The Question: What is living with roommates actually like?

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Roomies posing in the igloo we built on the Main Green last winter (could fit 5 inside!).

Welcome to The Question, where you’ll get answers about life at Brown all year long! I’m Celina Stewart, and I’ll be bringing you insights (and photos!) into my fourth year at Brown and my answers to some of the questions I wish I’d asked before college. 

When it comes down to it, one of the constants of life in college – especially at Brown where you live on campus three of four years – is life with roommates. Even if you commute to school, you’ll likely spend time with friends in their rooms, which means spending time with their roommates. I know we have ample posts about roomies on this blog, but I figure the more info you can get about life at Brown, the better! As a senior, I’ve now lived with four different sets of roomies (well, five, actually, but you’ve got to read along to find out how!). So, what is living with roommates actually like?

Freshman year, you’re assigned a roommate by filling out a short questionnaire, which really just asks whether you want to live in a ‘special housing’ group (for example, substance free floors or quiet floors) and preferences about being up late or waking up early. Then, you’re put into a room with other freshmen, in a “unit” led by residential peer leaders (RPLs) which include Women’s Peer Counselors and Minority Peer Counselors. Together, you bond during freshman orientation with activities like “Unit Wars” which is essentially field day, with different halls competing against each other. As you settle in to school after orientation, usually the people on your hall become your close friends.

However, this random placement doesn’t always work out. Fortunately, you can switch around somewhat. I found myself hanging out early on at Brown with a group of people living in Perkins Hall, which fortunately is no longer a freshman residence. The primary reason this posed a problem for me was that Perkins is located on the east side of campus, while the main freshman housing (where I was initially placed) is very central. Despite the ease of walking to class and having a gym in my dorm, my initial roommate and I didn’t see each other that often, and I ended up having to walk all the way across campus every night (which, at the time was scary since the shuttle service and safety personnel were not nearly as available- its much safer now, don’t worry!). So, I moved myself into an empty bed in Perkins (yes, I’m probably the only person in the history of Brown to move to the worst dorm from the best dorm). There was no animosity between my first roomie and I- in fact, I think we could have been close friends, had either of us actually spent enough time to get to know each other initially. But, for practical reasons, I think it worked out for the best for both of us.

This was a great change, as when winter hit and we were all cooped up together in the dorms, I was with all of my friends. We played board games and card games, talked all the time, and used the hallways as joint study space. In fact, my hall-mates in Perkins are still close friends (to the point where 16 of us are heading on a trip for Spring Break together this year!).

When it came time to think about entering the housing lottery for sophomore year, we formed groups based on our “numbers” (basically, how early you get to pick housing in the lottery). My group ended up being myself and three of my male friends. The great thing about sophomore (and all housing, after freshman housing) is that its gender neutral, which means you can continue to live with someone of the same gender, but there is no reason you can’t be female and have a male roommate (or any combination you can think of). So, my male roomie and I lived next door to our friends in a double in Caswell Hall. The nice thing about this was that we were on a first floor, had access to the classrooms really easily, and had a nice basement gathering area. The bad news was that this invited people who were walking home to different parts of campus to just stop by whenever they liked, often to the annoyance to my roomie and I. This isn’t to say that I was unhappy people stopped by, but after a while, having my friends, my roommate’s friends, and whoever was walking home chilling in my room was distracting. In this situation, my roomie and I should have set better boundaries- establishing visiting hours or planning to meet with people in their rooms, rather than ours. Another downside was that the majority of our friends still lived on east campus because their housing number was lower than ours – consequently, they became much closer and we missed some of the organic hang outs.

Going into junior year, my roomie and I decided that we wanted to keep living together, and paired up with one of our housing lottery members from the previous year, and another friend. The primary reason we did this was that our other friends didn’t want a kitchen. I desperately wanted a single and a kitchen, so we ended up in Young Orchard (our friends were in New Dorm). The great news was that having a single really made my relationship with my roomies better, as I need my space and they could entertain people in the common area, and I didn’t have to participate. Don’t get me wrong, I love socializing and having friends, but I also organize my time around “me” time and “social” time. This was a good compromise. Plus, we shared a Market Share and cooked together, which was fun as well.

The sad thing about having so many people in a friend group is that looking at housing for 10 people (really 12, but 2 people knew that their parents wouldn’t let them live in a mixed-gender house) meant that we had a rough conversation about friendship and living together as we planned to move off campus. We had to discuss location, rent prices, safety concerns (read: me being the only female in the group, and consequently concerned with walking alone after dark). We also had to coordinate with someone studying abroad, and think about noise levels, where people would socialize on weekends, and who would clean. I ended up with a group of people I really enjoy, and I feel very comfortable with our house, and with hanging out with the rest of the group (2 doors down) on weekends and occasionally on weeknights when we have little homework.

The great news is that Brown offers rooms of different sizes, locations, and price ranges (for example, one of my current roommates didn’t live in a “suite” junior year to save money). Even if your freshman roomie isn’t your best friend, you learn to cohabit, and you learn how to have conversations about your needs, your habits, and potential concerns you may have. And, if that doesn’t work out, you can discuss with your RPLs, and worst case (or best case, if you’re like me), move to a different room. Now, my main concern is who I should live with after graduation!

Want more photos and FAQ updates? Check out @thebruinclub on Twitter! Have questions or comments for me? Want more details?  Send an email to celina_stewart@brown.edu and I’ll get back ASAP!

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