Residential Life and residential resentment
Susquehanna Hall at UMBC. In this residential hall, there are four students to a suite (two bedrooms and a bathroom). Photo courtesy of Jack Alcott via Wikimedia Commons.

Residential Life and residential resentment

Finding a good set of roommates can feel like playing the lottery. Even if the people someone plans to live with are their friends, sometimes everyone’s living styles do not mesh. In some cases, the living situation can become toxic and stressful, prompting a search for a new roommate or new living space.

When living on the UMBC campus, finding new roommates mid-semester can feel impossible. Even if roommates are mentally or emotionally abusive, UMBC’s solution is to have them talk in a group with the residence hall’s Resident Assistant.

If the problem is not solved by the RA, then the student can choose to go to the Community Director. Even then, the solution is usually conversation based, attempting to negotiate the problem away. Sometimes the conflict cannot be solved by asking the offending party to stop.

One student, Dakota Simons, a sophomore psychology major who lives on campus, had his request to move rooms within his suite into an empty space cancelled without notification. He and his suitemate, who were raising a complaint against the third student, emailed the RA several times with no response.

“[ResLife] contacted [the third student’s] parents, talked with them, realized [our situation] was not going to change, and allowed me to move,” Simons explained. ResLife ignoring Simons’ and his friend’s complaints and only taking action after parents got involved undermines the students’ agency.

Shortly after move in, ResLife requires roommates to sign a roommate agreement, promising to each other and ResLife that they will treat each other and the apartment with respect. Simons’ dissatisfaction with his roommate was specifically outlined in his roommate agreement. Theoretically, the written agreement is enforceable by ResLife. However, it took going to Lauren Mauriello, the Conduct Officer and Assistant Director of Residential Life, to have his complaints addressed.

Luckily, Simons did not want to leave his suite, just the room he was assigned to. If one requests a room change, they must do it in a short window of time that may end before the conflict even begins. To change rooms, person-to-person swap only, all roommates in the unit must sign agreement forms.

Students pay upward of $3,500 to live in a residence hall or apartment with three other students, not including the $2,000 or more they also pay for a meal plan on campus. No student should ever have to compromise their physical or emotional safety while at university, especially not while paying such a steep price to even live there.

It does seem like it would be difficult to find a new room for every person who wishes to change when almost every room is full. That is why UMBC should keep a cache of empty rooms on hand for students to move into in case of stressful or abusive roommate situations.

Eyewitness accounts in Erickson and Harbor say that even the kitchen areas are being used as overflow rooms. It seems like, as of now, there are not any options for empty rooms on campus. One possible solution to this is to restrict the number of students allowed to apply for housing. International and out of state students would be first considered, then freshmen, and then the students who live too far away to reach campus without cars.

Another, more difficult, solution would be for UMBC to take some of the money that they choose to pour into event centers and research buildings, and construct more dormitories and parking garages. The university likes to brag about how quickly it is growing, without making any room for those new students.

Simons offered another solution to ResLife. Because changing rooms requires the student who complains to know where they want to move, Simons said “[ResLife] should keep track of who makes complaints” and move students accordingly.

Removing students from toxic roommate situations should be the most important thing for ResLife to get done, and the quickest handled. Marking off who is complaining about who and not expecting students to supervise room openings would be a good start.