Roommate Agreements As A Process NOT A Document

Roommate agreements are a common process that many residence life departments deploy at the beginning of an academic year to help students transition to life with a (new) roommate. Typically a roommate agreement will be a document containing a number of questions that roommates review and complete together. They can include questions about expectations, habits, and commitments across a variety of categories (sleeping, cleaning, guests, sharing of items, etc.).

As someone who has seen many a roommate agreement in his lifetime, I frequently found that these tools were misunderstood both by residents and their resident assistant facilitators. Too often agreement documents would be distributed to residents with little or no guidance. They became a “checklist” item. While some residents took their agreement discussions seriously, others sped through them without much thought. I can’t blame residents for this, either. For many residents, they have never lived with another person and don’t even know what kinds of conflicts could even occur (or go into the roommate relationship with a naive thought that conflict will never occur).

Rather than think of roommate agreements as a document–an item to complete and check off a list–it is better to introduce the agreement as a process. This is where the magic occurs when an agreement is done “right.” The real reason roommate agreements exist is to facilitate a conversation between roommates, one that they then record in the agreement document itself. The roommate agreement is also intended to be a living document. One that can be returned to for discussion and revision as roommates’ habits evolve and as conflict occurs. It acts as a framework, not an end in itself.

Roompact’s software offers the ability to create and deploy roommate agreement documents to your residents. This can be incredibly helpful in making sure the document is accessible by both residents and staff and for tracking completion and revisions. The software, however, is only one part of the equation. It needs to be paired with a good process on campus.

When designing your roommate agreement process, there are a few things you may want to consider to enhance its effectiveness and provide a learning opportunity for your residents.

Consider pre-agreement questions for individuals.

Before students begin discussing an agreement, have them reflect on their own habits, lifestyles, and approach to conflict. This provides an opportunity to prepare individuals to discuss an agreement. For many residents, first year students especially, they may not know what living with another person is like. They may not even understand the range of human habits and behaviors they may encounter. By selecting some pre-agreement questions, this can help prepare the residents to begin a genuine discussion and reflect on their own knowledge and biases. Some examples:

  • What are my hopes for my relationship with my roommate?
  • What are some of my misgivings about having a roommate?
  • Think about a time you had a disagreement with someone or a conflict? How did you resolve it? What went well? What would you have done differently?

Have a student staff member facilitate.

Having some form of guided facilitation can help residents more deeply reflect on their agreements and the questions within the document. Rather than just pass out agreements and ask residents to complete them, some schools have student staff members sit down with each roommate grouping individually to facilitate the process. This can lead to deeper answers to questions and help residents navigate what can sometimes be difficult conversations. Although individual facilitation is likely the ideal, this can also be accomplished with active small group or floor facilitation.

Create questions that prompt reflection.

Although the agreement may include some practical questions (How often should we clean the room?), questions prompting reflection on one’s understanding of one’s self and expectations of others can be incredibly useful. Consider adding questions to your roommate agreement that focus on attitudes and habits related to the roommate relationship overall. An agreement lists the commitments roommates make to each other, but a good roommate agreement process encourages reflective and honest conversations. These conversations will hopefully become habits. Some examples:

  • Some pet peeves I have include…
  • What is the best way to give each other feedback?
  • Sometimes roommate conflict occurs because small things add up over time or fester, how can we make sure this doesn’t happen to us?
  • When will we dedicate time to discuss how our roommate relationship is going?

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