As a three-year Community Assistant (CA) and former Senior Community Assistant for ASU Housing, I have seen my share of roommate conflicts. In those same three years, I have also noticed that some methods are far more effective in handling those conflicts than others.
My first year as a CA, I forced my residents to fill out a document we call a “Roommate Contract”. It essentially is a series of questions about common roommate differences such as when are “quite-hours”, when and how many guests are permitted, how often the bathroom is to be cleaned, etc… That year I was called in to help mediate numerous roommate issues. Not quite sure what to do, I would take the contract in with me a put it down on the table between the arguing parties and asked them to read it over and see if the issue had a method of to address it already written in the contract. Most of the issues did, but one roommate wanted to amend that contract because “conditions changed.”
The following year, I decided to take a different approach to handling roommate issues. This time around, in my first floor meeting, I told my residents that I had one expectation of them that superseded all of the Housing rule; to behave like the honor students they were supposed to be. I then gave them the option of filling out a roommate contract but told them that could use the Housing one or create their own. Many of them created their own and waited a few weeks to give them to me so they could see what their habits were like before committing to a contract. That year, I had but one roommate issue that got escalated to me to handle, the rest were handled between the roommates in a civil and constructive manner.
This same year, it occurred to me that hammering in the rule did not work for me previously and that the less I would emphasize rules and regulations, the more the residents felt comfortable connecting to me which had the positive effect of allowing me to get more information to see potential issues before they occurred. A defining moment in this realization, came from my friends. Their CAs were forcing them to fill in the Housing roommate contract which peeved them because they felt like they were not being treated as adults. As a form of retaliation, they filled it out, tongue-in-cheek with answers such as “Q: How will you communicate as roommates? A: Talk. If that doesn’t work, smoke signals.” and “Q: What is guest policy? A: Guests may only use the same bathroom 67 consecutive times before having to use a different one.”
All in all, as I was thinking on how to structure my final year as a CA, I decided that I needed to be more hands-off. I needed to show respect above all else; assume that the residents are here to try their best at succeeding; and let them know that while Housing does have rules, they (the residents) are in full control of their lives and should be setting themselves up for success not failure.