The second week of class is upon us. Freshmen, this means you’re about to get acquainted with your roommates. Really acquainted. Step past the polite introductory phase, because you’re going to see all the strange habits suddenly emerge: food hoarding, passive aggressive Post-it notes, nightly midnight Skype sessions — for every quirk, there’s at least one person who can’t tolerate it.
There is an obvious way to attempt preventing so-called bad matches: allowing incoming freshman to choose their own roommates. According to an article in The New York Times, more and more colleges are teaming up with matching services, which help said incoming freshmen find someone suitable to live with. If you choose your own roommate, how could anything go wrong?
Well, that’s the problem. There really isn’t much room for mistakes. It’s for this reason that colleges shouldn’t encourage freshmen to choose their own roommates. Our time here isn’t just about academic learning; if that were the case, American society wouldn’t see these four years as such a rite of passage. It’s also about self-discovery, as cheesy as the concept may sound. By allowing new students to stay in their comfort zones, colleges erode that important self-discovery process, leaving students less prepared for the real world.
At top colleges, many students come from highly controlled environments. After all, to be a viable candidate one must manage grades, extracurriculars, applications, test scores and so on. Moreover, colleges have noted an increase in “helicopter parents” who micromanage their kids’ lives for fear that they’ll make mistakes. And even if none of that sounds familiar, consider the predictability of school in general: you know what classes you’re going to take, what books you’re going to read and when your midterms and finals will be. In comparison, the rhythms of most workplaces are inconsistent. It’s imperative that we use our time at college to learn how to deal with factors we can’t control.
Random roommates can help eliminate some of the prejudices people might grow up with. There’s much more to diversity then culture; accepting different kinds of personalities is important, too.
Say a traditionally studious girl rooms with an extrovert who goes out five nights a week. Girl No. 1 might write her roommate off as an idiot — until finding out that she maintains a 3.8 GPA. The realization would challenge her view of what a good student is, and might prevent her from jumping to similar conclusions in the future.
In the best case scenarios, roommates who seem like they have nothing in common develop friendships and introduce each other to new kinds of music, movies and hobbies. When colleges allow students to screen their roommates from the very beginning, students are more likely to gravitate toward people who reinforce the worldviews they already have. That’s unfortunate; at big schools like USC, it’s already easy to find your counterparts and stick with them for four years.
But what about the worst case scenarios? We’ve all heard horror stories about That One Roommate that made the last paragraph sound like it was cut out of a Disney movie. That’s why we have the option of switching roommates — a safety net that doesn’t really exist after college. If you were to end up with a horrible boss, you would have few options short of quitting. You would have to accept his personality and his grating mannerisms, or at least learn to deal with them. Wouldn’t you be glad to have lived with that crazy roommate of yours, if only for a few months? Negotiation — especially with someone you can barely tolerate — is an surprisingly important skill.
You’re more likely to be more open-minded about your roommate if you don’t make the choice yourself. People who use matching services generally have a set of criteria they want their roommates to fulfill — criteria those roommates rarely meet. Students who stick with random selection have fewer expectations. They’re probably satisfied with “is clean and doesn’t watch me sleep,” so it’s far harder to be truly disappointed.
Yes, college is full of changes, but you can avoid most new experiences by hiding in your room — unless it’s inhabited by someone you didn’t choose. USC should encourage incoming freshmen to take a leap of faith and leave the roommate choice to a random computer assignment.
Maya Itah is a junior majoring in communication and international relations.