Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, September 24, 2018

5 tips for surviving your freshman dorm room, triple or no triple

My roommate and I in quite possibly the most awkward picture ever taken. We had no idea. 

Not to scare the freshmen arriving on campus for the insanity that is Welcome Week, but you're in for an interesting housing situation this fall. As President Kerwin outlined in a July memo, "first year residence halls will open at approximately 116 percent occupancy in August," requiring many freshmen to live in triples. 

Believe me, Class of 2020: you’re not alone. For the past few years, the University has struggled to provide enough housing for first-year students, leading to many people living in the much dreaded triples -- including myself.

But, as many upperclassmen can tell you, your living situation does not have to define your college experience. Though this article was originally written with the intent of helping students living in triples, the advice, delivered to you directly from your fellow AU students, can apply to any student seeking to make their roommate experience a positive one.  

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

While some students won’t take the roommate contract seriously, it’s the first chance to set some boundaries and get pet peeves out in the open. Can they use your printer when you’re not around? Do you have an early class on Thursday and don’t want them keeping you up the night before? Say it now and you can avoid an awkward conversation later.

Sophomore Danielle Vinales advises students to “address everything in your roomie contract because something you think wouldn’t bother you probably will later on.” But even if you don’t consult your contract at all, respect your roommates by avoiding passive-aggressive comments or behavior.

Address problems as soon as they come up before they fester and turn into a confrontation. I can still remember a conversation with my roommate where I straight up told her why an off-hand comment she had made about me had been hurtful. Sure, it was awkward and new, but our relationship afterward was much better once we were freed from that tension. Don’t overlook the power of a real, vulnerable conversation.

Be considerate about how your actions impact your roommates.

It’s hard to capture just how much you and/or your roommates’ annoying habits can impact each other’s lives. Y’all could be the nicest people in the world and there will still be obnoxious ticks that bother someone in the room. You can’t avoid all of those moments, but you can be more conscious of how your behavior affects your roommates.

It sounds simple, but you will be shocked by how many people don't take this lesson to heart. If your roommates ask you not to touch something, don’t touch it. When they ask you if they can use the room, ask yourself if you’ve been “hogging” the space too much -- especially if you’re living in a triple. And if they don’t respect your wishes down the line, remind them of the ways you've adjusted your lifestyle to fit theirs. Hopefully they will try to repay the favor.

Remember that those early growing pains will not last forever.

You will have some immediate impressions of your roommates that will not last. Keep in mind that just as you are nervous about starting over in a new place, your roommates are probably in the same boat (and maybe even more anxious). They will probably act out during their first months of collegiate freedom.

I made it a rule to give people a pass on their behavior during Welcome Week and the first weeks of classes. Everyone is scrambling to find someone to talk to or hook up with, and it’s not worth holding a grudge against a roommate for drunkenly busting in at 4 am when you have class in a few hours. It might not feel like it during your first weeks on campus, but the atmosphere will calm down, the transports to the hospital for alcohol intake will taper off, and your roommates will turn into humans again. Just give everyone around you some time to develop and work it out.

But if your roommate is acting abusive towards you or harassing you, tell your RA. You don’t deserve to live in that environment.

It’s one thing to bicker about the brightness of your roomie’s laptop screen at 3 am or how many times they hit snooze on their Skrillex alarm every morning. But if your roommate is acting in a way that makes you feel unsafe or bullied, it’s an entirely different situation.

I watched a friend’s previously cordial relationship with a roommate deteriorate over the course of a month due to a political disagreement (yes, the most AU thing ever). It came to the point where my friend had to find another place to live because of the hostile environment created by her roommate. She did not deserve to live in a room where she felt harassed and unwanted, and neither do you.

Sometimes your mom’s advice or an RA’s mediation will not solve the problem. That’s okay. Give yourself permission to stop “toughing it out” and start seeking other options that will get you out of a potentially explosive situation. That might mean you have to move away from your friends three rooms down, but your mental health is more important than preserving the status quo.

Best cure to not fighting with your roommates? Get out of your room. Better yet, get off campus.

The most common advice for incoming freshmen from the current students I spoke to was to spend as much time as possible outside of your room and in the city. One of the downsides of “having an actual campus” -- as opposed to schools more integrated into D.C. --  is what many of us call the “AU bubble.” You find yourself so caught up in studying and navigating new experiences that you spend almost all of your time on campus or in Tenleytown.

Remember to look outside of AU and see what D.C. has to offer and what you have to offer to it. Volunteer for a campaign or a local non-profit. Go see a musician or a speaker who would have never made the trip to your hometown. When you start seeing yourself as having a place on campus and in this city, you won’t sweat the small stuff -- aka your roommate probs -- nearly as much. You will be too involved in your new life to notice.

hsamsel@theeagleonline.com


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