September 10, 2002

Frosh Express Upset Over Room, Roommate Selections

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When freshmen arrive at Cornell, some may discover a problem in own their rooms, namely their roommate.

While others may be disconcerted with their room choice and how Cornell Housing made the selection.

“I have no idea how they choose what room you get to live in or who your roommate will be,” said Aerin Hohensee ’06.

Erin McNellis ’04 suggested that the Housing Office use the answers from first year students’ lifestyle/preference sheet and, “feed the answers in to a big machine and they get matched.”

McNellis’ suggestion is not that far removed from the actual process. Several universities around the country use programs from the CBord group, an Ithaca-based business that makes specialty software to manage large amounts of information and re-present it in an usable form.

Cornell uses a program similar to CBord’s, feeding the information from lifestyle/preference surveys required for new housing applicants and matching students with similar results and placing them in randomly assigned rooms.

Out of the thousands of housing applicants, around 200 students are harder for the computer to match and have to be hand-assigned. Nonetheless, using this computer program drastically reduces the time and expense that Cornell workers would otherwise have to spend matching students.

“The assignment system tries to meet the feeling of the school. Cornell, unlike other schools has few long summer programs to allow students to get to know each other, so it would be difficult to ask students to choose their own roommates,” said Patrick Savolskis Cornell’s Housing and Dining office manager, referring to orientation meetings some schools hold during the summer.

Also, incoming students are deluged with papers and pamphlets to read, so the lifestyle/preference information sheet is designed to make the room and roommate selection process as straightforward as possible. However, some students take issue with the limited number of questions asked on that form.

“The questions were so impersonal, I’m not sure how they can get anything meaningful,” Hohensee said.

However, asking more questions does not guarantee a better match between roommates.

“There was definitely something to be said for having a diversity of opinions around you,” McNellis said.

Another difficulty in using such a stream-lined system comes when trying to match student personalities with building personalities.

“One student may love his room and a building’s environment, while right next door another student may hate it,” Savolskis said.

Before the Housing office made changes to the lifestyle/preference sheet students were allowed to rank their building preferences.

Under that system, housing assignments disappointed a large number of students. Yet even now, after choosing a building is no longer an option (not including in the case of program houses) students inquire about being able to choose their residence halls.

Each year the Housing office gets about 100 requests for roommate changes in the beginning of the school year, largely because of roommate disputes.

However, quite a few will, “drop away given a few days because the students realize their situation is really quite acceptable,” Savolskis said.

Despite the relatively small number of students requesting room changes, there is no definitive way to gauge the success of Cornell’s housing policies. Hohensee described her room as, “livable” and not worth complaining about.

“I think that while it may be all right with college students, students can deal with just about anything,” Hohensee said.

Cornell offers mediation services to help solve roommate disputes and has Resident Advisors and Residence Hall Directors to help deal with student problems.

Both Savolskis and Deery stress how important it is to utilize these services or solve problems with roommates, partially because of how much can be learned by both parties working through disputes and also because disputes can be detrimental to success.

“Having a good roommate relationship is one of any number of factors that contribute to success in school,” Deery said. “If you dread coming to your room at night or choose to work in your room and are unable to, it can seriously hinder success.”

Archived article by Matthew Vernon