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Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Welcome to the Roommate Relationship training module brought to you by Reslife.Net. To advance the module, use your mouse and click on the individual screens in this presentation. We hope this tool is helpful to you in understanding the typical university response to a roommate conflict, as well as how to help your student establish positive roommate relationships.This is only one of many resources available to you. For more personal assistance, please contact your housing and residence life office directly.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Typical University Responses to a Roommate Conflict and How to Help Your Student

By Jody Donovan, Director of Student Transitions

and Parent & Family Programs, Colorado State University

Brought to you by: Reslife.Net, Ltd. as a part of The Roommate Resource Service


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Roommate conflicts are stressful for your student, for you as a parent, and also for the university staff that are involved in helping your student resolve their conflict.


Roommate conflicts a primer for parents families

Roommate Conflicts: A Primer for Parents & Families

This module will provide information about:

  • How to help your student minimize roommate conflicts

  • How to support your student during a roommate conflict

  • Typical college and university responses to roommate conflicts


Why are roommate experiences important

Why are Roommate Experiences Important?

Although living with a stranger may be at times challenging for your student…it also provides terrific opportunities to learn and acquire life long skills that relate to…

communication

assertiveness

negotiation

patience

tolerance


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Learning to become a good roommate serves as a basis for becoming a good friend, co-worker, neighbor and spouse.Living with roommates teaches your student that within every relationship, there are always multiple truths and perceptions of reality...

If your student experiences a roommate conflict understand that their perceptions on the conflict can be very different than the perspective of their roommate, which is one of the reasons why roommate conflicts are often very difficult to resolve.


Consider bob and mike who are new roommates

Consider Bob and Mike, who are new roommates:

  • A couple of weeks after move-in Mike goes to brush his teeth and realizes he is out of toothpaste. Bob’s toothbrush and toothpaste are nicely stacked in their usual place on the vanity.

Mike shares a bathroom at home with other siblings and everyone shares, no problem, so he “borrows” some paste from Bob and sets the tube back down on the counter, expecting to pick up a new tube for himself later.


That evening

That evening…

Bob goes to brush his teeth. He notices that his toothbrush is not where he left it and the toothpaste tube is not rolled up tightly the way he left it that morning. “Someone has been using my toothpaste!” “It had to be Mike, but why would he touch my stuff?” Bob begins to wonder what other belongings he has that Mike is borrowing. “Is Mike to cheap to buy his own stuff?” “Did he use my toothbrush too!” Bob is frustrated but he decides not to ask Mike. Instead, he moves his toothbrush and toothpaste to the shelf inside his closet.


The next morning

The next morning…

Mike is back to brush his teeth but he never got the chance to stop and buy a new tube of paste. He reaches to borrow Bob’s again, but it’s not there. “Where did it go?” “Why would Bob move it?” The thought strikes him; did he move it because I used it yesterday? “That must be it.” What a cheapskate! Every time he wants to play my Xbox or watch a movie on my VCR, I don’t even question it. Mike decides to investigate further. He opens Bob’s closet door and sees the toothpaste. “That jerk!” “I’ll show him.” Mike leaves Bob’s toothpaste alone but goes next door to see if he can borrow some from one of the other guys on the corridor. He tells the guys next door how cheap his roommate is, and how Bob hid his toothpaste from him. After he brushes his teeth, he returns to the room and disconnects the wires for his Xbox and VCR, and places them in his own closet.


A little later

A little later…

Bob comes back from class. He sees Mike talking to the guys in the next room. They look at him and laugh, and then duck into their room. Bob goes into his own room wondering what is going on. He decides to take a break and watch the end of the movie he fell asleep watching last night. He notices Mike has removed the Tape from the VCR and he picks it up and tries to start the tape. It does not seem to be working. He looks to see if it is connected, and notices that some of the wires are missing. Mike walks in, he looks annoyed. Bob is still mad at him about the toothpaste incident so he does not say hello. Mike does not speak either. The silence makes both of them more annoyed at one another and so Bob takes his tape and goes down the hall to another friend’s room to visit. He sees the guys next door; they still seem to be laughing about something.


Over the next few weeks

Over the next few weeks…

The tension in the room has grown pretty heavy. Bob and Mike are both stompin’ mad, and hardly talk to one another. They both seem to be doing things to annoy the other and they are both talking to other friends on their residence hall floor about what a jerk their roommate is. When Bob’s girlfriend comes to visit for the weekend, Mike is not very friendly to her and after she leaves, Bob decides he has had enough. Bob calls his parents. He has been telling them already all the rude things that Mike is doing. He tells them Mike is using his personal belongings, refusing to share items in the room that they had agreed to use jointly when they moved in, like the VCR, and that Mike is spreading nasty stories about him to the other students on the floor. The situation has become unbearable and Bob asks his parents for help.


If you are bob s parents what are you going to do

If you are Bob’s parents, what are you going to do?

  • Call the university and demand that Mike be moved?

  • Call and demand that Bob be moved?

Did this really start over a simple tube of toothpaste?

Yes…believe it or not, roommate conflicts start over things like this all the time…


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Roommate conflicts negatively impact a student’s ability to adjust to life in the residence hall and campus, which is why they should be avoided if at all possible.The good news is that there are things that you can do to help your student maximize success and live compatibly with a roommate. Let’s spend some time thinking about these things…


Supporting the development of positive roommate relationships

Supporting the Development of Positive Roommate Relationships


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

The good news is that as a parent you can support the development of a positive roommate relationship for your student. The best part is…you can help before the toothpaste is squeezed out of the tube!


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Ideas...

If your university has encouraged you to review this module prior to the start of the academic year, encourage your student to spend time getting to know their roommate over the summer through visits, e-mail, phone calls, and instant messaging.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Ideas...

Help your student think in terms of the issues that are important to them in their roommate relationship and their living situation.

It is important that your student process and understand the things about their roommate relationship that might be “non-negotiable”. These are things that will never be okay in the relationship verses things that might be open for negotiation.

A solid understanding of this information will assist your student when having discussions with their roommate about how they will live together successfully.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

If the academic year has already begun, encourage your student to spend time with their roommate in and out of the room, discussing backgrounds, hobbies, likes, dislikes, relationship expectations, as well as their hopes, dreams, and fears about their college experience.

Through dialogue your student and their roommate will begin to build common ground for their similarities. A good understanding of similarities will help the roommates more successfully manage the areas where they differ.

If Mike and Bob had spent a little more time getting to know one another, Mike might have known to leave Bob a note when he used his toothpaste, or Bob might have felt more comfortable confronting Mike about it, without worrying about rocking the boat.

Ideas...


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Ideas...

Keep things in perspective and do not escalate the conflict.

It is very difficult as a parent to receive the news that your student is having problems with their roommate. You need to empathize with their situation, while keeping in mind that you are only getting one side of the story in regards to the conflict (and there is another parent out there potentially getting an earful about your student!). As negative as the conflict may be, there is a silver lining…your student will be challenged to grow and develop as a result of this experience. Encourage them in a positive way, but balance this with not escalating the situation. Encourage them to begin the process of looking at the situation from the perspective of their roommate.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Ideas...

Listen, Listen, Listen! Ask thoughtful questions to allow your student to come to their own solutions.

As a parent, it is possible to be too interested in solving the problems of your student. As opposed to giving advice on what you would do, encourage your student to brainstorm potential solutions to their problem, and help them determine appropriate courses of action that they can take to resolve the problem.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Ideas...

Be positive and convey your belief that things will be resolved eventually.

Your student may be highly emotionally charged and upset by the conflict that they are experiencing. Be a constant reassuring voice that communicates the eventual resolution of the conflict. Although a distraction and annoyance, a roommate conflict is not a life or death situation, although they can create high levels of stress and anxiety.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Ideas...

Share your own experiences about conflict and how you successfully navigated differences…

It is good for your student to hear from you about how you have experienced conflicts (perhaps roommate or other), and what you did to resolve the conflict. Share your life experiences if they can help your student with perspective and gaining information to help resolve the conflict, but balance this with an understanding that the discussion is about your student, not you.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Proactively encourage your student to establish a formalized agreement with their roommate. Most colleges and universities provide these forms to residents, and encourage them to fill the form out at the start of the academic year. The roommate agreement formalizes the expectations that roommates have for each other, as expectations are discussed and placed in writing. These roommate agreements hold students accountable for themselves, each other, and their guests.This is an important process for proactively establishing positive roommate relations, and it should be done as early in the semester as is possible.Feel free to discuss this process with your school administrator.

Ideas...

More on roommate agreements later…


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Ideas...

Direct your student to his or her resident assistant (RA) – as issues can be addressed more quickly if the RA is notified right away.

The resident assistant (RA) is a student as well, who has been specially selected and trained to assist your student with issues related to on-campus living. The RA is the first line of intervention in a roommate conflict, and your student should speak with the RA directly if they are experiencing problems with their roommate.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

  • More about the RA…

  • Typical RA Responsibilities

  • Role model

  • Resource and referral source

  • Friend & guide

  • “Ears & eyes” for the professional residence hall staff

  • Policy enforcer

  • Community builder

    *RAs are typically one or two years older than their residents, and full-time students. They cannot solve problems, but they can help students solve their own problems.


The importance of assertive communication

The Importance of Assertive Communication


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

When involved in a conflict, roommates can respond assertively, aggressively, and passively.

It is important to discourage non-assertive and aggressive behaviors if your student calls to discuss a roommate conflict with you.

Let’s spend some time exploring these responses in more detail…


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Sometimes students are passive-aggressive…

Talking to friends and floor-mates about the problem, rather than with the roommate

Exaggerating the problem

Being deceptive or “two-faced”

Being manipulative toward the roommate

Communicating indirectly rather than directly

Characterized by “steel knuckles inside a velvet glove”

The telling of stories…


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Sometimes students are aggressive inroommate conflicts…

Violating each other’s rights

Humiliating each other

Putting each other down

Being abusive emotionally or verbally

Dominating each other

Inflicting deliberate harm on each other

Enhancing oneself at the expense of the other


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Or passive…

Self-denying

Acting as a “doormat”

Being emotionally dishonest with oneself

Being inhibited

Allowing others to choose for oneself

Allowing one’s rights to be violated


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

It is easy to think that your student would never respond in the ways I just described…but you need to be aware of the possibility they might. Sometimes what students tell their parents is very different than the reality of the situation, and when this happens it creates a situation where the student is telling their parents one thing and university administrators another.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

As a parent, you should encourage your student to use assertive communication, the best strategy for effective communication.

Encourage Assertive Communication

During roommate conflicts, it is critical that both roommates communicate assertively, stating their concerns as well as their suggestions for collaborating toward a mutually acceptable solution.

  • Being Assertive means…

  • Making one’s own choices

  • Being honest

  • Taking responsibility for oneself

  • Standing up for oneself

  • Asking for what one wants

  • Caring about oneself as well as caring for others


The roommate agreement process

The Roommate Agreement Process


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

As part of their standard operating procedures, many housing programs require students to establish formalized roommate agreements, that outline how students will live agreeably together.

This process may be facilitated by the resident assistant (RA), and usually happens at the very start of the academic year.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

How does the roommate agreement process work?The process is facilitated by the floor resident assistant, typically at the start of the academic year and sometimes discussed at the first floor meetingRoommates discuss topics by sharing opinions and listening to each other’s preferencesRoommates find common ground - the area for agreement through negotiationRoommates discuss how they will communicate concerns to each other regarding unacceptable behavior in the roomRoommates set a trial period and a day/time for revisiting the agreement to make changes


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Academic goals

Roommate relationship expectations

Studying in the room

Socializing in the room

Use of space in the room

Sleeping & waking rituals

Sharing purchased food & supplies

Cleanliness of the room

Music tastes

Financial responsibilities

Privacy within the room

Guests in the room

Sharing belongings

Time spent together

As part of the roommate agreement process, your student should discuss the following issues with their roommate.


After the roommate agreement is established

After the roommate agreement is established…

  • Encourage your student to communicate any concerns that they may be having with their roommate right away. Even if problems are minor, they need to be addressed right away to keep them from escalating. Consider how differently Mike and Bob’s situation might have been if they had talked about it that first day.

  • Encourage your student to use the 5-year rule: in 5 years, will this really matter? If not, encourage your student to let it go. This may seem contradictory, but it works! Decide what is important and focus on that. Even if something seems small, it can be a source of irritation that grows over time. Or, perhaps it can be ignored and forgotten, if put in perspective. For both Mike and Bob, if either of them could have let the matter go after the first slight, without taking further steps against their roommate, the problem would most likely have passed and not escalated.


When conflict happens

When conflict happens…


Let s start out with a definition of conflict

Let’s start out with a definition of conflict…

Conflict is a condition that exists when two or more people express incompatible ideas or have goals that are not mutually supportive.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Although your student experiences a degree of stress when involved with conflict...it is a daily reality that is experienced at home, at work, while driving, while with friends, with family, and with oneself.


Sources of conflict

Sources of Conflict

  • Differences over perceptions of reality

  • Differences over facts

  • Differences over goals

  • Differences over methods

  • Differences over values

  • Communication: misunderstandings, nonverbal & verbal

  • Personal behavior or idiosyncrasies


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

There are important rights that need to be acknowledged in a roommate conflict. If involved in a conflict, your student, and their roommate, has the following rights…

  • The right to ask for what one wants

  • The right to change one’s mind

  • The right to say “no” without feeling guilty

  • The right to be listened to and to be taken seriously

  • The right to be treated with respect


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Housing staff walk a fine line in working to balance the rights of both roommates. As a parent you feel concerned when your student is involved in a conflict, and it may be easy to become emotionally involved in both your perceptions on the conflict and your desired outcome.Keep in mind that both your student and their roommate will have rights, and that the housing staff who are working to resolve the conflict will be working to maintain the rights of all parties concerned.


Negotiating through conflict

Negotiating Through Conflict


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

There are several strategies one can employ to successfully deal with conflict.

The following is a strategy used by numerous housing professionals across the nation and can be adapted for use in nearly any conflict situation.


Interest based negotiation for resolving conflict

Interest Based Negotiation for Resolving Conflict


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Step One:

Separate the people from the problem

By focusing on the issues rather than each other, roommates

can work through their disagreement without damaging their

relationship. Encourage them to think of each other as

partners in negotiation, agreeing to some ground rules prior

to beginning, and respecting one another by asking for a time

out if emotions get hot.

Fisher, R. , Ury, W., & Patton, B. (1991) Getting to Yes. New York: Penguin Books.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Step Two:

Focus on interests, not positions

A “position is something you have decided upon. Your interests are what

caused you to so decide,” according to Fisher and Ury, authors of Getting

to Yes (1991, p. 42). Usually at least one person loses when people

focus on positions rather than interests (and often both lose!).

Encourage roommates to identify their interests and work to understand each

other’s motivations clearly. If they look forward to desired solutions rather than

focusing on past events, they are more apt to create multiple solutions that

benefit both parties.

Fisher, R. , Ury, W., & Patton, B. (1991) Getting to Yes. New York: Penguin Books.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Step Three:

Invent Options for Mutual Gain

This is the brainstorming phase for roommates and it is important to remember that evaluation comes later. By focusing on shared interests, they can avoid win-lose options. Creativity is rewarded as roommates make proposals that may be appealing to the other person and hold limited negative impacts for oneself.

Fisher, R. , Ury, W., & Patton, B. (1991) Getting to Yes. New York: Penguin Books.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Step Four:

Use Objective Criteria for Evaluation

If the solutions are not balanced, it may be helpful to seek

objective criteria from a mutually agreed upon expert or

source (a policy or law, the resident assistant, etc.).

Encourage your student to make the agreement specific

and measurable, to keep an open mind, and be

reasonable when considering options.

Fisher, R. , Ury, W., & Patton, B. (1991) Getting to Yes. New York: Penguin Books.


Tips for dealing with conflicts

Tips for Dealing with Conflicts


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Tip One...

Recognize that this is your student’s problem, not your problem to solve—students learn assertiveness, communication, and problem solving skills if they work through the problem rather than being “rescued”!

As a parent you may want to help your student by solving the problem for them. Hopefully you’ve sent your student to college for them to learn and grow as a person by learning life skills in addition to their academic learning.

Conflict is an inevitable occurrence in life and to be successful your student needs to know how to navigate it successfully once it occurs.

Negotiating Through Conflict


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Tip Two...

Negotiating Through Conflict

Help your student understand that there are multiple perceptions of reality and all may contain elements of the “truth”.

Encourage them to be open to the perspective of their roommate, negotiation and compromise, and working towards a fair, successful, and equitable resolution to the conflict.

Old woman? Young Girl? What do you see?


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Tip Three...

Negotiating Through Conflict

Help your student acknowledge his or her own role in the conflict.

It is highly unlikely that your student will be a totally innocent victim in the roommate conflict. It usually takes two to have a disagreement, so help your student reflect on their behaviors, attitudes, and perceptions that may have contributed to the conflict. They don’t have to take full responsibility, but it may be helpful for them to identify areas for change that may lead to a resolution.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Tip Four...

Negotiating Through Conflict

Help your student brainstorm options for resolution because sometimes it is hard to think about multiple solutions when they are too closely involved.

Coming to a successful resolution of a conflict requires compromise on the parts of all concerned. It is helpful to go into a roommate problem negotiation with many ideas verses few, and it will allow for more dialogue and options for meeting the needs of both your student and their roommate.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict

Typical University Responses to a Roommate Conflict


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Roommate conflicts are best handled at the lowest possible level—the RA, or the residence hall director, who could be a bachelors or masters degree level staff member who has overall supervisory responsibility for your student’s residence hall and supervising the building RAs.

If you hear from your student and call the President’s Office, the situation is immediately escalated and becomes more difficult to resolve.

Calling the President's office...

Never a good idea...


Roommate conflicts within the first two weeks

Roommate Conflicts within the first two weeks…

Unless the situation involves a health or safety issue, most colleges and universities are unwilling to split up roommates in the first two weeks, or perhaps longer depending on their policies.

This allows for roommates to get beyond superficial first impressions and unfounded biases to learn how to get along with people who are different from them.


When a roommate conflict is reported

When a roommate conflict is reported…

The RA will first spend time visiting with each roommate individually to assess the situation and hear the varying perspectives regarding the roommate conflict. The RA will often share this information with their supervisor, the residence hall director to discuss next steps.

Very few roommate conflicts occur between an “evil” student and an “angelic” student…more frequently, both parties share some role in the conflict. The RA seeks to learn this information from both roommates.


Completing the roommate agreement

Completing the Roommate Agreement

If the roommates have not completed a roommate agreement, the RA may suggest that they discuss their specific roommate problem in the context of completing a roommate agreement listing common areas for disagreement between roommates. The RA may then facilitate a discussion about the roommate agreement, seeking long-term resolution.


Revisiting the roommate agreement

Revisiting the Roommate Agreement

If the roommates have already completed the roommate agreement, the RA will facilitate a discussion regarding whether the agreement is still valid, areas for revision, and sources of current conflicts as well as possible resolutions.

This is the time for assertive communication!

Students will have an opportunity to share their “stories” and to brainstorm options for resolution. It is crucial for students to be honest, direct, and flexible during this time to reach a mutually agreeable solution, and you need to encourage your student to do this.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

The Value of the 3rd Alternative

Rather than viewing the solution as benefiting either one roommate or the other, it is helpful to think about the 3rd alternative—a mutually beneficial solution.


A new roommate agreement is reached

A new roommate agreement is reached

The RA will document the various areas that have been discussed, as well as the solutions to the problems. Roommates will sign the agreement acknowledging their willingness to abide by, as well as hold each other accountable for, the agreement. A date to revisit the agreement is established. Copies of the agreement are given to each roommate and kept on file for future reference.


If the new agreement is breached

If the new agreement is breached…

When the RA is informed that the agreement is not working between the roommates, he or she may try to facilitate another conversation, or may ask the residence hall director for assistance in mediating the ongoing roommate dispute.


Hall director intervention

Hall Director Intervention

If the roommate conflict rises to the level of the residence hall director, a new option for resolution exists…splitting up the roommate pair through a room change.

The hall director will often hold a roommate mediation session with the roommate pair to assess the potential for resolution prior to suggesting a room change.


About room changes

About Room Changes

Options to determine who moves…

The best option is for the roommates to decide themselves!

However, when that fails, the following options exist…

  • Deposit dates (earliest gets to stay)

  • Flipping a coin, drawing straws, picking a number

  • Deciding who is most desperate to get out of the situation

    If a decision cannot be made, in some instances both roommates will be required to move.

Splitting up may be the best solution, however, it is often difficult to determine who should move to the new room and who shall remain in the current room. In most roommate conflicts, no one is willing to move…


After the decision has been made

After the decision has been made

More than likely, two options exist here depending on housing policy.

Students may be provided with a list of students looking for potential roommates in their residence hall as well as throughout the residence hall “system”

Or…

Students will be given a new room assignment by the housing office.


Typical university responses to a roommate conflict and how to help your student

Students are then given a specific time period during which they are to complete the move. This can range from a weekend to a few weeks.


This can be a very stressful time

This can be a very stressful time!

Parents and families can support their students during this time by:

  • Helping them move to their new room

  • Helping them put this experience into perspective—they will move many times throughout their lives…rarely with such few belongings!


Avoiding another roommate conflict

Avoiding another roommate conflict

The RA and residence hall director most likely will work with both roommates to reflect on what happened and what could have been done differently to avoid the need to move rooms. It is important for students to learn from this experience so as not to repeat it with their new roommate/s.


In conclusion

In Conclusion….

Ideal Roommates

…are respectful to one another.

…do not have to be best friends, they just need to be friendly!


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