Move-In Match Game
Housing and Residential Education has a plan to help all first-years feel comfortable in their new homes
A lot has changed in university housing over the years. The buildings are newer, the amenities are greater, the technology for making friends is stronger.
What’s stayed the same? The qualms about coming to campus to live with a complete stranger.
“I think a lot of students who are coming in have never lived with anyone, other than maybe a sibling,” says Mandy Whitehouse, the University of Denver’s director of housing. And most students have questions. “How do I engage with someone? Are we going to be friends? Are we not?”
Whitehouse and her team at Housing and Residential Education (HRE) are tasked with answering those questions and making life in the residence halls comfortable for the roughly 1,400 first-year students who will move in on Labor Day.
The process for doing so begins as early as the previous October. HRE begins to update its housing application so it’s ready for use by the December early admission deadline. As students choose to attend DU, they fill out the application and create a housing profile that allows them to search for and select a roommate while also recording their preferences for an ideal living scenario.
The required survey asks students to evaluate their attitudes about cleanliness, noise preferences, sleep habits, daily routines, thoughts on guests spending the night and feelings about sharing items within the room.
The data collected, Whitehouse says, gives students the best chance of matching with a compatible roommate. But pairing someone with a new best friend isn’t exactly the point.
“They’re not always going to love who they’re placed with,” she says. “Maybe they do and that’s phenomenal, but there’s also times where it doesn’t work out. Learning those life skills of how to become an adult, be independent, be accountable for what’s happening, conflict resolution, communication — those are all things we want to foster and encourage.”
A team of 89 resident assistants (RAs) and 21 professional staff is standing by to help and guide students through the check-in process. On move-in day, the RAs organize meetings to help the students get to know one another on an individual and group level. Roommates complete written agreements to facilitate open communication and understanding of each individual’s personal boundaries.
For the times when a living arrangement absolutely doesn’t work out, HRE has a safety valve. The third week of fall quarter, any resident can change rooms for any reason. Students line up on a first-come, first-serve basis and can move to another open space on their floor, in their building, or in a different building.
But long before the quarter begins, to set themselves up for success, HRE recommends students put biases aside and avoid conducting an extensive social media search on their new roommate.
“We advise students to keep an open mind as they come, to not have a predisposition of who their roommate is going to be,” says John Ganzar, HRE’s assistant director of operations. “We hear a lot of stories about students doing research on their potential roommate, which doesn’t really give a full picture of who this person is.”
Adds Whitehouse: “People are really dynamic. There’s more to them than one identity or one piece about them that may not be what you expected or wanted in your roommate. Give that person that opportunity to at least meet and see if there’s more to them than what you’ve seen on their profile.”
HRE reminds students that there’s also more to the college experience than the housing experience. Classes, clubs, activities and affinity groups can all provide a social boost.
DU offers a number of theme-based Living and Learning Communities (LLCs) to connect students with similar interests. Programming includes special dinners, speakers, cultural activities and field trips, offering an opportunity to form relationships on a deeper level.
The LLCs are just one of the ways HRE has adapted to the changing student experience. The office does its best to work specifically with students who need special accommodations.
“It’s a very holistic approach to our students because there’s a lot to them,” Whitehouse says. “They’re dynamic, and there are a lot of things we need to pay attention to. Living is that space that we want them to be able to come home to and feel comfortable.”