How to navigate your first year of living with a roommate

Often missing from the introductory celebrations of Welcome Week is any real explanation on how to live with a stranger for the first time. To solve that problem, the A&E desk pieced together some of that essential advice.

by Sophia Zimmerman

Every year, Welcome Week brings the promise of new campus experiences, lengthy seminars and hundreds of pieces of advice — all accompanied by thousands of nerve-ridden, eager faces ready to dive headfirst into their first taste of freedom. Often missing from the introductory celebrations, however, is any real explanation on how to live with a stranger in a room the size of a shoebox for the first time.

To provide students with all the advice they haven’t received, the A&E desk spoke with the experts for all the rules and recommendations on how to go about sharing a space with someone new.

First and foremost, establishing boundaries is key, according to Tai Mendenhall, a professor in the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota. This means that if you’re a messy person, don’t pretend to be neat. Laying everything out on the table and being honest about your living habits will set you up for success later, Mendenhall said. Hand in hand with boundaries is an open line of communication. Avoid the toxic silent treatment and speak up when you’re upset, Mendenhall said.

“Fine is the most dishonest word in the English language,” Mendenhall said. “The only time you say the word fine is when you’re being dishonest with someone.”

Alberto Gomez, third-year student and student leader of the University YMCA’s (UY) mental-health focused program “Y Just Chillin’ Matters”, echoed the importance of communication from the get-go. Gomez has lived with multiple roommates over the last two years, and said that expressing concerns when something bothers him is something he’s carried over from his experiences teaching students the same sentiment through the UY.

“If something is bothering you, you have the right to express that. Everybody should be welcomed in their own home,” Gomez said.

When it comes to conflict, Mendenhall says to avoid compromise if possible. Instead, continue looking for different solutions to a problem in order to avoid a lose-lose situation. Don’t be afraid of conflict either. According to Mendenhall, any relationship can often benefit from healthy conflict.

“It’s like working out at a gym,” Mendenhall said. “The reason your muscles get stronger is because you make them sore. The same thing applies to conflict in a relationship.”

There are some roommate situations that can’t be solved by a simple lesson in conflict resolution and communication tactics. Students’ mental health can take a hit amid all of the big changes that accompany adjusting to life on campus, and navigating a shared space can aid in that. In these instances, Mendenhall advises students to first utilize the resources available to them on campus. These include Boynton Health, the UY, student group To Write Love on Her Arms and the peers around them.

“One of the best things students can do is to diversify their social and academic life so they are not relying on one thing. It’s important, as a first-year, to find all of the communities in which you belong,” Patti Neiman, director of the University YMCA, said.

According to Neiman, diversifying your surrounding communities is an important way to establish yourself beyond the confines of your living space.

When finding a student group to immerse yourself in won’t cut it, Mendenhall says not to be afraid to remove yourself from the situation. A roommate’s actions have a direct impact on you, and there is no shame in taking a walk and getting out.

College comes with its own set of unique challenges — so does living with a roommate. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to figuring it all out. From first generation students to those who showed up on campus with a seemingly all-inclusive how-to guide, challenges are inevitable. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that there are ways to ease the transition and smooth out the experience as best as possible.