After the hubbub of move-in day and Welcome Week dies down, every new Trojan comes to the realization that they now share a small room with another person. Their roommate may be a best friend from high school, someone they connected with on Facebook or a stranger. Regardless, having a new roommate plays a key role in the freshman year experience and shapes the years to follow. So, USC Housing should assign all freshmen their roommates, without giving the option to request their own.
When half of freshmen rush to social media to judge profiles in search of a roommate they can request, it creates an environment of anxiety before a student even takes his or her first step on campus. The other half of freshmen opt out of requesting their own roommate, some simply because they are overwhelmed with the process of finding their own and fear rejection.
Currently, incoming freshmen fill out an online application that provides them with matches of potential roommates based on their own answers. Christopher Ponsiglione, director of USC Housing, said that USC tries to “match roommates of similar tastes and preferences when a preferred roommate is not requested.” To make these matches and manage contracting and assignments, USC Housing uses a software suite called StarRez.
The application asks students questions to rate themselves on things that include cleanliness, sleep-schedule, interest in the Greek system, preferred noise level, comfortability with visitors, interest in religious organizations and smoking preferences. Mr. Ponsiglione said that StarRez then uses an auto-allocate algorithm to match students with similar answers, placing an emphasis on smoking preference, usually a number one priority for students. Finally, the student can request to room with one of the matches provided, someone else not on the generated list or opt for USC Housing to pair them with someone else.
The process of finding a roommate can be overwhelming, especially for those who immediately go on a frenzied search to request a roommate. After being admitted, a typical freshman who decides to request their own roommate will create a Facebook account and post an advertisement-like introduction in search for a roommate. Then, they scroll through Facebook posts of students who are also looking for a roommate, claiming they “love to go out and have fun but are also down to stay in and watch Netflix” until they hopefully find someone who resonates with them. After what seems like mere minutes, people begin pairing off and securing roommates.
Social media only heightens the problem that, when given the option to pick a roommate, students gravitate toward those who look like them or come from a similar background. College offers a person the unique opportunity to venture out of their comfort zone and be exposed to new ideas and people. If USC used questionnaires to match all freshmen, students would meet a broader range of people. Additionally, the stress of requesting someone would cease and students would likely end up with a better roommate than if they picked one themselves.
Case in point: Hamilton College in New York does not allow freshmen to choose their own roommates. At first, Rachel Harshaw, a 2017 graduate, said she was very unhappy with this policy. She was initially guarded with her suitemates because she did not expect to get along with them. However, after getting to know them during the year, they became her best friends who she now lives with post-graduation.
As we approach housing reassignments this week, USC Housing should do more to match students as roommates so that reassignments can be avoided at all costs.
In fact, a 2015-2016 school year survey conducted by the research firm SkyFactor on over 20,000 students from 15 distinct universities, with different roommate pairing processes, found that only 10% of students asked for reassignments. The SkyFactor survey illustrates that, if given enough information, schools can make good matches that lead to long-lasting friendships like Harshaw experienced at Hamilton.
The first step to USC Housing accurately matching roommates is for them to update their application process by gathering more robust information. Although the current questions suffice for basic living preferences, they need to ask deeper questions to match roommates that won’t simply coexist, but will befriend and learn from one another. A personality test, for example, could pair students with complementary personalities and potentially mesh seeming opposites, like introverts with extroverts.
Once procuring more insightful information, USC Housing should create a job for people to match incoming freshmen, instead of just using an algorithm like StarRez. At Stanford University, for example, paid undergraduate students match all roommates. Real people can account for the intricacies and nuances of human behavior and put more thought into matches, which may lead to more successful pairings.
The first year of college is both an exciting and scary time that should push students out of their comfort zone. Therefore, USC Housing would better fulfill the ultimate goal of college by abandoning its current system. Because, in the end, although classes are extremely important, the biggest impact on students beyond their diploma are the people they met and the relationships they form.