BLUFFTON – A Bluffton University football schedule hangs on the door, and inside freshmen Tyler Carroll and Mario Dias live pretty comfortably together even though they just met a few short months ago.
“The only thing I really requested was another football player,” Dias, of Cincinnati, said of the online questionnaire incoming Bluffton students fill out before someone manually matches roommates.
Dias and Carroll, of Napoleon, give their matchmaker an eight out of 10, saying no one can be perfect.
“I wanted someone outgoing and pretty chilled,” said Carroll, who also requested a football teammate. “We haven’t had any problems at all.”
Leaving home and coming to school to live with a stranger can be a little daunting for college freshmen. Schools try hard to find good matches, but it’s not always possible.
“We have friends, and one gets really mad when the other is messy,” said Dias, who cleans just enough for Carroll’s liking.
Ohio Northern University junior Tiffany Kneuss, of Dennison, is a resident assistant and hears her share of complaints, but also is able to help the roommates find some common ground.
“People fight over anything,” she said. “You hear a lot about how it is loud in a room and somebody likes it quiet.”
While most schools have moved to software that electronically matches students, Bluffton still does it by hand. That means Jackie Wells, director of residence life, takes about 250 housing questionnaires and goes to work. Basically, she has to stereotype students based on a piece of paper.
“I have been hit or miss, either right on and people have stayed roommates all four years to people who are like, ‘I am the polar opposite of this person,’” she said. “I do put a lot of time into it. I sit on them for awhile to make sure I feel good about the matches I am making. I do understand that they are not all going to work.”
Students get asked a series of questions: Everything from how involved on campus they want to be and what kind of relationship they want to have with a roommate to their music interests, study habits, when they get up in the morning, their feelings on room visitors and how often they clean their rooms.
“I always look at the cleanliness because that is a big complaint I get,” Wells said. “Even if everything else matches, I probably wouldn’t match someone who said they cleaned every day with someone who cleaned once a month.”
The questionnaire ends with a space for students to express the most important thing regarding their living space. Some write nothing, Wells said, while others write a long, detailed paragraph. Students are more willing today to live with someone different from them, Wells added.
“In some ways students are becoming more open-minded about living with people from a diverse environment than they are,” she said. “But it also causes those students who are not ready for that to really, really be specific about ‘I don’t want to live with an international student’ or ‘I want to make sure I live with someone who is heterosexual.”
Ohio Northern moved from matching manually to a software program six years ago. Students are still asked questions about things such as music preferences, how quiet they need it to study and interests. The software then does the matching, but school officials double-check it before assigning roommates. The process cuts down on a lot of time.
“For the most part it works really well,” said Justin Courtney, director of residence life and career services. “Of course there are some issues. Maybe a student is a little idealist. They say they are a morning person, but then you find out they sleep until noon every day.”
IMPOSSIBLE TO BE PERFECT
Sometimes the matches aren’t great because student answers are a little off. Sometimes a student is thinking about their high school schedule when answering. Or even worse, a parent fills out the information.
“All of a sudden they go to bed at 9:30 and wake up at 6 a.m.,” Wells said.
Both schools try to work with students when conflicts come up. Normally resident assistants are able handle things without issues even getting to Courtney.
“I believe strongly in mediation and we definitelytry to teach students that,” he said, saying that usually problems are age-old issues of lack of communication and disrespect.
That mediation sometimes goes better with male students, Kneuss said. Male students are also a little less likely to complain.
“With girls, it seems like once they get mad, they kind of stay mad,” she said.
Wells said men have a higher threshold for discomfort and don’t mind living with someone they might not have anything in common with.
About half of Bluffton roommates continue to live with each other past their freshman year. Freshman Rileigh Zickafoose, of Lima, thinks already that might be the case with roommate Kenzi Lauber, of Mansfield. Zickafoose had a rough start, being matched with a roommate who withdrew from Bluffton just a few weeks before move-in day.
“It was kind of troubling,” she said. “I thought it would be kind of nice to have a room for myself, but at the same time I wouldn’t have a person to do things with.”
Zickafoose had watched an older brother and sister get roommates at Bluffton that didn’t pan out as they would have liked. And she has since heard stories of roommates barely talking to each other, including one whose roommate has yet to sleep in the room. Yet, she and Lauber became fast friends.
“It happened really fast, but I got lucky,” she said.
Lauber decided on Bluffton late, so really worried about who she would end up with.
“I figured that all the roommates had been matched up already and I was nervous about who I would get, and would it be someone with the same interests,” she said. “I was really nervous but it worked out really well and I am glad she is my roommate.”
SOCIAL MEDIA EASES ANXIETY
While they only had three weeks, Zickafoose and Lauber got to know each other pretty well thanks to text messaging and Facebook.
“I looked at her [on Facebook] and was like, ‘She is blond and has a really cute outfit on, she is probably really girlie like I am,’” Zickafoose said. “Before I talked to her, I was a little worried, but once we started texting and I saw her on Facebook, I was pretty sure we would make good roommates.”
Dias and Carroll first contacted each other through Facebook and say the same is true for many students. Kneuss said it is a good way to get to know each other, especially for those who aren’t comfortable on the phone.
Wells warns of judging a student too much by their Facebook page. Occasionally she gets requests for a room change before students arrive for the school year.
Both Bluffton and ONU make students stay where they were assigned for at least a couple of weeks. Approved moves then often depend on the issue and available housing.
“I always tell students it is going to feel awkward no matter what,” Wells said. “You are sharing a small space with someone you have never met before.”