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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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Selecting A Roomate


A few new websites have cropped up where college students can search for prospective roommates. And it’s no surprise, given the age we live in. Had I been a freshman this year, I would have checked out any one of the sites in hopes of laying to rest one of my biggest worries about starting university. But looking back, I am glad to have spent two semesters with my freshman roommate even though – or rather, because – she was so different from me. Our tastes differed in just about everything and while at times I desperately wished to be rid of her debauchery, I can’t say that I regret being paired with her. My “ideal roommate” is still someone who shares my love of reading, philosophizing and debating, but I have found such ideal qualities in the person sitting next to me in class or down the hall.

Beginning freshman year, I consoled myself that if my roommate turned out to be pesky or disruptive, I would at least have the option of staying away from her by frequenting friends’ rooms or paying extended visits to virtually any building on campus. Then, the thought gripped me that keeping away from my room might seem like a feckless forfeiture. Put another way, my roommate – who had been transformed into my archenemy in the space of two seconds – would interpret this as a tacit agreement to let her have the room all to herself, all day long. It would then only be a matter of time before she held regular parties in the suite and defiled my belongings in drunken malice. Talk about paranoia. Luckily, my fears quickly subsided once I discovered that my roommate was a considerate, friendly and funny person, with whom I might speak freely about worries of any kind.

All this is not to suggest that searching for roommates online is a waste of time. Some students (and parents) will find it a great comfort to be paired with someone they are somewhat acquainted with, even if superficially. Indeed, where incoming freshmen once had a paucity of information about each other before moving in, social networking sites have done much to fill in the background and personality lacunae. But a closer look reveals something unsettling: the process of selecting the “right” roommate online leads students to discriminate against each other on the basis of a few arbitrary traits. This, by far, is the biggest problem with such services; in choosing the “most compatible” roommate, one ineluctably indulges in stereotypes. It is true that students paired with strangers also hold prejudices, but they are in a better position than their pro-choice counterparts to annul certain prejudices by actually living with someone they might not have given a thought to otherwise. College officials are right to insist that the random pairing of freshmen prepares students for the real world. Coexisting with peers of different temperaments, tastes and talents teaches students to become more mature and informed citizens, which we can never have too many of.

Some people readily compare roommate-scouting services with online dating services, but I hesitate to make such a comparison. If such an analogy holds, then it makes as much sense to say that those who do not use such services are either already in happy relationships or accept arranged marriages. This, of course, is absurd on more than one level, and the biggest inconsistency in such analogies lies in the peoples’ motives. Students searching for roommates online are driven to such sites in the first place out of regard for their own independence whereas users of dating sites are looking for partners, some might even say soul mates, to whom they will sacrifice some of their independence in the process of developing a relationship. Silly analogies like the ones above either misunderstand the implicit meaning of relationships or forget that the college years are, above all, about becoming truly independent and coming into one’s own. Being paired with someone you don’t know diminishes your independence no more than does being paired with someone you know. It may seem valiant to try to take control of your own “destiny” and map out your existence, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the true value of a college education lies in interacting with all sorts of people, and forming friendships facilitated by fate. Ultimately, the decision to choose or not choose is yours. Choose wisely.

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