Hey BU Parents,
I wanted to take a few minutes to address a topic that I think a lot of college students (and, consequently, their parents) deal with: roommate issues. It happens to every student. Even the ones who got the perfect roommate/new best friend have to remind him or her to turn the light off after 11pm, or keep nasty shower shoes in the closet, or not eat all the Lucky Charms…The point here is, there’s always something students have to deal with on this front, but there’s usually some thing they can do about it. The important thing for students to remember is that their life with thier roomies, whether good or bad, is not the end-all, be-all of college life; it should not be idealized as the epitome of the college experience.
My first semester at the University of Cincinnati (I later transferred to BU, but that’s another story for another time) I lived on the fifth floor of a high-rise dorm in downtown Cincinnati, in a room that might easily have been mistaken for a Saltines box. My roommate–my first roommate ever–was Julie Normal. (Clearly folks, this name has been changed to protect the [relatively] innocent, but it is, in fact, what I came to call her later. It was a lot like in Robin Hood when they all call the rotund monk “Little John.”)
Julie was a clarinet major (I attended the part of the university that was a music conservatory). Does this mean she played the clarinet in the room all the time? No, thank goodness. But she fiddled with those little mouthpieces and made horrible squawking sounds, and she talked incessantly about some music camp she’d attended the previous summer. She had a turtle named Winston that, in my humble opinion, she was overly attached to (I knew when, one Sunday evening, I cam home to find her with the tiny turtle perched on her chest, watching re-runs of the Golden Girls. I could not make this up if I tried…). She was particular about where her shoes were kept. She repeatedly ate the last of my popcorn. She stayed in the dorm all the time with the stupid turtle. Need I go on?
As the semester progressed, Julie seemed to have trouble finding a group of friends. She got sad and (looking back) probably lonely, and seemed to fade into the background. Eventually, she moved into the room next door with a young woman who played the french horn (and yes, she did play the french horn in the dorm). After a while, Julie swirled into a deep depression and left the university altogether.
Because my room had a vacancy, I was assigned a new roommate named Anne, a drama major. Anne, while she was much more easygoing than Julie, might have been a bit too easygoing; to be frank, Anne was a big fan of drugs and alcohol. Anne also had a variety of relationships, and her emotions ran the gamut from ecstatic to devastated to hysterical. She was gone a lot. Anne and I never quite hit it off, but we didn’t have anything against each other either. I think we both just sensed that we lived different lives, and that was OK. Though Anne seemed to struggle with drugs and alcohol, she never brought it into our room. I think she sensed it would not have been a good idea.
Both of these roommates could have been potentially disastrous. Julie could easily have pulled me into the same emotional spiral that prevented her from succeeding, and Anne had a lifestyle that made me uncomfortable and unsure how to deal with her. And there were things I should have done, too. I should have reached out to Julie instead of leaving her alone with a turtle. I should have helped Anne when she mentioned a concern that her drinking was affecting her academic performance. But I didn’t. And the fact is, that though both of these relationships were troubled and difficult, I learned a lot from them. I learned a lot about who I didn’t want to be, how to be open-minded, how to listen. But what I really didn’t expect to learn was that I don’t have to be absolutely in love with the person I live with. I don’t have to be Rachel to somebody’s Monica. It’s OK for me and my roommate to lead seperate lives, because my new best friend may be in the next room, or on the next floor.
Occasionally, students can hyperfocus on roomate issues, or get a bit dramatic. When students get involved in these sorts of things, they should take a deep breath, get outside their own heads for a minute, and then get outside their rooms. They should also get a bit of perspective on the situation. Those hikers captured in Iran, for example, or national guardsmen in Afghanistan, those people can complain about thier living conditions; that’s a bit different than Joe-Bob roommate hitting the “Snooze” button six times every morning.
However, it should be noted that, occasionally, roommates have legitimately difficult issues that should be addressed swiftly, and with the help of an RA or Hall Director. If your student is in this situation, s/he should speak with his/her RA or Hall Director about a roomate contract, or perhaps the student should see a counselor in the campus counseling center.
Jessica Hume, Class of 2005
Director of Writing and Parent Communications, ARC