In preparation for the start of school next month, we sent out roomate assignments for our 37 students. Over the last few days we have received many calls from students and parents upset about the roommates we selected for them. Below is my response to questions about how we select roommates.
Putting together the roommate choices is one of the most difficult things we have to do. We cannot please everyone no matter what we do, so we make compromises.
In making the roommate selections we had to balance the needs and wants of 37 people with the limited space available. Ideally it would be nice to give students full choice about their roommates, and while that would make some folks very happy, there is another side. That other side is that we end up with folks that are left out even ostracized, and rejected. Nobody wants to be the one left out, and frankly we already have that issue. So, by us making the choices we get the blame instead.
That said, here are some of the factors we took into consideration:
1. We wanted to put new students together with returning students. Since we have more new students (20) than returning (17) that limited the choices.
2. While considering student choices we also wanted to make sure we avoid potentially volatile match-ups. We had a few situations where Sally picked Jenny, but Jenny said the one person they did not want to live with was Sally. We also had the benefit of last year and knew some match-ups that might not work well. This further limited choices.
3. Part of the university experience is to gain exposure to people from different backgrounds. While it is nice to be with folks you are comfortable with, there is usually more growth in diversity. A significant part of our program is to give students the opportunity to deal socially and practically with students from different backgrounds. We all have to deal with people that are different or even dislike, but we still have to deal with them. If our students come out of this program with the skills to deal with these situations, I think we will have achieved something. While we did not intentionally set out to challenge any one student, but it is a fact that our students are a very diverse group in many ways.
4. Our observation last year was that many of the students seemed to treat this experience as summer camp - it was about having fun. While we expect that given that this is the first time most of our students have been away from home, the "fun zone" lasted longer than expected. Not until the end of the year did we see students really apply themselves. Everything we do is about students' learning. We all have high expectations and only two short years. Who students live with is as valuable a learning opportunity as is anything we do in the classroom.
5. Good friends do not always make the best roommates. We had some folks last year that had been friends for years and they specifically requested not to be together this year. I think we have have had similar experiences.
So in the end we have compromises. Hopefully ones that folks may not like, but can live with.