The Collegian
Thursday, December 08, 2022

Housing still hand-matching roommates

I like to take naps:

a. daily

b. sometimes

c. never

Choose wisely, because your answer could be used to select the person you will be living with during the next eight months.

This is just one of the questions considered in the University of Richmond's roommate selection process, for which Richmond has been recognized in this week's issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Chronicle, a weekly print and online publication for news on academia, acknowledged Richmond for hand-matching first-year roommates, a method that has been discontinued by most other institutions.

Brian Eckert, Richmond's director of media and public relations, said he had pitched the story to The Chronicle more than a year ago.

"I was in a meeting with people on campus when I heard that Richmond has an unusually high rate of success in keeping roommates together whereas other schools have had trouble," Eckert said.

The process by which housing office administrators pair roommates demonstrates the care the university puts toward important issues, he said.

This year, Carolyn Bigler, assistant director of housing, and her two student assistants, Michael Gaynor and JoAnna Ubiwa, matched first-year students during May term.

Bigler explained the process to Gaynor and Ubiwa and they selected students they thought would be good roommates, Bigler said. When the matching was complete, Bigler reviewed the pairs and decided whether she felt they would work.

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Ubiwa learned it was difficult to pair roommates, she said, and was often frustrated when Bigler broke up matches she had made.

"But I did enjoy reading the questionnaire," Ubiwa added. "People say the darnedest things. A lot of people wrote that they wanted a roommate who bathed. Like someone was going to say, 'Hey, I don't like to take showers' on the form."

Rather than hand-matching roommates, many colleges and universities have turned to randomly pairing students or allowing them to post profiles online and pick one another.

Bigler said she had chosen not to switch to online matching because it would allow for students to add and drop roommates. Then, if a student was not matched by the end of the online selection process, housing would choose one for him or her.

"When housing matches roommates, students are on a level playing field," Bigler said.

To help pair roommates, Richmond relies on a compatibility form composed of 15 multiple-choice selections and an open-ended question, though students have the option to request a roommate.

"Roommate compatibility is intended to lower the anxiety level of coming to college," Bigler said.

Senior Kristy Hajducek was paired with Claire Rehbock before her freshman year based on the compatability form. She said she had spoken briefly with Rehbock before move-in day.

"I wasn't sure what to expect when I met Claire, so I was still a little nervous about it," Hajducek said. "However, it was nice to know that we had things in common and this helped the adjustment to college and dorm life."

Hajducek and Rehbock have been roommates since freshman year. Now, their success will be recognized. Each year, Westhampton College hosts a steak dinner for four-year roommates. Hajducek plans to attend, she said.

But Bigler's intention in matching roommates is not necessarily to create lifelong friendships, Bigler said. Instead, she wanted students to have a room to go back to where they felt comfortable.

"My goal is to help students find something to connect on," she said. "I want them to come away from their first conversation thinking, 'that's not so bad.'"

Topics on Richmond's roommate compatibility questionnaire include attitude toward alcohol and overnight guests.

"Over the years, I have listened to students complain about these issues," Bigler said. "So I think they are important questions."

From there, Bigler considers other questions in the packet such as bedtime, study preferences and housekeeping habits.

"I change the form all the time based on whether questions are working," she said, citing that a "political views" question was added this year in response to a rising interest in the 2008 presidential election.

The questions are based on a student's perception of himself or herself, Bigler said. But it's possible that's not how others perceive them. This discrepancy accounts for the small percentage of room transfers -- Richmond's is around 1 percent per year.

But for those roommates who do survive for four years such as Hajducek and Rehbock, they are rewarded with a free steak dinner.

Contact staff writer Carly Gorga at carly.gorga@richmond.edu

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