Roommates Gone Wild

All of these back-to-school commercials are making me feel a little sick.

I’m not really sure why—I always loved going to school. I sat in the seat directly behind the bus driver, after all.

And yet my stomach still churns whenever I see a sale on spiral notebooks and jeans. Perhaps it’s the thought of summer ending—no more warm nights with the car windows rolled down, extra daylight or trips to the snowball stand (look it up if you’re not from Maryland). Or perhaps it’s because I got made fun of for sitting in the seat directly behind the bus driver.

Who’s to say?

Fortunately, I don’t have to deal with the actual anxieties that plague those directly involved with back-to-school basics. The same can’t be said for student housing providers.

Another turn season is nearly complete at many off-campus student housing properties, but the headaches don’t stop there. All of the new move-ins are settled in and student housing property managers are now bracing themselves for the endless phone calls, emails and visits from students who already don’t like their roommates. (But who are we kidding—it’s the parents who will be calling, emailing and visiting.)

According to the article, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” today’s student renter has only lived in a digital world where he or she has relied on text messaging or social media to communicate with others about likes and dislikes—such as listening to voicemails. 

When finally facing roommate confrontation in person, it seems unnatural—especially when students are used to parents stepping in and taking control. This is exactly what happened when the previous battles were with siblings—in my household, this occurred when my brother finally drew blood—so why should this process be any different? 

In this situation, student housing operators become the pseudo parent, mediator and mentor. However, wouldn’t it make more sense if students were more in control of finding that “perfect roommate” match? 

Operationally, the leasing and management teams have spent hours playing matchmaker based on the lifestyle questionnaires they have submitted, knowing that honesty behind these is about a 50/50 chance. 

I, for instance, may have been slightly untruthful when I claimed to be “tidy” on my college-housing questionnaire. Just because I leave dirty coffee mugs around the room doesn’t mean I want the same from my roommate!

Such questionnaires can also give student housing providers just enough information to make potentially illegal snap judgments, such as assuming two people of the same religion or ethnicity would want to room together. Let’s all spell “fair housing violation” on three…

Fortunately, today’s technology offers some methods for minimizing operational and potential legal issues. In the same way that properties have passed the burdens of background checks and credit checks to third-party companies to save themselves time and liability, properties and universities now have access to third-party roommate matching software. 

More than that, both on-campus housing departments and off-campus communities now have the ability to be hands-off with the process to avoid bad-roommate backlash. Some third-party roommate matching services allow students to select their own roommates through a comprehensive interface, keeping student housing operators out of harm’s way and allowing students to navigate in a platform they prefer and expect. 

It’s a breeding ground for biffles—among other things.

For more, check out “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” in the September issue of units Magazine, which mails Sept. 11.