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Roommate to roomhate: Fear and loathing in Dennison Hall

By Megan Zahneis, Senior Staff Writer

Roommates. They're either your best friend or your worst enemy - and sometimes, a little bit of both.

Abby Smith, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, ought to know. The senior strategic communications major's experience living in Dennison Hall during her freshman year is the stuff of horror stories.

Abby was originally randomly assigned as one of three girls in a triple. But midway through first semester, she was asked whether she'd mind if one of the girls in a triple across the hall swapped places with one of her roommates.

The girls in the other triple were having some issues getting along, but the one who would become Abby's roommate seemed nice enough, so Abby agreed.

It was a decision she'd come to regret.

They made the move, and soon Abby's old roommate and her new one had become close friends.

"The first girl was totally fine [when] she was just on her own. It was when they were partners in crime together that they became a terrible twosome. I would avoid my room at all costs, basically," Abby said. "I had talked to [my new roommate] a couple of times and she was totally nice. I never even thought there would be a possibility that she would be a total psychopath."

Her roommates began bringing strangers back to their room, smoking on the balcony directly below their window, and moving furniture around.

"They were just on different lifestyles and schedules than [Abby]," Abby's friend Maddy Voight, who also lived in Dennison, said. "That annoyed [Abby], but I don't think she knew that was going to happen when she agreed to switch roommates."

Abby's RA was sympathetic, but the RA wound up studying abroad second semester, as the roommate issues intensified. The new RA assigned to Abby's corridor was less understanding.

"She didn't really care about anyone in the dorm," Abby said. "She was just kind of doing it for money, I think."

That's when Abby found herself stuck. As unhappy as she was with her situation, she never seriously considered moving out.

"I always came down to, 'Well, do I want to move or do I want to stay where I am with everyone that I know and I like except for these two roommates?' It was kind of like grin and bear it for the whole year."

Voight said Abby did try to move into a spot vacated in a quad in Dennison, but was denied due to timing issues.

"[Abby] was just looking out for herself," Voight said. "She was just going to fix everything for herself regardless of what her roommates said."

Eventually, Abby and her two roommates rearranged their furniture so that Abby had her own private space within the room, and there was very little interaction between the three.

"By the end of the year, they just kind of coexisted with one another in the dorm," Voight said.

Voight said she felt the situation could have been handled differently.

"I think something should have been done. Nothing was resolved," Voight said. "They obviously ended up hating one another, probably having miserable freshman roommate experiences. But I see why the school makes you stay with a roommate if you're just not working out. I understand that, you know, you can't flipflop roommates all the time."

When the initial switch was made, Abby and her roommates filled out a roommate agreement. Roommate agreements cut down on many conflicts by helping students spell out ground rules prior to the start of the semester, said Rob Abowitz, associate director of the Office of Residence Life.

Abby begs to differ.

"When people fill it out, it's like, 'What time do you think we should have lights out? Midnight?' You sign it and turn it in. Nobody cares," Abby said.

Voight has a similar perception of the roommate agreement.

"They just fill[ed] out the roommate agreement because you had to," Voight said. "And then when it became a problem that's when [they] realized, 'We probably should have taken the roommate agreement seriously.'"

Although ORL doesn't keep statistics on how many roommate conflicts it mediates in a typical semester or school year, Abowitz said he only sees a few cases like Abby's each year.

Abby agreed that severe roommate conflict doesn't seem to be an epidemic, at least in Oxford.

"The kids who go to Miami are very homogeneous, a lot of the same backgrounds, they like the same things in high school. People like all the same things," Abby said.

Voight agreed, saying that some level of roommate conflict is inevitable.

"It happens to everyone, and that's why I feel like it's not as big a deal," Voight said. "It does happen to everyone, and everyone just moves on from it."

When severe roommate conflict does occur, it can have a severe impact on an individual's well being.

Abby said that not feeling like her dorm room was a safe, comfortable place compounded the already difficult transition of moving to college.

"I was happy enough with everything else in my life that having the two roommates from hell didn't affect me so much," Abby said. "If other things in my life hadn't been going great, it would have been a different story and turned out differently."