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Roommate Conflicts: How to best support your student as a Family Member

Home Blog Roommate Conflicts: How to best support your student as a Family Member

Check out this Family Advice from Housing and Residence Life .

As adults, we know that conflicts and disagreements are expected even in the strongest relationships. As a parent or family member, you may have heard from your student about their overall roommate experience, things they do or don’t like about them, and even potential roommate conflicts. While it may feel natural to want to intervene on your student’s behalf, this is an excellent opportunity to support your student in learning how to address and resolve conflict independently!

We ask students to meet with their roommate each year to complete a roommate agreement. A roommate agreement walks roommate pairs through multiple questions to discuss with one another based on the common sources of conflict we see between roommates. In an earlier newsletter, we’ve provided the following tips to your student for completing the roommate agreement:

  1. Be specific: Instead of vague statements like “we’ll be respectful of each other,” specify what that means to you. For example, do you agree on a quiet time after 10 pm?
  2. Be flexible. Things don’t always go according to plan, so be willing to adjust your agreement as needed. Be willing to discuss and be flexible, even during a conflict with your roommate. Your RA or A/RC can assist with this!
  3. Be open to compromise: Some people will have different expectations, and your shared space has to be comfortable for both parties. Be willing to meet in the middle.
  4. If you and your roommate need assistance facilitating a conversation with your roommate, reach out to your RA!

As a trusted partner in your student’s education and Duke University experience, here are some tips to help them navigate issues and conflicts with their roommate:

  1. Encourage Them to Talk It Out: In many roommate conflicts, a student’s roommate may not know there is an issue until their roommate asks to move out. Provide strategies for having a dialogue with their roommate and encourage them to name the problems they are having and their needs respectfully.
  2. Talk to them about their Absolute Non-Negotiables: What are their non-negotiables, and what are the things they may not like but could live with? Challenge them to think about WHY something is non-negotiable, and if it is a non-negotiable, then help them determine how to articulate the “why” to their roommate.
  3. Encourage Compromise: Just like in every other relationship or environment, it’s rare that they can get 100% of what they want. Please encourage them to seek compromise and work with their roommate to seek win-win solutions.
  4. Be Willing to Challenge Your Student: Often, in roommate conflicts, both parties have intentionally or unintentionally contributed to the dynamics in their shared space. As your student talks with you about all the horrible things their roommate has done, be willing to challenge and encourage them to reflect on their potential role in the conflict.
  5. Ask Them About What They’ve Done to Resolve It: Students may talk to you because they want to vent about the situation, or they secretly (or maybe not so secretly) want you to intervene on their behalf. Instead, we encourage you to walk your students through the steps they have (or have yet to) taken to resolve the situation. Some questions you can ask include:
    1. Have you spoken to your roommate?
      1. How did that conversation go?
      2. OR should you speak to your roommate about your concerns??
    2. Have you and your roommate completed the roommate agreement that HRL sent you?
    3. Have you reached out to your RA to help mediate or give advice?
    4. Have you reached out to the Residence Coordinator?
  6. Avoid the temptation to intervene: As your student’s most prominent advocate and supporter, it is natural for you to want to email the Campus Dean to remove the source of stress for your student. Instead, it’s best to encourage your student to work through the conflict first before you step in. This helps them learn how to resolve conflict with others when you’re not there.
  7. Consult with Us! We are happy to help walk parents and families through how to have these conversations with their students and support them through their roommate conflicts! These calls also give us a heads-up to check in with your student and their roommate intentionally.

College is ripe with many opportunities for students to develop meaningful and life-long relationships; their relationship with their roommate can be most important. Partnering with your student and with HRL to make their roommate experience a success will be something they will fondly look back on for years to come.