Fittingly, October is National Conflict Resolution Awareness month; designated to increase public awareness about conflict resolution and its many benefits. First year students living in the residence halls are learning to navigate the many intricacies of a roommate relationship. Common disputes occur around cleanliness, sharing property, visitors, and study hours to name a few. Around this time each year, we receive calls from parents concerned about their student’s rooming situation. Many students have never had to share a room before and having these difficult conversations can be a skill that students have not yet developed. Unfortunately, some students frequently jump to solving their problem by requiring someone to move out rather than directly voicing concerns or seeking resolution through the university-provided support systems. It is important for students to recognize that moving is not always a realistic option, nor is it always in their long-term best interest. Once students are living off campus and have financial obligations and signed leases to work around, moving becomes even less of an option. This is why we encourage students to start developing skills for interpersonal conflict resolution here and now. Whether their issues are with roommates, professors, employers, colleagues, or friends, there is no time like the present to work on building competence around conflict resolution.
For example, in the past we have seen roommates who have started communicating exclusively through texts and post-it notes. We brought all the parties together for mediation and the roommates came up with an agreement which included a weekly meeting to voice concerns as well as a commitment to no longer use post-its as a form of communication. We encourage roommates to establish clear roommate expectations and agreements about how conflicts may be handled. By being proactive and working together to address concerns, the roommates will hopeful avoid an escalated situation
Conflict may also arise when one student is concerned about the well-being of their roommate. They may be worried about their friend’s health, alcohol use, sleep patterns and academic success. Residential Life is happy to be a resource and will provide the appropriate connections to support systems on or off campus.
All on-campus roommates complete an extensive Roommate Agreement at the beginning of their time together. The agreement addresses many of the common challenges faced by people sharing space together, and provides guidance on reaching shared understanding. Referring back to it is a great tool, but it isn’t always enough.
Many of the students seeking assistance are looking for some form of conflict coaching. They would like tips on how to have a difficult conversation and may even want to role-play what the dialogue will look like. Others have found that communication channels have completely broken down between roommates and are hoping for a neutral third-party to help mediate the dispute. Residential Life staff will assist students in having those difficult conversations. Students can request an appointment with their Resident Director by talking to their Resident Assistant or e-mailing their Resident Director directly.
In the spirit of Conflict Resolution month, encourage your student to view their roommate conflict as an opportunity to build upon their communication skills and hopefully improve their living situation.
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