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What I Wish I Would Have Known: Handling Roommate Conflicts

Students walking through the Quad near Albertsons Library during autumn
Fall Campus Scenes, Photo by Madison Park

In the fall of 2019, I was assigned to live in Payette hall of University Suites with my best friend and two people I had never met before. That semester was the first time I lived with anyone other than family, let alone two strangers. I was prepared for exciting adventures, game nights, movie nights, the whole freshman-in-a-college-dorm experience.

However, I was not prepared for navigating conflicts that, at the time, felt like the end of the world. Now, I’m glad to report it was certainly not the end of the world — simply a hurdle I had to leap.

In the dead of winter, one of my roommates continuously turned the air conditioner on, set at 60 degrees. In the summer, it would’ve been refreshing. Unfortunately, it was December and I was miserable. At first, my other roommates and I would switch the air off altogether; we didn’t even turn on the heat, we just turned off the freezing air blowing from our vents.

Nevertheless, our roommate continued to switch the air conditioner back on, always at 60 degrees, no matter the fact that it was 25 degrees outside and icicles were dripping from our windows. Personally, I was stumped. The idea of confronting this roommate worried me. I didn’t know them very well, and the last thing I wanted to do was bother them or make an uncomfortable living situation, even though me and the rest of my roommates were often left huddling under blanket piles in an attempt to sleep through the night.

Only a few months into the fall semester and it already was an uncomfortable living situation — I really had no idea how to navigate it.

In the end, I did nothing. It wasn’t until one of my roommates wrote a very angry message on the fridge that the air conditioner got switched off for good. I can’t say I’m mad about the heated blanket I bought, though.

Now, after living in the dorms for a few more years with different people (and even taking a conflict management class as part of my studies), there’s a lot I would have done differently. First off, a passive aggressive note on the fridge? That never goes well and screams disrespect at the receiver of the note. We were probably lucky that it didn’t cause the situation to boil over.

So, what should I have done instead? Probably the thing I dreaded most — talk to the person causing the issue. They may not have even known it was an issue, and how could they if we didn’t say anything about it?

One of the best things you can do when dealing with a conflict is separate the person from the problem; they probably didn’t cause the problem intentionally and when you stop viewing the person as the problem, you’ll find it easier to want to talk to them. If I had simply talked to my roommate and asked them why they were turning on the air conditioner when it was so cold, I probably would’ve learned something that could’ve helped us come to a solution.

Once you both acknowledge that something is wrong, working together to find a solution makes quite a difference. Coming up with a variety of solutions, even if they seem like silly ones, helps get everyone’s thoughts focused on finding a fix. Compromising is typically the best way to go. For example, take my freshman year problem, a compromise in that situation could’ve looked like: “What if you keep your window in your bedroom open and I don’t turn the heat on during the day, would you be okay with that?”

However, sometimes coming to a solution, compromise or not, is easier said than done. This is when you can get a Resident Assistant (RA) involved. RAs are trained to mediate between roommates and help them solve problems, because sometimes we all get a little stuck in our own heads and struggle to cooperate and communicate. Having a mediator of some sort as an unbiased, understanding person with you sometimes is the best option.

It’s also important to remember to not escalate the situation unnecessarily. Posting about the conflict on social media, for example, can make the situation more isolating for all those involved. The way you’re feeling about someone (or something) this week may not be the way you’re feeling next week…remember the internet is forever. This is a friendly reminder to be careful about what you post and to be sure that you’re following all university policies.

Conflict can be scary, I’ll be the first to admit it. But it doesn’t have to be impossible and it’s not the end of the world. Most of the time, just talking it out will solve the problem. But even if it doesn’t, there are a multitude of resources and skills anyone can attain and use to get through an issue.

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  • Paige


    Writing Correspondent