Correction: The original article referred to a student with the last name "Young." This was a pseudonym — no student with the name "Young" was interviewed for this article. All references of the student have been changed to "the male freshman" or a variation thereof to prevent confusion. The Pendulum regrets the error.

Caroline Dean arrived late to a session in Elon University’s McKinnon Hall during last year’s Fellows Weekend and sat down in the only open seat in the crowded room.

She began a conversation with the girl next to her, Alicia Paul, and the two hit it off.

After they were both accepted into the Honors Fellows program, Dean and Paul — now freshmen — found each other on Facebook and decided to face their first year at Elon as roommates.

A year later, their hallmates in Colonnades C call them the “power couple.”

But not all freshmen are so lucky.

A substantive amount of research, including an often-cited 2008 Harvard University study conducted by Dan Levy, has shown that poor roommate pairings can affect many aspects of a freshman’s experience, from grades to weight fluctuation.

Dean and Paul are lucky to have found each other, and they know that roommates, when done right, can be best friends.

They also know that their relationship is the exception, not the norm.

The close connection studies found between wellness and roommate relationships is no surprise to Dean, who has experienced first-hand the mental benefits of having a supportive roommate.

“It’s been a sense of stability for me,” she said, “to come home and have someone who’s always going to be there for you.”

Freshman Anne Fioravanti has a similar story. She found her roommate, Emma Holderread, through the Elon University Class of 2018 Facebook page.

The two originally connected over a shared love of elephants, but quickly discovered they had more in common.

“We just ended up being really similar,” Fioravanti said. “We signed up [to live together], and then I went to meet her over the summer, and it went really well. I think we just kind of got lucky.”

Fioravanti said having a solid relationship with her roommate made the transition to college much easier.

“It’s been really great to have her around because she knows me on a personal level, not just as a roommate but as a friend,” she said. “It’s been really good to be able to talk to her when I’m feeling homesick, or not really wanting to go home, or not loving college on a certain day, so it made the adjustment a lot easier for both of us.”

A flaw in the system

Not all freshmen have the luxury of selecting their roommates. Many, including a male freshman who requested anonymity to candidly discuss a former living situation, went through the university’s random roommate assignment process, with mixed results.

Like all his new classmates — including students who had already requested roommates — he filled out the survey used to pair roommates. He was assigned a roommate, but from the beginning, the survey didn’t appear to have been used in the assignment process.

“Everything that I filled out on that survey obviously did not match his lifestyle, and I have no idea how we were put together,” he said.

The problems began over the summer, when the male freshman reached out to his future roommate repeatedly but received no response.

When the two moved into their Colonnades room, their differences became too much for the male freshman to handle.

His roommate came and went at all hours of the day and night. He also used drugs and alcohol regularly, an activity the male freshman chose not to participate in.

“We didn’t really click in that sense,” he said. “It affected me emotionally and health-wise in the sense that it stressed me out. It stressed me out because I never knew what was going to happen.”

He doesn’t think he’s the only one to have a negative freshman roommate experience.

“I think it does happen more often than people think,” he said.

Cole Krajeski, a sophomore residence assistant (RA) in Colonnades A with predominately sophomore residents, said most roommate conflicts occur between freshmen.

“As sophomores, there’s less of an issue with trying to match people,” he said. “With freshmen, they don’t know each other, so they’re coming in, and who knows if they’re going to get along?”

This is disappointing to students such as the male freshman, for whom a good roommate is essential for the first year of college.

“It’s hard adjusting to begin with,” he said. “I was kind of hoping to have a roommate who was a good friend, and I didn’t really get that in mine. It affected me in that sense — I didn’t really have anyone to turn to. We didn’t have anything in common.

“It’s really important that you match with your roommate. I think it’s important that you have that support system. If you have something wrong in your life, it’s nice to have someone to connect with in your room.”

Fioravanti said her first year of college would have been a very different experience if she’d had a negative roommate relationship.

“It definitely would not have been as easy transitioning to college,” she said. “I like going back to my room because I get along with my roommate. If I didn’t, I feel like it would be a lot harder to be here. It’s nice to have that home within Elon.”

Though the male freshman’s story is not unusual, not all randomly assigned roommates have problems with each other.

“A lot of people did random,” Fioravanti said. “Most of the people I know did random, or they lived with someone they knew in high school. Random has worked out for a lot of my friends. I think it’s a good thing.”

In fact, according to Residence Life, 70 percent of freshmen — more than 1,000 students — were paired randomly with their roommates.

Though she said random roommate pairing was a good thing, Fioravanti also thinks the process could be improved.

“I feel like they could do a better job evaluating [the survey] and then assigning people, because there weren’t many questions,” she said. “‘What time to do you go to bed?’ and that kind of thing, but I think it needs more than that.”

She added that her friends who attend other universities had longer, more detailed surveys that asked about extracurricular activities, taste in music and other more personal details.

“Of course that takes more time, but I think it’s probably worth it for the school to do,” she said.

The male freshman agreed and added that more communication between potential roommates would be helpful.

“I feel like there should be some interaction with the person before they assign roommates,” he said.

Making it work

The male freshman and his roommate didn’t get along because they had nothing in common. According to Paul, most roommate pairs work because they have just enough in common.

She and Dean work, she said, because of what they both do and don’t share.

“Our personalities mesh well because she’s more of the extrovert and outgoing, and I’m pretty introverted,” she said. “We have a few things in common, but not everything.”

Dean agreed.

“What we have in common — as far as what we’re willing and not willing to do — is very similar, which I think really helps,” she said. “We have very different majors, we have very different personalities, we have very different a lot of things, but we don’t butt heads in that respect. Our personalities complement one another.”

Despite their similarities and close relationship, Dean and Paul had to work hard to learn to live with each other.

“When we first moved in together, people were like, ‘You guys were just perfect from the start,’” Dean said. “I’m used to sharing things because I had a lot of people [around] when I was younger, and Alicia was an only child so she wasn’t as used to that. So we had a lot of things that we had to mesh on and get used to, but we were very flexible with one another.”

But not all roommates have easy relationships, which is why conflict resolution is so important.

In his position as an RA, Krajeski employs roommate agreements and open dialogue to keep the peace on his hall.

“At the very beginning of the year, we make all of our residents do roommate agreements,” he said. “They fill those out, and I made sure they took the time and filled it out seriously, just in case there were issues.

“If there was an issue, I would have to sit down with them in a neutral space and take out the roommate agreements and say, ‘OK, this is the issue you’re having, let’s see what the roommate agreement has to say about it.’ If it’s not mentioned, I kind of facilitate them working it out themselves. Hopefully that would resolve the issue.”

Paul also emphasized the importance of communication.

“I’ve seen [that] if one roommate has a problem, they either won’t tell their roommate, so then the problem is never fixed,” she said. “Or they’ll talk about it and be all happy on the outside and be all like, ‘Oh, this is great, we can compromise,’ but then it doesn’t actually work for them. So then problems are never fixed.”

Dean agreed, emphasizing the role of compromise in maintaining healthy roommate relationships.

“It’s a lot of give and take with roommates,” she said. “You have to be willing to cater to what they need, as well as vice versa.”

But some problems can’t be worked out.

The male freshman tried to resolve his issues with his roommate first on his own, and then with the help of his RA, but wasn’t successful. His roommate eventually moved out, and the male freshman said he has been less stressed as a result.

As of April, Residence Life had overseen 87 room changes like the male freshman's, a number consistent with previous years.

Krajeski said relocating students is Residence Life’s last resort.

“A resolved issue would be much better than having to get the residents to leave the room,” he said. “It’s awkward for them if they see each other on campus.”

Challenges for upperclassmen

Sometimes, though, students have to work to find appropriate housing for themselves.

Junior Claire Lockard, who will be an apartment manager in Oaks D next year, has been working with Residence Life to make the housing process more friendly for LGBTQIA students at Elon.

As president of Spectrum, Elon’s LGBTQIA awareness organization, Lockard has a both a professional and a personal interest in the issue.

Lockard had hoped to work in the Station at Mill Point for the 2015-2016 school year. Because all of Mill Point is gender-inclusive, she planned to live with a friend who identifies as male.

But when she was hired in the Oaks — a residential area without the same gender-inclusive policy — she had to dig deeper to find a way to live with whom she wanted.

“I’d heard through the grapevine,” she said, “not really anything official, that if you asked for approval you could get approval to have mixed-gender housing. I was told it was called gender-inclusive housing.”

Lockard met with MarQuita Barker, associate director of Residence Life for operations and information management, and Matthew Antonio Bosch, director of the Gender and LGBTQIA Center (GLC), who explained and led her through the approval process.

Lockard quickly discovered that the policies in the Oaks and Mill Point were different in an important way.

“It’s more actually LGBT-specific housing [in the Oaks], so it’s not gender-inclusive in the way that the Station at Mill Point is, where they don’t really care,” Lockard said. “You could be a straight female living with your boyfriend in Station, and that’s cool in the Station at Mill Point, but it’s not the same in Oaks.

“The only way to get gender-inclusive housing is if you’re a queer student. So it’s not gender-inclusive, it’s more mixed-gender, or it’s LGBT housing instead.”

She eventually got her roommate request approved, but not without obstacles and frustrations.

Lockard credits the difficulty to the discreet nature of a process that is still in development.

“I think I was one of the first people to ever ask about it and try to actually go through it, rather than just hypothetically knowing it was there if I wanted it,” she said. “I think it’s more if you know someone who knows about it you can go through the process.”

While Lockard was able to get her request approved, she knows she’s one of the only people on campus who realistically could have done so.

As she put it, “I had fairly easy access because I’m in Res Life, and I’m president of Spectrum and work with the GLC a lot, but not everybody is all of those things.”

Because of those other students who might be in a similar situation but who don’t know where to turn, Lockard stuck with the issue even after her housing was approved.

“I’m hoping that I can help other students be clearer about what the difference is between the two policies,” she said, “and to maybe help Res Life understand where the students are coming from better, that it takes a lot of courage to ask for this sort of housing, especially if you’re basically outing yourself to Res Life in order to get the housing.”

She said any students who find themselves in a tricky situation with LGBTQIA housing should feel free to contact her or Bosch, who she said will be happy to accompany students to meetings with Residence Life if they would like an extra voice.

In fact, she strongly encourages them to come forward.

As difficult as speaking up may be, Lockard said students have the right to make the housing decisions that will make them comfortable and happy.

“We don’t have a huge transgender or gender-queer student population, but maybe one of the reasons is they don’t feel like they necessarily have that space,” Lockard said. “Like, ‘Who do I live with if I don’t identify as male or female? Who can my roommate possibly be? What is the university going to categorize me as? Does that make me feel unsafe in my living environment?”’

Despite the frustrations she’s had, Lockard is hopeful for future LGBTQIA students who might struggle with housing.

“My sense was that Res Life really wants to promote gender inclusivity — not just LGBT stuff — and that they would love to have just approved it in general,” she said. “They’re trying to strike a balance between serving the students and still remaining accountable to the people that they have to be accountable to.”