At this point during his freshman year, Chris Hanson ’05 knew he hated his roommate. But for the past two years, he has chosen to live with him.
“Sometime around February of freshman year I started to adapt more to his standards, and he adapted to a little of mine,” he said. “We became really good friends.”
Despite the increased use of online matching programs, which allow incoming freshmen to choose their own roommates based on certain characteristics, Yale decided to continue its tradition of assigning freshmen suites for the Class of 2007. Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said students are matched with an eye towards creating diverse suites. Students like Hanson said the system helped them make friends with people they might never have gotten to know otherwise.
“I know an awful lot of people who stayed with the same suitemates through senior year,” Trachtenberg said. “Ninety-nine, maybe 98 percent of problems get worked out. It comes to a detente, so even if people don’t respect each other’s habits, they grin and bear it.”
Trachtenberg said Yale has tried a more student-participatory form of roommate matching in the past, but the results were not as good as with the present system.
“It didn’t work very well,” she said. “We found some coercion going on. The parents were urging their kids to room with certain people, so we don’t do that anymore.”
Hanson said he would never have chosen his freshman year roommate, Alistair Anagnostou ’05, but living with him turned out to be an important experience. As sophomores and juniors, Hanson and Anagnostou created a four-person suite with two mutual friends who also lived together as freshmen. The two do not share a room, but enjoy living in the same suite, Hanson said.
“When I look at everyone in this school, I look at it as, ‘I can be friends with them, because if I can be friends with Alistair, I can be friends with everyone,'” Hanson said. “I think it’s just good to step out of your own shoes.”
From the beginning, it was obvious that the two had very different life styles. Anagnostou was messy; Hanson was obsessively neat. Anagnostou liked to do his work late at night; Hanson did everything far in advance and had trouble sleeping while Anagnostou worked on his papers past midnight.
“We were as different in living styles as two people could be. I had been living at boarding school for two years, [and] Chris had been living under his mother’s arm,” Anagnostou said. “Unfortunately we were both in [Directed Studies], so we had a sort of comparable workload, so I would have to watch him finish his reading at 10 p.m., and he would ask repeatedly every hour [after that] how my work was going.”
But the two eventually managed to learn to get along with each other. The most crucial step, Hanson said, was moving beyond the “middle school mentality” and getting to know his roommate in a different social context, where mutual friends would show Hanson his roommate’s good qualities.
“We started hanging out, because before we never used to hang out, we would just be in the room together and have limited conversations,” Hanson said. “Everyone in our class still thinks it’s so weird, because you can’t find two more people more opposite than me and Alistair.”
At a school like Emory, where students pick their own roommates, the two might never have spent any time together during their four years at college. Emory and a half-dozen other universities across the country use a roommate matching program called WebRoomz, which allows students to post profiles under a screen name that detail work habits, music preferences and other personal information. Students contact those students with whom they share the most similar answers and then contact them via e-mail to make the final decision.
Phoebe Heffron ’04 and Carla Federman ’04 are two students who have spent their entire time at Yale together. They shared a room as freshmen and have chosen to live together for the past three years. Both said they might never have become so close without the current roommate matching system.
“We do a lot of completely different stuff,” Heffron said. “We are both big sports fans, but other than that, we basically have completely different interests academically [and] extracurricularly.”
Both participate in intramural sports, but Heffron is a member of the equestrian team and the marching band, while Federman is interested in technical theater and involved in the Dramat.
As freshmen, the two shared what Heffron called “the smallest double that anyone had ever lived in on this campus.” Sophomore and junior years, they even volunteered to live in a double. This year, they have singles for the first time but still live in the same suite.
“We kind of just have that interaction where we’re both smartasses and we know not to get offended by what the other person says and does,” Federman said.
Both Heffron and Hanson agreed that flexibility is key.
“We are both accommodating people and pretty laid back about stuff,” Heffron said. “It didn’t matter that I’d wake up in the morning, and she’d still be asleep, and she’d go to bed at [2 a.m.].”
Jennifer Chi ’04 and Rachel Barish ’04 are, as far as they know, the only freshman counselors who have lived together for four years straight. Freshmen year, they were roommates, and they have shared three-room doubles ever since. They knew as soon as they met that they would be friends, Barish said.
“We both ran for [Freshmen Class Council] and we both got it,” Chi said. “We actually asked if we could be on the ballot together. We couldn’t run together, but we made our posters together.”
Similarly, as juniors they both applied to be freshman counselors and were just as fortunate.
“It makes our freshmen really excited,” Barish said. “They love it, because it gives them hope. Our dean announced it on the first night, when she said, ‘We hope we did a good job with roommates.'”
Like others who still live with freshman year roommates, Chi and Barish said their relationship is based on good-natured kidding and looking out for each other. They said this has led to a sense that they are closer than mere friends.
“After living with Jen for four years, I definitely have a different relationship with her than I do with anyone else,” Barish said. “She’s much more like family to me than anyone else here.”