All together now

Four ways to avoid a dorm room nightmare

Nicole Stella, a former RA, says little things cause the biggest problems between roommates.

Nicole Stella, a former RA, says little things cause the biggest problems between roommates.

Photo by Sean Mazner

Dorm life can be hell for the unprepared. Those once fortunate enough to have parents who cooked, cleaned and did their laundry come to the quick realization that they’ll have to fend for themselves. The biggest change will be sharing a room with somebody else.

“Many students this generation come from a household where they haven’t lived in the same space with a sibling,” says Jerome Maise, associate director for Residence Life.

Living with a roommate is as profound a learning experience as any college class. Fortunately, an entire portion of staff at the University of Nevada, Reno is there to ease students into their new shared living space. Residential Assistants, or RAs, live on every floor to accommodate students, and they often mediate disputes between roommates.

“The most common problems I came across were room cleanliness and the sharing of possessions,” says Nicole Stella, a former RA now working for the Department of Residential Life.

Problems are usually settled between roommates before they even reach an RA, says Maese. Very rarely does the most extreme incident occur where one roommate is forced to move out. There are many things a student moving into the dorms can do to prepare—and to prevent this scenario.

Contact your roommate beforehand

Call them or meet them in person to discuss moving arrangements. Negotiating who brings the mini fridge and who brings the microwave can cut down on redundancy and allow for more precious space in the room.

“This involves more than just visiting your future roommate’s Facebook or MySpace,” says Maese. “Taking the time to have an actual conversation breaks the ice, and the way somebody exists in the cyber world is not how they exist in real life.”

Establish rules early on

“It’s surprising how often the little things caused problems when I was an RA,” says Stella. “Something like eating the last slice of bread can cause a dispute.”

Setting ground rules early can prevent future confrontations. Right when moving in, it’s important to let your roommate know when your usual bedtime is and how clean you prefer the dorm room to be. By not mentioning personal pet peeves early on, the chance of your roommate upsetting them is greatly increased, as is their annoyance for something they might consider trivial if you don’t mention it upfront.

Don’t assume friends are best

It’s always great when two friends feel close enough that they can share a dorm room. The problem is that friends sometimes don’t have the courage to confront each another if they have a personal problem. Stella recalls a time as an RA when a girl used her roommate’s toothbrush and allowed her boyfriend to use it, as well.

“The two girls were too close of friends to discuss any issues, which actually ended up ruining their friendship as a result,” says Stella.

Spend time together

Roommates sometimes end up becoming the best of friends. Others lead separate lives and almost never speak to one another. If you have an issue with a roommate yet never see them, the issue will persist until the end of the year. Scheduling a meal or time once a week to hash out problems is useful for those with a bit of distance. Maese recommends partaking in the roommate’s hobby as a way to bond and bridge the gap.

These living skills combined can prevent a worst-case scenario. After all, the second roommate could end up being worse than the first.

Dorm room survival list
‘You bring this, I’ll bring that’

Mini fridge: Going downstairs or across the street for a single drink or snack is too daunting, especially when cramming non-stop for a big test.

Microwave: See fridge, above. Just don’t be that person every year who sets off the fire alarm by not taking the foil off the Pop Tarts.

Laptop: UNR has computer labs, but laptops are more useful if you can afford them. Just let your roommate know Day 1 if you’ll let them use your printer.

Television: Every building has a lounge, yet rarely will everyone agree on The Daily Show or Ace of Cakes. Isolate yourself by bringing your own, or invite your dorm mates in for a movie bash.

Car: Bring one only if you plan to have a job while living in the dorms. Parking can be a nightmare, and you’ll end up being chauffer to everyone on the floor.

Desk lamps: Some older dorms are lacking in lighting, and your roommate might need the lights off to sleep. Work late and still see your book with one of these.

Foliage: With your roommate, buy a couple of plants that don’t require sunlight. It’s great bonding and makes your room stand out from others.

Posters: A poster sale usually shows up the second or third week on campus, and roommates can cooperate in decorating their room. Just avoid the overused Bob Marley posters, please.