Duke University recently announced it will no longer be honoring requests for roommate assignments but will be randomly assigning roommates to incoming freshmen.
Its goal is largely to promote diversity around campus by pairing people with those whom they may not have chosen on their own.
"We believe that you'll enjoy the opportunity to meet someone you've not previously known and will have a great opportunity to explore your roommate's history, culture and interests," read Duke's announcement.
The random assignments would be solely based on compatibility of certain preferences from sleep schedules to work habits. This information comes from the incoming students' application for roommate assignments.
Duke administrators recognized that the bulk of students were taking advantage of social media and friends from home when choosing roommates, and discovered students were gravitating to people from a similar background.
Although this trend of homogeneity may be true, it does not validate the paternalistic values the university is exercising.
Many students pick their friends from home or people from social media with whom they believe they will get along to be their roommates because a freshman dorm room is supposed to be a safe, comfortable place.
It is more than just another room in which to study; particularly for a freshman, a dorm room is a place to relax and escape the stress of classes.
Pairing roommates together solely based off of study habits would implicitly make the dorm room another coffee shop or library where students get work done.
Likewise, the goal of the university is to promote diversity. However, this random assignment system does not guarantee to break this homogeneity.
According to a Duke report , the class of 2021 was made up of 53 percent minority students. The report did not include information about diversity of sexual orientation.
With numbers like this, random assignments are more than likely to not truly make a reasonable difference in how students understand diversity. It is incredibly likely that two white students from similar backgrounds are going to be paired with one another.
The university did say it would make accommodations for disabled students, students of color and members of the LGBT community who legitimately feel uncomfortable due to their rooming assignments. It would not make accommodations due to incompatibility.
Although this system of accommodations may be a good thing to reconcile many issues that could potentially arise, the university must recognize that roommate incompatibility is a legitimate hindrance to the progress of freshman in college.
Research done at Dartmouth College from The National Bureau of Economic Research shows peer effects from colleges roommates have a direct influence on students’ grade point averages, meaning that a bad roommate may cause a student’s GPA to suffer.
If the university itself is to blame for increased social incompatibilities among roommates, then it may have the opposite effect of what the administrators had intended.
This is ultimately not a move IU should make — at least until studies further show that this may have perfectly positive effects on not only diversity but academic performance as well.