New web services allow college freshman to pick their roommates based on compatibility. We think it's a crappy idea.
Lisa Foderaro of the Times writes about sites like URoomSurf.com, which matched up NYU freshmen Maddi Gilje and Amanda Dudley. The two "both eat vegetarian food, advocate for animal rights, play guitar and favor the same indie rock acts, Bright Eyes and Regina Spektor." Says Gildje of her decision to choose her roommate online, "I really didn't want to leave it to chance. My sister woke up her first night of college and drunk people were poking her, asking where her roommate was. That's when I realized I'm not going through that."
But getting poked by drunk people is sort of a rite of passage, and the good, old-fashioned assigned roommate is one way of introducing students to the realities of the wider world. It's not always possible to select who you interact with based on eating habits and musical taste, and it might be a good thing for 18-year-olds to get used to getting along with people they wouldn't necessarily choose for themselves. This is especially true of the population of college kids the Times often focuses on: relatively sheltered middle-class teenagers entering four-year institutions. In another story this weekend, Trip Gabriel wrote that these kids' helicopter parents (except apparently they're "Velcro parents" now?) sometimes have to be pried away using special "Parting Ceremonies." If these kids have been so protected by their parents for so long, shouldn't they at least get a taste of someone a little different?
I went off to college when Facebook was just a gleam in Mark Zuckerberg's eye, and services like URoomSurf were unheard of. I'm pretty sure my freshman roommate and I were matched up because I was born in Virginia, and she had once lived there. We didn't become friends, but we got along well, and I learned a lot from her — she knew what she wanted more than any eighteen-year-old I'd ever met, and she'd traveled so much that she could plunge into a new group of people and be (or at least act) totally comfortable within minutes. I didn't think she'd learned all that much from me — I was in the room less and less as the year wore on, and most of my time there was spent programming and eating Pop Tarts. But when we were about to move out in June she turned to me and said, reflectively, "My friends have a different sense of humor from you. It's more ... stupid."
She didn't mean her friends were actually dumb, just that they liked to be goofy and silly in a way I didn't, and I had a different way of making people laugh. Given the opportunity to size up potential roommates beforehand, she probably would have picked somebody louder, sillier, and way cleaner. I might have chosen someone who liked Beck and brooding and who thought drawing a pig eating its own baby was the funniest thing ever. And we both would've been challenged a little less, and graduated, I think, with our minds a little narrower. I know I learned a lot from the experience of living with someone who wasn't into the things I was into — paramount among which, at age eighteen, was myself. And I worry that if students can pick roommates who could be their "twins," they won't learn that other possible selves exist.
Image via NYT