Brown enrolls over 6,000 undergraduates from across the globe, bringing together a host of people with diverse interests, experiences and ideas. From athletes to mathletes, each year the Office of Residential Life matches up a fresh batch of first years as best it can — with overwhelmingly positive results, according to the The Herald’s poll this semester. About 70 percent of students are or were satisfied with their assigned freshman roommate, with 47.9 percent stating they were very satisfied.
Each year, ResLife asks freshmen to fill out the “New Student Housing Questionnaire,” which includes basic questions about students and their behavior, according to Natalie Basil, associate director of residential life.
ResLife is dedicated to providing a similar first-year experience for everyone, Basil said. Their philosophy is that every first-year student should learn the art of negotiation, communication and how to live with someone else, she added.
For this reason, roommate requests are denied, Basil said, with the only possible exception being made on occasion for siblings to ease the financial burden of parents who might otherwise have to purchase double dorm furniture or appliances.
The “New Student Housing Questionnaire” includes questions such as “Do you smoke?” and “What time do you wake up/go to bed?”
ResLife inputs the results into a computer system that matches students based upon their answers, with some questions weighted more heavily than others, Basil said.
Basil said that scheduling, in particular, is taken heavily into account, as the system is programmed to match students with others who plan to go to sleep and wake up around the same time. Smokers and non-smokers are also usually not paired with each other.
Also, individuals with the same first name or from the same hometown are usually eliminated from being roommates, Basil said.
In recent years, ResLife has had the system pair students who work in their rooms with those who plan to work in libraries, so as to provide a quiet study environment for both parties, Basil said. They also try to group together students who need music to fall asleep, she added.
“Does that mean it always works?” Basil questioned. “No.”
She explained that the questionnaire finds “your best match” within the pool of applicants and according to the programming of the system.
It is especially difficult because students’ schedules change in college, Basil said, noting that a student may plan to wake up at 10 a.m. but then register for an 8 a.m. class.
After a mandatory two-week period following move-in, freshmen who are not pleased with their roommate may apply for a room change, Basil said. During those two weeks, Residential Life counts the number of vacancies on campus. In past years, they have been able to simply move dissatisfied students into a new room because of students who opt not to attend Brown that semester. But once these vacancies are filled, students must participate in a one-to-one swap, she said.
Students choose to switch rooms for a variety of reasons, usually citing compatibility issues or a desire to live with a friend either from Brown or from home.
Zach Minster ’14 and Greg Jordan-Detamore ’14 live together as a result of such a room swap. “Our original roommates were best friends from high school,” Minster said. “For me, it was a good switch. We’re more compatible.”
Minster and Jordan-Detamore, a Herald contributing writer, met prior to coming to Brown through Facebook and at an alumni event in Philadelphia, and so were happy to make the switch requested by their roommates, they said.
‘Luck of the draw’
With nearly 70 percent of students reporting positively about their freshmen year experience, it was not surprising to find most people interviewed were pleased with their roommates.
Mya Manning ’14 said she loves her roommate, with the only slight problem being differences in their schedules. “It seems to be luck of the draw, but I drew really well,” she said.
Despite the randomness of the questionnaire assignments, it appears sometimes opposites do end up attracting.
“We got along very well but had very different personalities,” said Emily Gould ’13, who is also a member of Residential Council, a body of students that makes recommendations to ResLife. Believing the student body to be very segregated according to extracurricular activities, Gould said she enjoyed having a roommate with different interests.
Hyun Kim ’12 said that although he and his roommate were very different, it was an overall great experience, as the two were able to learn from each other.
“We still live together,” said Danielle Dahan ’11 of her freshman roommate. “We lucked out, I think,” she added, citing that friends of hers often complain about their first-year experiences.
About 26 percent of students reported being dissatisfied with their first-year housing assignment.
Lauren Krumeich ’11, who served as a Residential Peer Leader in Keeney Quadrangle last year, said of some pairings, “It surprised me how different they were.” Many of her freshmen were “complete opposites,” and she said that there were some instances of complete disrespect.
“Sexiling” — when one roommate needed the room to him- or herself for an intimate moment — was a major problem as well, she said.
Krumeich said she was surprised that the questionnaire was not more in-depth and said she believes in empowering people to make their own decision for housing. If people choose their own roommate, possibly through an online forum, they will be more willing to make the relationship work, she said.
Other students, including Gould and Manning, said they believe an expanded survey might improve roommate compatibility if taken into account effectively.
Krumeich also said the online questionnaires might not be effective because of parent involvement — parents might want their child to live with a certain type of individual and pressure their student to fill in the form a certain way.
“I didn’t ask my parents because I knew they would try to influence it,” Minster said.
Any changes to the current system have to come first from ResCouncil, Basil said. Recommendations, which must uphold ResLife’s philosophy, would then be studied by Senior Associate Dean of Residential and Dining Services Richard Bova, Associate Director Thomas Forsberg and Basil herself. After making any necessary modifications, the recommendation would be implemented.
According to Gould, ResCouncil is currently discussing some possible changes to the system in relation to recent residence hall renovations, but as of yet there are no concrete plans.
Basil said she is pleased with the results of the poll and is open to changing the system upon recommendations from the student body.
The Herald poll was conducted Nov. 1–2 and has a 3.0 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. A total of 915 students completed the poll, which The Herald distributed as a written questionnaire in the University Mail Room in J. Walter Wilson and the Stephen Robert ‘62 Campus Center during the day and the Sciences Library at night.