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Love it or hate it? A checkup on the random roommate policy in action

Soren Christensen, right, met his roommate through the random assignment process.
Soren Christensen, right, met his roommate through the random assignment process.

The transition to college residence life is a time of unfamiliarity and uncertainty. But, the Class of 2022 had another concern on their hands—randomly selected roommates.

The Class of 2022 is the first class that was not able to pre-select roommates on East Campus. Having settled in to their dorms, some of Duke’s first-years spoke with The Chronicle to reflect on the implementation and effect of the new housing policy.

“Having that security of knowing who you’re rooming with—say, for example, from the same high school—you already know what to expect," first-year Soren Christensen said. "Whereas, for us new Duke students, we had no idea if we would be compatible with each other."

Christensen, a Jarvis resident, was "pretty disappointed" after he first heard about the change, especially considering that his class would be the guinea pigs. 

However, his opinion on the policy changed over time, as he said he now prefers the policy. Christensen attributed the development to his roommate’s similar interests and mindset.

“If [we] were given the choice to be with people we want, we wouldn’t feel the need to meet other people,” he added. “In that case, there would be a much smaller sense of community in the dorms.”

Larry Moneta—vice president for student affairs—and Steve Nowicki—who was then the dean and vice provost for undergraduate education—were the administrators who initially contacted students about the change.

“In the last few years, we’ve seen increasing numbers of students who have pre-selected roommates, often with very similar backgrounds to their own,” Moneta and Nowicki wrote in an email sent in February to the new class. “While this may make the transition to college seem somewhat easier, we’ve also seen that this can work against your having the best educational experience in the long term.”

First-years Anika Birewar and Avanti Shah, roommates in Wilson, are perhaps an example of what the random roommate policy sought to avoid. The two were very close friends at the same high school in India.

“In terms of personality, obviously it worked out really well. We’re basically the same person,” Birewar said. “I’ve known her for a long four years.”

Nevertheless, both roommates desired the random process. Shah highlighted the fact that during roommate scouting online, “both [students] are projecting something that [they are] not." That is not something Shah wanted.

Although first-years seemed to have a generally positive opinion on the principle behind the roommate policy, some students had reservations regarding the random selection process.

Aaron Chai, a first-year in Wilson, said that the housing survey—with questions ranging from sleep and wake times to studying preferences—“captured the essence” of finding a roommate. Yet he wished that Duke included additional questions about interests to develop a stronger connection between random roommates.

The sentiment was echoed by first-year Eric Carlson of Bassett, who thought the survey was generally inadequate in matching roommates.

“There’s definitely much more important stuff to go over when it comes to a person’s personality, like ‘Do you go out a lot?’” he said. “There’s a real distinction between people who go out at Duke and people who don’t.”

On the issue of diversity, Carlson was not optimistic.

“Even though I’m fine with the roommate policy, I’m not sure that it’s going to solve the problem at all," he said.

However, he agreed that there is no easy solution to Duke’s diversity problems. Carlson added that he believed the policy is not intended to completely fix the problem but will be a step in the right direction.

Although the first-years interviewed had different opinions on the policy’s impact on diversity, a commonly cited benefit of the new policy was its empowerment of those lacking existing connections with fellow incoming first-years. 

“There can be somewhat of a divide from day one,” Carlson said. “Any way that Duke can try to make this less of an issue would be excellent.”


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