Depending on who you talk to, you’ll hear that the ResLife staffers in charge of pairing first-year roommates seem to possess an uncanny, practically Orwellian, degree of insight into the psyches their awkward, pimply building blocks, an almost alchemistic talent in forging relationships among high-school haters for whom the overused “quirky” is kind.
Or you might hear that no, not at all, they’re actually terrible at it.
Taken as a whole, though, Carls generally find that their freshman roommates are, if not kindred spirits, at least decent and agreeable to them. Given the wide range of, um, personalities that Carleton seems to attract, this represents a not insignificant feat. It’s one that requires lots of effort and lots of reading hastily typed adolescent prose – and yes, by this point, probably a therapist’s eye for a pair – on the part of the workers in Residential Life.
The tale begins with the roommate preference questionnaire that all first-years must complete by mid-June. The queries cover a wide range of topics. First come the ayes-or-nays: smoking, Nunnery, the substance dichotomy. Those are followed by drop-down subfields with more nuance. Incoming students must describe their preferences regarding neatness, noise level, visitors, and bedtime on scales from one to four.
They then rank the relative importance of those categories. Finally, there are the essays, free-response questions about extracurricular activities, “things you plan to take advantage of at Carleton,” “expectations you have for your roommate,” and the “five most important things your roommate needs to know about you.”
When the forms are in, the fiddlers on the ResLife roof set to the complicated business of matchmaking. After that, according to Amy Sillanpa, Associate Director of Residential Life, they simply focus on pairing people who “seem to be compatible” based on “similarities in how [they say] they want to live in their space,” not on inspiring lifelong devotion vis a vis a soul-x-raying Jungian formula.
Towards that end, Reslifers look first at the lifestyle rankings. Once they think they’ve got a pair squared away based on the numbers, they read the expectations and decide if the two will make a good match.
Yet even after that, the process can continue further. “Overall, we read through the entire form and consider every piece of information provided to try to make good matches,” said Sillanpa, “Those who work on this project spend a lot of time reading through each form.”
There are a couple dealbreakers. For example, students who are allergic to smoke aren’t paired with smokers. Space permitting, similar rules apply to those who request sub-free and boy-free floors.
Additionally, an effort is made not to pair students from the same school, or even the same state so that students can “learn about people from different parts of the country and/or world” Sillanpa explained.
However, she said, after roommates are paired up, first-year housing becomes simply matter of logistics. Residential Life has a predetermined number of rooms, so putting together like-minded floors and halls is out of the question.
Some freshmen aren’t so happy with Reslife’s work. “I feel like I’d be really great friends with my roommate if we didn’t live together,” said a first-year who asked not to be identified.
Most, though, are pleased.
“My roommates and I are almost scarily similar” said Drew Higgins ’16, “[ResLife] did a crazy good job.’
Indeed. Sentiments to ponder as you toss and turn on the lounge sofa at three in the morning while your roommate entertains a special guest.