Leaving home and moving onto a college campus is a point of significant transition for many young adults. Every non-commuting campus I am familiar with requires freshmen students to live on campus and there is good reason for this: students who live on campus have shown to earn a higher GPA than those who live off campus.[I]
I have invited two guest bloggers to help unpack the college residential life experience. Justin Tarbell is the Community Director for Craige Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill and Kathleen Ruppe is the Senior Associate Director for Central and East Campus with NCSU University Housing.
What can I expect in terms of residence hall life as a newly arrived freshman on campus?
Justin: A residence hall is a place that will quickly become your home and comfortable place on campus! There are always programs that the RAs are putting on in order to help get to know you better, but also in allowing you to get to know your hallmates too. These programs are a really great way to make friends and to find people in your residential space that might be taking some of the same classes as you that can lead to a study group. Also, you’ll notice that there are housekeeping and facilities staffs in place to help with the upkeep of the residence halls. That being said, there is an added level of responsibility on you, the resident, to make sure that you are taking care of your new home and not leaving items around to be cleaned up for you. That’s not the role of housekeeping or facilities, but they will help with communal areas.
Kathleen: Residence halls foster personal growth and development while providing an enjoyable, social atmosphere. You will have the opportunity to engage in the many community building, learning programs and social activities offered that help students with their college transition. There are also opportunities to step into leadership and get involved in individual residence hall councils or the Inter-Residence Council to plan and assist with events campus-wide. You will also have the opportunity to form study groups and utilize resources to help you succeed academically. At some campuses, you could have the opportunity to participate in living and learning communities (aka “Villages” at NCSU). Villages are centered around a theme or academic program and provide a unique opportunity for community and learning within residence halls. Village members live together, learn about their specific theme and form connections through programs, trips, events, faculty interaction, and community service. When you apply for housing at your respective university, you will have the opportunity to indicate your building preference and indicate a preferred roommate. If you don’t have a roommate preference, typically the university housing office will assign a roommate. At NCSU, assignment is made based on your answers to a few lifestyle questions. We try to only assign roommates who match most of the questionnaire answers and who are within a one-year age range.
What’s the role of the Resident Advisor (RA)?
Justin: The RAs are a fantastic resource! They have a really bad reputation of being “the police” of the residence halls because part of their job is to enforce policies and document what they see, but I have never heard an RA say that is why they want the job during the application process. The RAs are there to support the residents of their community whether it be a challenging transitional period, tough classes, or just some internal struggles. RAs will also be there to help mediate any potential conflicts that come up with either roommates or suitemates. From time-to-time they will share important information with the residents about living in the building, so it’s important to attend to their notes and communications. RAs also make a great effort to put on programs that help the residents of a building get to know each other and give them something fun to do!
Kathleen: University Housing realizes that moving away from home and making the transition into college life is not always easy. There is a built-in support system in all residence halls in the form of RAs. These are student leaders who live on the same floor as their residents, work as peer educators and resources for their community. The primary responsibilities are getting to know their residents one-on-one, helping them connect with each other, and developing a community within their living area. They also assist students with problem-solving and connect them with campus resources. RAs complete training to equip them with various skills to handle a variety of situations from roommate conflicts, planning events that foster community building, and serving as a contact should an emergency situation arise.
What should I keep in mind if I want to set myself up to be a good roommate?
Justin: Communicate, communicate, and communicate! It is so important to be proactive and communicate what you like to do in your room and what you don’t want your room to be used for. The basis of 99% of the roommate conflicts that I see is because the roommates don’t talk to each other. At the same time, it is vital to recognize that the room isn’t solely one person’s, so it’s important to be willing to compromise. If you’re a dirty person and leave your clothes everywhere until doing laundry but your roommate is super neat and tidy, see if you can compromise and have a personal chair in the corner where you can throw all your dirty laundry until laundry day. (Let’s be honest, everyone has one of these chairs.) If your roommate goes to bed early but you want to stay up late watching TV, find some headphones that will allow you to hear the TV so that your roommate can enjoy the quiet.
Kathleen: Here are some tips to having an enjoyable roommate experience:
- Be open to getting to know someone different than yourself.
- Communicate openly and directly. It’s hard to build friendships, or any relationship, without open communication.
- Share expectations of one another and set boundaries before problems arise. At NCSU, you will have the opportunity to create a roommate agreement during the first week of school. The agreement helps ensure that each individual’s rights are respected and that roommates have discussed their living preferences and expectations while sharing a room.
- Find time to hang out with your roommate by going to a hall program or campus event together, sharing a meal in the dining hall or grabbing coffee. It’s easier to get to know your roommate if you make time for one another.
If issues do arise, address them with your roommate directly utilizing “I” statements. There are always two sides to the story so also be willing to listen to their perspective. Strive to find some common ground and compromise. If you need additional assistance contact your RA who is always willing to help you review your initial roommate agreement and mediate conflicts.
What if I have a bad roommate?
Justin: This is a tricky one. As I said before, communication is huge! To be honest, many times campus housing departments don’t have the capacity to do room changes at will, so we might not look at that as an option unless someone’s immediate safety is at risk at which point we would act quickly. I really encourage open communication, utilizing the RA and Community Director as resources to help mediate a conversation and come to an agreement.
Kathleen: We encourage roommate pairs to avoid rushing to judgment and to spend time getting to know one another. If roommate conflicts arise, you should first talk through the concerns with your roommate and try to resolve them. If you need additional help, contact your RA and ask for assistance in mediating the conflict. At NCSU, if the problems persist you can request a room change by completing the on-line roommate request form to be approved by the Community Director. The Community Director may meet with you to discuss the issues and decide if a room change is the best course of action to resolve the issues and ensure you have a good living experience. Assuming space is available, you will then work with the University Housing Assignments Office to be assigned a new room.
What if I don’t know anybody? How do I get connected and make friends at a new campus?
Justin: First, remember that you’re not the only one feeling this way and almost everyone has the goal of making friends. I suggest you find organizations that match your interests and goals. Don’t go to a group meeting only because your roommate is going. Get involved with things you enjoy doing, and you’ll find folks who are similar to you. Most institutions have some sort of involvement fair at the beginning of the year which is a great way to learn about these organizations. If there’s not one, talk to your RA or an upper-class student in one of your classes about how to get connected. Also, take advantage of RA programs within the hall to make friends where you’re living. Campus events are also a wonderful place to do this! If you really like sports, go to a field hockey game and find someone else who’s there and likes sports. If you find you’re going to the same event as someone else, ask to go with them! You never know…you might be the best man/maid of honor in their wedding 8 years later (real life story).
Kathleen: After you get settled in your room, walk the hallway and introduce yourself to fellow floor mates. Don’t hesitate to be the first person to say “hello”. Go with your RA/floormates to dinner and join the group when the RA walks with students over to fall Welcome Week events. Invite your roommate to join you in attending events. At each event you attend, introduce yourself to someone new. Get involved in the residence hall council and help plan community building events. Attend an organizational/club fair and learn about the myriad of opportunities, and then choose a few to explore. Chances are you will find some fellow students with common interests. If home is close by, challenge yourself to stay on campus some weekends and invite other students to explore the downtown area together.
What should I know about staying safe on campus? **
Justin: There are lots of measures in place for this already, so it’s really about finding out what your campus does specifically. Are there blue lights for safety on campus? What’s the number of your campus police? Does your institution sign in guests at the residence halls? But the two biggest things I can stress are not letting folks in to your residence hall that you don’t know and keeping your room door locked. Some of the strangest situations I’ve seen in my now 9 years (holy cow) of being in a university setting have started because of “tailgating” or “piggybacking” into a residence hall or not having the room door locked. But don’t worry, your safety is the #1 concern of so many people on campus, and as long as you help us help you, you’ll be just fine!
Kathleen: Campus safety is a shared responsibility between the University and students. Some safety tips include keep your room door locked even if you step away for a few minutes. When using your ID card to gain entrance to your residence hall, be sure not let strangers tailgate into the building behind you. Do not prop exterior doors open. If you lose your ID card or room key, report it right away. Have your valuables engraved (a free service offered by NCSU University Police). Register your bike with University Police. Purchase a U-bolt lock for your bike and learn how to properly lock your bike. Report suspicious activity to Campus Police. Utilize the many blue phones around campus to notify campus police of an emergency situation. Watch your text messages for University WolfAlerts which provide the campus community with emergency notifications. Utilize the free campus escort service when traveling between campus buildings. Attend one of the many safety programs offered by campus police at the beginning of the year.
**For more information on this topic, listen to the archived seminar, “Safety Skills for your College-Bound Student”.