Tyree: Should college freshmen pick their own roommates?
According to the Washington Post, at some universities, nearly 50 percent of first-year students have already screened and selected a roommate before moving into a dorm.
Duke University and some other institutions of higher learning are now insisting that the freshmen instead live with a stranger drawn at random from the student body.
Some students are outraged at this loss of freedom (“But I want somebody like me, somebody I know, to head out from the dorm and accompany me to the ‘Tear Down The Border’ rallies!”), but the movement does have its supporters.
I am normally leery of diversity programs and social engineering, but I can understand where the schools are coming from.
Although I can’t quantify the benefits or cite any blinding epiphany, I think I am better off for having been “stuck” with a succession of three African-American roommates (one of them gay) all those years ago. Each contributed his own background, political views and entertainment tastes to my college experience. (And each demands a chunk of the royalty from my “I’m not racist! Hey, some of my best people I got stuck with are black!” T-shirts.)
Some freshmen room with students recommended by a friend, or meet a compatible roommate at an orientation months before the semester begins. Some do a search on social media or dating websites. There are even “swipe left”-type apps aimed specifically at bringing together roomies with similar hobbies, sleep patterns, study habits, tendencies to lie on applications, etc.
In a way, it’s kind of retro. Yes, the business of picking a roommate has become like the mailorder bride phenomenon of the 19th century. I just hope that first-day negotiations involve “Here’s where we’ll put the TV” and “I’ll pay for half the coffee,” instead of “Here’s your plow and butter churn. Get to work.”
Administrators are concerned that the majority of students who have pre-selected roommates are from the more privileged class. Besides failing to clean up after their polo pony “comfort animals,” these people can amplify each other’s worst instincts. (“I say, Brad, those urchins on the first floor have positively inspired me with their milk crate furniture. What say we use eminent domain to tear down the neighborhood next door and put up a milk crate apartment building?”)
Even if you believe “Better the devil you know than the satanic cult you might wind up with,” experts especially advise students to experience something new instead of settling for the age-old default position of rooming with your best friend from high school.
I can understand the emotional appeal of “besties-since-kindergarten” trying to make a seamless segue into another four years together (and in the same room!), but the idea of a seven-day-a-week slumber party has its dark underbelly. (“We’ve rated all the boys. Ghost stories are getting old. And I’ve already used up every shade of toenail paint!”)
If you can’t stand to be apart from old friends when you graduate from high school, you’ll set a bad precedent for life after college. A prenuptial agreement can be complicated enough without a lot of subclauses and codicils about the care and feeding of Cyndi. Business travel is hectic enough without arranging for a lifelong companion. (“No, no - that’s not a gremlin on the airplane wing. That’s just Larry. He goes everywhere with me, but he’s allergic to the peanuts.”)
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