Roommate-Conflict-How-to-Respond

“I hate my roommate!”  As a 15 year veteran of working in College Student Housing, I am honestly surprised that this call home doesn’t happen more frequently than it actually does.  After all, most college students have never lived in the same room with a brother or sister, much less a total stranger from a different city, state, or country. However, each year almost 3000 students at Gonzaga share a dorm room, suite, or apartment with another human being and very few of them will experience a significant roommate conflict. That being said, if you are a parent that receives such a phone call, it is important that you have some information on hand that will help your son or daughter. 

After taking the time to hear your son or daughter explain the problems with his/her roommate, the first question to ask them is: “Does your roommate know that X, Y, and Z bothers you?  Have you talked with them about it?”  If the answer is “no”, then talk with your student about how to have that difficult conversation.  If the answer to that question is “yes”, then your second question should be “Have your talked with your RA or your RD?”  For students who live on campus at Gonzaga, the Residence Life Staff - full time, professional Residence Directors (RD) and student Resident Assistants (RA) - are available to help mediate roommate conflicts. 

The Residence Life Staff are trained to assist students through difficult conversations and in low-level conflict mediation. In most cases they will enter into a roommate conflict with the goal of “working it out.” We believe that the stress caused by moving a student across campus and into a roommate situation with another stranger is equally or more difficult than working to overcome a conflict with a current roommate. We also believe that working through conflict is an important life-skill applicable in friendships, with significant others, and work colleagues. However, if roommates have already tried to work through challenges or a conflict is too engrained to resolve, we will work with students to find another space to live on campus. 

You may have noticed that both of these options are reactive in nature. Is there anything that you can do to help your student avert a roommate conflict? While I cannot guarantee that your student will not experience a roommate conflict, there are several things that I would encourage every set of roommates to do.

  • Help them realize that it is OK if they are not best friends with their roommate. Regardless of what popular media and our culture tell us, sometimes it is best not to live with your best friend.

  • Encourage them not to violate University policy. It is amazing to me how many roommate conflicts are the result of one person making a choice that directly violates the University Code of Conduct (i.e. having overnight guests of the opposite gender, drinking in a “dry” dorm room, leaving your room door unlocked when you are not at home, etc). 

  • Fill out the roommate contract your RA gave you at the beginning of the year. If they did not ask you to fill one out, ask them (or your RD) for one.  The roommate contract will help you talk through some of the common subjects that cause conflicts – including noise level, bed time, cleanliness, guests, etc.  Agreeing on boundaries and expectations in the beginning can save a lot of hassle later.

Regardless of if you are able to work proactively to stop a conflict from happening, or need to work reactively to address the “I hate my roommate” situation, there are a final few pieces of information that are important for parents to know.

  • Res Life Staff will not take “sides” in a roommate conflict. Our job is to work toward a mediated resolution and facilitate a room change when necessary.  Both students are members of the Gonzaga community and will be equally supported.

  • The RD staff will not talk with a parent about confidential information about any student. We cannot address your child’s roommate’s conduct record at the University, their status with the DREAM Office, or mental health concerns that you may have.   

  • Encourage your student to be their own advocate. The roommate conflict is theirs to solve, not yours. We do not “prioritize” roommate conflicts where parents are involved versus those where parents are not. They are all important to us. 

  • RDs are put in an unsolvable dilemma when a parent calls and the conversation begins with “Susie doesn’t want me to call, but…” or “I don’t want you to tell John that I called, but…”  The likelihood of us being able to talk with your son or daughter without them knowing that you called is very slim. 

  • Sometimes the “good” person in a bad roommate conflict will need to be the one to move. We rarely force someone to move against their will.

  • We cannot guarantee that a student will be able to move “down the hall” or even within the same building. Sometimes there just isn’t the space to do that. 

  • Residence Life Staff cannot “match” roommates in a room change. We will provide students with as many options as possible, but it is the responsibility of the person moving to meet a prospective new roommate and inform the RD of which option they would prefer.

It is my hope that none of you experience the “I hate my roommate!” conversation. However, if you do, the resources exist on campus to assist your son and daughter work through this conflict or move rooms if necessary.

Matt Lamsma
Associate Director, Residence Life