For one freshman suite, the problems began with petty thievery. A Blue Book, a notebook, Directed Studies papers — all the items ended up on the same girl’s side of a double room.
“Everything was being stolen,” said a senior, who said she does not want to be identified by her real name to avoid embarassing the roommate in question. “Candy, batteries, Blue Books, the most random things. And if we confronted her about the problem, she still wouldn’t admit that there was one.”
To worsen issues, the girl’s side of the room smelled bad, the senior said. Her suitemates later discovered the student was incontinent.
The suite brought their case to their freshman counselor. Together, they decided that the girl should switch into a single in the suite. But the problems kept happening. Ultimately, with their residential college dean’s involvement, the girl moved off Old Campus and into a single in her college.
For most students, problems with roommates are as solvable as they are common. Occasionally, however, a situation becomes so desperate that somebody has to leave. Colleges vary in the number of spare rooms that they keep open for emergencies. Some colleges do not have any rooms open at all. But administrators and freshman counselors agree: Even if there are singles for students to move into, it is always the last resort.
When the senior’s suitemate decided to move out, there were no singles remaining in her college. An upperclassman had to move out of his single and into a different suite so that she could take his room.
Each college varies in how many singles it has open, said Stephen Lassonde, dean of Calhoun College. Calhoun currently has no singles free. If a student ultimately needs to move out of a room — which happens in his college every two years or so — then they would have to displace someone else, he said.
Because so many more people accepted their admittance to Yale this year than expected, space is at a premium, said Nicole Shiflett ’06, a freshman counselor in Calhoun.
“The administrators basically said [to the Calhoun freshman counselors], ‘You know, we’ve heard people talk about ‘psycho singles.’ We don’t have them. We’re not going to be able to move people into them,’” Shiflett said.
At colleges like Branford, which has more stand-alone singles, keeping one or two rooms empty is a little bit easier.
“There are always a few spare rooms that we can use for emergency issues,” Branford Master Steven Smith said.
But the image most students think of when they talk about these rooms is incorrect, Smith said. The spare rooms are not apart from the rest of the college, but are integrated. And they are not any different from the other rooms, he said.
For a junior who also chose to withhold his name to protect his roommates’ privacy, a single was waiting for him when the situation with his suitemates became desperate. And, he said, it was very much like the common perceptions of those rooms: It was next to his college dean’s office, and it had a button to press for medical emergencies.
The junior’s problems with his freshman-year suitemates began as soon as he met them. An international student, he was placed with three white athletes from the same city.
“From the first day, I felt like the different person in the room,” he said. “They wake up at the same time in the morning, they always watch T.V., drink beer, eat pizza. I felt really lonely in that room. They were sometimes making fun of me, even making fun of the fact that I come from a different country and have different manners.”
At the same time, the junior said, he was constantly cleaning the suite, while his roommates refused to lift a finger. The trash was overflowing; spiders had taken up permanent residence in the common room. The students could not resolve any of their problems without help, the junior said, so he went to the college dean.
The dean told him there was a single free in his college. The dean would let him live there the remaining five weeks of the fall term, but wanted him to leave most of his belongings in his old room, just to continue to have a presence there and have a relationship with his suitemates. They would revisit the question after break.
So the junior moved into the empty single, but returned to his room occasionally. At the end of the five weeks, the suitemates had apologized and seemed to have matured, he said. He returned to the suite for his second semester.
“It wasn’t the best semester I had, but we say hi, and we talk now,” he said.
Situations like the junior’s that begin with mediation and end up resolving themselves exemplify how room issues are ideally handled, administrators and freshman counselors said.
“We put a very strong emphasis on working out problems,” Shiflett said. “We live with such different people, with such diversity. The point of putting us together in certain rooms is to get a really diverse group in a single suite, and so there are going to be issues. But that’s the point. You’re going to have issues with people, and you are going to have to deal with them.”
First, Shiflett and others said, the suite should try to solve their problems themselves. They should then bring it to the freshman counselors. If nothing works, the issue goes to the college’s dean, who will ultimately decide if anyone should move.
For one Pierson junior, the process simply took too long.
Issues with her freshman-year roommate began in September, she said. She and her roommate met with the college dean and three freshman counselors. Ultimately, though, mediation failed, and the roommate moved into an immediately available empty single in Swing Space. By the time the move occurred, it was mid-October; the junior felt the move should have occurred earlier.
“If two people can’t stand each other, it’s not our fault; you put us together,” she said. “If [the college] had an open room, they should have just fixed it immediately.”
Still, there is no hard-and-fast policy for room switches, administrators said. Each case is individual, and some may take longer to resolve than others.
“There are some situations where we will speak to students and we feel they haven’t tried hard enough, and there are others where you go in and you realize it’s just reached a breaking point,” Smith said. “You have to go with what feels right.”