A Natural Selection?

As summer 2003 rather regrettably draws to a close and we begin our long trek back to the Andover hill, I feel compelled to leave behind my summer-induced calm and tranquil demeanor and once again adopt a more driven and alert mind frame. Furthermore, the notion of returning to my second year at Andover, and the thought of new students aimlessly wandering the Great Lawn, recalls my fears and uncertainties as a new Andover student just one year ago. One hundred and one questions reverberated in my mind about classes, sports, extracurricular opportunities, and friends. However, one concern that at the time seemed of utmost importance was the uncertainty about my future roommate. At a boarding school, it’s the roommate who in a sense occupies the role of parents and siblings. A roommate inevitably learns of one’s idiosyncratic habits and, more importantly, learns to tolerate them. For me, the prospect of an ideal roommate, who would serve as my future confidante, outweighed all other questions and concerns. I would not be surprised if other first-year students shared a similar concern. The idea of a roommate is foreign and daunting yet, simultaneously, exciting and promising. Apparently, several research studies have shown the impact of roommates on each other in both academic and social areas. A roommate could make or break the first-year experience at Andover. Fortunately, the Andover administration seems to share this sentiment. The admissions officers at Andover who are charged with assigning roommates pride themselves on the amount of time and dedication they allot to their task. Although I do not wish to undermine their diligent efforts, a recent New York Times article caught my attention, and merits some discussion in the Andover community. The article, “First Test for Freshmen: Picking Roommates”, surveys the annual summer ritual at various college housing offices of selecting suitable roommates for incoming freshmen. Colleges employ various devices to perform this intricate task, ranging from simple intuition and random selection, to detailed questionnaires and psychological profiles. The newest technique, however, is an online matchmaking service in which students can post their profiles, and read those of other incoming students, in order to choose the “perfect” roommate pair. Students employ a screen name in order to publicize their information while simultaneously protecting their identities, and exchange e-mails to discuss their roommate preferences. An Atlanta corporation called WebRoomz created the computer software that facilitates this matching service. Several schools currently use the program, including Emory University. The program’s success at Emory suggests that it will soon be used at many other schools across America. Granted that Andover is not a university, and rightfully considers itself an entirely different entity, this new concept of endowing students with the ability to select their own roommates should be considered at PA. I can speak for many students in attesting to the frailties of the current system. Although my first-year roommate was an incredibly nice person, we had different interests and consequently associated with entirely different friends. I consider myself very lucky, as I have heard many disturbing anecdotes about poorly matched roommate pairs. WebRoomz could be a means to minimize the amount of unhappy roommate experiences and maximize the favorable outcomes. The increasing power and prevalence of technology, and especially the Internet, at Andover makes the introduction of WebRoomz in Andover’s future a realistic alternative. Furthermore, if WebRoomz, or a similar system, were to be initiated, students might work harder to improve their roommate situation if it turns out to be less then perfect. Students will have a greater sense of responsibility and accountability if they have selected their own roommates. Significantly, the initiation of such a program would provide a useful opportunity for students to learn to cope with the consequences of their own actions. As an interim step towards what may appear to be a daunting and formidable change, the administration might consider initiating a student survey. After a student’s first year at Andover, the student could be asked to complete a comprehensive survey regarding the student’s roommate experience. The survey could address any inadequacies of the current housing form and request suggestions. If students express significant unhappiness with the current system, WebRoomz, or a similar system, could be considered. I realize that many Andover students have positive roommate experiences and I can fathom how the administration might be hesitant to adopt a new approach. However, one of Andover’s principles is for its students to develop a willingness and desire to learn from others in order to improve. Similarly, Andover has done an excellent job in equipping its facilities with the newest and most modern technology. The installation of on-line roommate matching seems to be just one more way to keep Andover true to its philosophy and in tune with the times.