College can be a hostile environment when you’re on your own for the first time.
And if you’re stuck with a horror-story roommate – one who snores loudly, comes home intoxicated every night or always needs “alone time” with their significant other – it can be even worse.
But even so, it’s not like switching rooms on the Hill is a way out. When it comes to UCLA Residential Life, students are left to fend for themselves. On the UCLA Housing website, the university recommends that, due to space constraints, students who want to switch rooms should look for someone else in their situation and make the swap themselves.
The university makes some sort of attempt to facilitate this process through awkward room swap mixers – think speed dating for people who hate their living situation early in fall quarter. Students must also fill out a formal transfer request online with approval from a resident or community director.
Needless to say, the process is slow – the room swap events take place approximately three weeks after the official move-in date. That means students are forced to live in an uncomfortable housing situation for the beginning of the quarter.
In order to support students through the already difficult transition of starting college, UCLA Housing needs to take an active role in an even more uncomfortable transition – switching rooms. In doing so, UCLA can facilitate this process without forcing students to switch their living situations on their own. Students should expect guidance and support from their university – and their home – for the next four years.
And students aren’t exactly asking for systemic changes.
The least UCLA could do would be to create online resources for students to match with roommates who have similar preferences, or even establish a message board for interested parties.
For some students left on the hunt for new homes, the process was smooth sailing. Michael Palermo, a second-year environmental science student, said the process was a breeze when his friend filled a vacant spot in his room.
“One of my roommates moved out during week six last year, and my friend wanted to move in,” Palermo said. “We told our (residential assistants) about the switch, and he moved in a couple of days later.”
But not all students have it so easy. Georgie McKeon, a second-year English student, couldn’t find someone to switch rooming assignments with her in August. She said she eventually found a switch, but it was tough.
“Even though Housing obviously knows which rooms have spots that need to be filled, they couldn’t give me that information,” McKeon said. “So I had to make a Facebook in order to join a Facebook group, so I could find people who were also trying to switch rooms – it’s a long process.”
The difference between the two situations highlights the university’s reluctance to help students change living situations if it creates extra work for administrators. They have no problem with students moving – they just don’t want to help them.
“It feels like if you have some issue with your living situation, that’s your fault and it’s up to you,” McKeon said.
And this seems to be how the university really feels.
According to a statement from ResLife, people more often than not want to switch rooms rather than confront the problem that is causing them to want to move out.
“Generally speaking, Residential Life sees many situations where students want to change rooms versus even mentioning issues to their roommates,” ResLife said in an email statement.
An online portal would allow students in similar housing situations the opportunity to switch. The hardest thing about swapping roommates is finding someone in a similar situation, and an online portal would bring students together quickly, without the need for administrative intervention.
This isn’t just something students want – they need it.
“They should have a portal on MyUCLA where you can find someone to switch with,” McKeon said. “Something that is more official and associated with the university.”
ResLife recommends that students ask their RAs to mediate conflicts if they don’t feel comfortable with confronting their roommates on their own, but a student shouldn’t be forced to confront someone if they don’t feel comfortable or safe in doing so.
Additionally, a spot in a classic triple costs at least $12,000 per year, according to the UCLA Housing website. If a student is not totally satisfied with their living situation, the university should jump at the chance to help them, given the amount they pay to live on the Hill.
Yet, UCLA believes this is a priceless life lesson for students.
“Confrontation/mediation skills need to be developed – working through a challenging roommate situation will allow a person to practice these skills in a safe environment where staff are on hand to support them,” ResLife said in an email statement. “Conflict in life is messy, challenging, and ultimately, unavoidable.”
There is some merit to what Res Life is saying. Students need to learn conflict resolution at some point if they don’t already know it when they move in. But issues that make a student want to move out aren’t generally trivial matters. Students want to change roommates when they have genuine concerns and need help solving them.
The UCLA student portal already has tons of resources, so adding a platform for students to meet potential roommate swaps isn’t asking too much. It would speed up the process, be regulated by the university and make students – especially new students – feel more welcome living on the Hill.
Obviously there are life lessons to be taught – but the university has a responsibility to its students, its residents and its clients to create a safe environment for each and every one of them.
Students need UCLA to feel like a home away from home, but it never will if they don’t feel comfortable going home in the first place.