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Column by Makenna Marks

There’s nothing quite like sharing a 150-square-foot dorm room with someone you’ve never met before. It’s awkward at first, trying to decide who has to take the top bunk or who gets the desk next to the window. Roommate relationships can be tricky. They can be hit or miss. 

Maybe they’re a morning person, but you don’t like getting out of bed before noon. Maybe you listen to music while you study, but they need silence. There’s no denying your roommate can affect your behavior, mental health and even your education. This is what we call the Roommate Effect, referenced in Lauren Berger’s “The Internqueen” blog. 

Resident advisors help students living on campus adjust to life at college. Not only do RAs help facilitate a sense of community within residence halls, but they can also help resolve roommate conflict. 

Emily Castro, a second-year at Western studying biological anthropology, is an RA for Nash Hall. Castro said one of the biggest things she notices about roommate conflict is that people don’t realize how hard it is to share such a small space. 

“There's a lot of differences in who's okay with this many people coming over, or who’s okay with a significant other staying the night and who isn't,” Castro said. “It's small things like that, that don't seem like huge deals, but when you're living in one single bedroom, they play out a lot more.” 

When it comes to the Roommate Effect, Castro said it’s more noticeable while living in a dorm. 

“In an apartment or a house, you at least have your room to kind of go back to take a second if you need to,” Castro said. “But definitely in a dorm, when it comes to sleeping, or if you can’t get your homework done because your roommate’s too loud, I think it definitely has a big toll on people's mental health and academics.” 

Sondra Cuban, director of the Adult and Higher Education graduate program at Woodring College of Education, suggested that our roommates indirectly affect our grades. 

“What I've seen in the research is that studying time has an effect on GPA outcomes,” Cuban said. “For example, let's say you have a roommate who's doing a lot of gaming, and that's part of the culture of the house. There's even research showing that gaming can interfere with studying time, which then appears to be a roommate issue when it's actually the studying time.”

It’s a chain reaction. Your roommate plays a lot of video games, which takes away from your own studies, which ultimately affects your grades. So while your roommate isn’t directly keeping you from your homework, they’re still indirectly affecting your education.  

However, there are certainly instances where our roommate can directly affect not only our grades, but our behavior and mental health as well. 

Brent Mallinckrodt started out as a residence hall peer counselor at the University of Missouri. For the last three years, he’s been a psychology professor here at Western. 

“You have a study partner that's built into the living situation,” Mallinckrodt said. “People can certainly affect one another's grades directly by studying together and then by just being encouraging and having somebody to celebrate your successes with.” 

Studying with your roommate affects your grades. Being able to share your successes with your roommate directly affects your mental health. 

“It's much more meaningful when you can share that news with somebody,” Mallinckrodt said. 

Mallinckrodt’s area of specialty is adult attachment: the idea that the need for a close human bond does not stop when we grow up to be adults. That is why we rely so much on our close friends and romantic partners. 

Mallinckrodt said our roommates and close friends tend to bring us in the same direction they’re headed; positive or negative. 

“A person who's upbeat and optimistic and who has a good sense of self-confidence and self-esteem tends to make [their roommate] move in that direction,” Mallinckrodt said. 

But it goes both ways. If we have a roommate who is negative and pessimistic, they can bring down our mood as well. 

As college students, living with a roommate is something we may have experienced at one time or another, and it’s something we can all relate to. For the sake of your own education and mental health, keep in mind that your actions affect others; especially your roommate.

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