In Choosing Roommates, Deans Become Matchmakers

Miranda K. Lippold-johnson

These freshman roommates in Weld all hail from different parts of the Western Hemisphere. Between the six of them, they speak at least seven different languages.

Jacob A. Brandt ’14, Kyle E. Rawding ’14, and James Brooks ’14 all play guitar and piano.

Da-Bin Ryu ’14 wanted to live with an international student, and Samantha M. Barkowski ’14 went to Jordan and traveled to Kuwait during her gap year. Their third roommate, Sarah Abushaar ’14, is from Kuwait.

And Shirley Z. Ai ’14, Shee Mungai ’14, and Shelbi Olson ’14—well, their names show part of their common thread.

While this final group’s similarity is a coincidence, the fact that these roommates have similar—but not too similar, they say—personalities and interests is the product of a careful and unusually nuanced process, in which resident deans hand-select rooming assignments for freshmen.

COLORS AND CARTOONS

Multimedia

The day is June 10, and Resident Dean of Freshmen Sue Brown embarks upon what will be a five-week quest: sorting 398 first-years into rooms in Grays, Matthews, and Weld Halls.

Much of this task remains the same as it has been in years past. She sorts freshmen largely by hand, thoroughly reading incoming freshmen’s responses to roommate questionnaires. During the process, her floor is covered with a mass of paper that is eventually divided into nine distinct piles—one of the early steps in the lengthy matchmaking process.

But in the midst of that process, technology rears its head. In Adobe Acrobat, Brown categorizes freshmen, using colors to sort the incoming students by geography and stamping the freshmen’s rooming surveys with various logos made in Photoshop. A cartoon of a chess piece marks a chess player. A compass is reserved for the “curious and adventurous” freshman, Brown says.

Emblazoned with colors and cartoons, the surveys are printed out and scattered on a floor in Brown’s home. From there, she divides the students into three categories based on students’ self-reported levels of sociability.

Social tendencies are one of the most important factors in determining roommate compatibility “because it’s going to be something that will come between roommates before they ever really get to know each other,” she says.

But other factors matter as well, Brown adds. From the sleeping habits freshmen keep and the sports they play, to the neatness they maintain and the number of roommates they want, the resident deans take into account a slew of determinants of each first-year’s personality.

Some factors, like musical tastes, are often stronger predictors of compatibility than others, according to Brown.

“If you can find a group of guys who all like rap and country/western,” she says, “you think, ‘They might get along.’”

ATHLETICS AND ARABIC

A group of guys lives in Matthews, and they all like rap and country music. And so far, they get along great.

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