Let Young People Live With Strangers

For many adults, the first and last time they willingly submit to living with a total stranger is their freshman year of college. And now is the time of year when many kids, just accepted into college, decide they won’t do it.

Cohabitating with anyone in 150 square feet isn’t easy. It’s hard enough to share a room with someone you love. Their intermittent snores, the way they hum while cleaning or just miss the trash can when flinging dirty tissues.

But forcing kids from widely diverging backgrounds, ethnicities and economic classes to live in close quarters is one of the benefits of a residential college. It’s a social leveler. It offers its own education. It can produce terrible conflict, but that, too, is essential to preparing young people for the world. It’s an important part of learning to get along.

Too many students today miss out on that experience altogether. Though in recent years some schools have pulled back from the practice, many have adopted systems that give students far more control over the process. Students have the option of choosing a roommate on their own, whether they connect in person, on social media or through one of many third-party matching services. Or they use a campus matching service like RoomSync or StarRez, which schools can license and tailor to their needs.

At the University of Arizona, first-year students either pair up on their own or use a program that the administrative director for housing and residential life, Dana Robbins-Murray, described as “Match.com for roommates.”

“This gives students the control over who they live with and where they live,” Robbins-Murray told me. “We find it gives them the power to feel more enabled to work through the system because they chose it.”

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