Issues in an apartment or room can lead to a drop in grades, shelling out the extra cash it takes to move, or even leaving school entirely. With over 1,600 students living in campus housing, and many more sharing apartments off campus, much of the student body is subject to potential roommate conflict.
According to Amy Juve, assistant director of Residence Life at PSU, such conflict is timeless and is present all year long.
A Portland State junior, who wished to remain anonymous, shared her roommate complaints with enthusiasm: “He doesn’t clean, he’s messy, he doesn’t take out the garbage and he won’t grocery shop. He works nights and I work days. He doesn’t do a fraction of the dishes and laundry.”
She said she had tried to address these issues before with no success, and now copes by complaining to her friends. She stays in the situation because it’s “very worth it for saving money.”
There are some universal issues that come up time and again for students like her. Numerous roommate advice services share the following as examples of conflict instigators: having unexpected guests over or having sex in a shared space, eating the other roommates’ food, borrowing clothes or toiletries without asking, not cleaning dishes or the apartment often enough, cleaning too much, and playing loud music during quiet hours.
“I wanted to get out of it,” said senior Jered Weatherford, referring to his accommodations last year with multiple housemates. While he stayed away from conflict himself, the fights that his housemates got into affected him. Often he felt stuck in the middle. “I always felt I was in the middle of some sort of battle of somebody getting pissed off at the other person for something stupid. Both sides would come to me about the same issue and kind of put me in a hard place.”
“I wanted to get out of it because I didn’t want to take sides.” Weatherford said.
When asked about possible causes for these fights, Weatherford replied, “food always I think is an issue. Some people are kind of anal about people eating their food. There were issues of people coming over, too.” Weatherford moved out after six months. He said he now considers the situation a learning experience.
Dr. Robert Rodgers, a professor of education and psychology at Ohio State University, conducted a study to find out what students did to deal with conflict situations. He found that students most often avoid the conflict and make no move to mend it, resulting in a stagnancy or increase in the level of conflict. Occasionally, students would confront each other and try to work out their conflicts, but often would end up in a win-lose situation which tended to worsen the issue.
Rodgers’ studies show that using a mediator of some sort may be the best option. Before asking for outside help, however, students are encouraged to attempt to try to solve the issue by themselves.
“Open and clear communications are very important to help establish boundaries,” said Carla, a clinical social worker from the Center for Student Health and Counseling at PSU.
Both she and Juve stress that cohabitants need to set ground rules and maintain clear channels of communication. Juve recommends the discussion and preparation of a physical contract to cover the issues that may arise on a daily basis. This establishes ground rules and boundaries that either student can refer to if one is overstepping or intruding on the other.
If a student cannot solve a roommate conflict on his or her own, there are other options available at Portland State. There are a number of resources on campus that a student can go to for help, whether or not they reside in campus housing. All PSU resident assistants are trained in basic mediation, and any student may take advantage of the services offered at the Center for Student Health and Counseling or ask Residence Life to set them up for a mediation session with a graduate student in the conflict resolution program. College Housing Northwest also has staff available to help resolve conflict.
Courtney Morse and Amy Connolly are roommates, a freshman and a junior, both political science majors, who have figured out how to share space and communicate. “If you communicate you can get through pretty much any conflict,” Morse said.
Connolly agreed. “We have the best communication of any person I’ve ever lived with,” she said.
The two have lived together for about a year, and make sure to talk things out to resolve their issues. Connolly and Morse still sometimes get on each other’s nerves, but both are able to take it lightly. “[Courtney] always leaves the shower curtain open, and I have a big thing about that because when you don’t shut it, it gets all moldy,” Connolly said. “Now, I just kind of laugh at it, because she never remembers.”
Perhaps this attitude is put best by the student life counselors at Carnegie Mellon University: “You do not need to be friends with your roommate, but it helps to be friendly.”