you have in common with someone you’ve preemptively labeled “The Other.” After all, wasn’t the opportunity to learn one another—especially from those with ideas and perspectives different from our own—one of the reasons that many of us chose to come to Duke in the first place?

Of course, if you have a truly terrible, unbearable roommate experience, you could always request a reassignment. Given the new housing stock in Trinity House, which will provide rooming for first-years beginning next fall, HRL will have no excuse to drag its heels.

Duke Students for Housing Reform is a student-led group of passionate undergraduates seeking to improve the housing model to better fulfill the university's mission.


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