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Sizing up UM’s roommate process

See also: Roommates from Hell

The cement block walls, the metal, shuttered windows and the cramped quarters may make the dorms on campus feel like jail cells, especially if the assigned roommate behaves more like a convict than a friend.

At the University of Miami, incoming freshmen are matched with roommates based on gender, majors, housing preferences and smoking habits. But that may change for next year’s freshman class.

“We’re looking into a roommate matching system that we hope to roll out in the fall,” said Gilbert Arias, assistant vice president for Student Affairs. “It will involve a questionnaire on the students’ part and will look similar to Facebook.”

Arias noted that the new roommate selection process is only in preliminary stages and does not have a definite date for completion.

The university uses 11 sister schools, including Tulane, Vanderbilt, New York University and Emory, for benchmarking purposes. Of these schools, only NYU shares the same randomized roommate selection UM currently uses.

Tulane’s system allows students to select their own roommates the summer before school begins. Joe Dimaria, area director for Housing and Residence Life at Tulane, said students fill out an online survey, which provides information that is complied into a large spreadsheet. Students may then download this spreadsheet and use it as a resource for choosing a suitable match.

At Emory, students use a process similar to a computer dating service. Incoming freshmen post profiles describing their personality, study habits and favorite foods, and then browse and contact potential roommates online.

Students attending Davidson College in North Carolina must take the Myers-Briggs personality profile. This test measures how extroverted or introverted a student is, and then matches that student with a complementary personality type.

“What it essentially does for us is help us take a large group and make it smaller,” said Leslie Urban, the associate director of Residence Life at Davidson. “We split the incoming class into 16 smaller groups of the Myers-Briggs types, which makes it a lot easier to find good solid matches. We buy into the philosophy that we don’t pair extroverts with introverts.”

Despite the advanced techniques in place at institutions like Davidson, Jon Baldessari, associate director of Residence Halls at UM, said there is a lack of data supporting these methods.

“Nationally no research has been done about this subject,” Baldessari said. “No research has shown better or worse placement than the way we do it.”

However, Urban said that more than 40 percent of sophomores choose to continue living with their freshman-year roommate, and 80 percent of seniors live with the roommate they were assigned freshman year. Urban attributes the successful matches to both the Myers-Briggs test and the overall process used at Davidson.

Urban said the Myers-Briggs test could be used at UM, where the incoming freshman class numbers approximately 2,000 students compared to Davidson’s 500.

“I think it could still help by breaking down a class of 2,000 into 16 smaller groups,” Urban said. “Then you could pair students within the Myers-Briggs philosophy rather than randomized selection.”

While Baldessari may not support personality tests, he said the university has one of the most liberal room change policies in the country.

“Starting from day one, if students aren’t happy where they’re assigned we’ll work with them to change their assignment,” Baldessari said.

In addition to UM’s sister schools, other Florida schools also use in-depth selection processes.

At Florida State University, where the freshman class dwarfs UM’s by approximately 4,000, students fill out a survey on sleeping and study habits in addition to housing preferences.
Some UM students believe that the university’s selection process should be more comprehensive.

Kevin Kohl, a sophomore, said he had a difficult living situation his freshman year.

“The only thing [my roommate and I]had in common was our majors,” Kohl said. “Sleeping patterns and studying patterns are definitely a big thing. He would always be up really late when I needed to get up early for my morning classes.”

Freshman Ruchi Babriwala agreed. “I definitely think people with certain sleep patterns should get matched together,” she said.

However, some students are doubtful that even the most extensive student survey could guarantee a compatible match.

“No matter how many questions they ask, you can still get a roommate [who]won’t fit,” Kate Gurri Glass, a sophomore, said. “Two people can be a great match on paper, but not in real life.”

Kelly Herson may be contacted at k.herson@umiami.edu.

September 20, 2007

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The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly on Thursdays during the regular academic year.