A new study from research scientists at the IU School of Education’s Center for Postsecondary Research found first-year college students of color who choose their roommate perceive a more positive campus environment than those who do not.
Researchers at the center collected data from first-year students at 76 universities. The study examined roommate choice and diverse interactions on campuses.
Researcher Kevin Fosnacht said he was curious about institutions’ roommate policies and their effects on students.
“Some college universities require that students be matched with their roommates by their institution,” he said. “The reason these institutions were doing this was to try to get students to live with and interact with people who are different than them.”
Fosnacht said some institutions pair white students with students of color to increase diverse interactions, but these living arrangement policies limit students’ rooming choices.
The study found that Asian, black and multiracial students who were assigned roommates by their institution perceived a less welcoming campus environment than their same-race peers who chose their roommates.
“For them to feel safe, secure and a sense of belonging, it’s helpful for them to live in a space where they share background and values with someone, as opposed to having to go outside the room to find students that are like themselves,” researcher Robert Gonyea said.
The data also revealed that students of color were less likely to choose their roommates than white students, suggesting a lack of resources to help underrepresented students find a suitable roommate.
“The roommate situation is really critical because that’s where you live and spend a lot of your time,” Gonyea said. “It’s a really intimate kind of setting.”
Gonyea said institutions should be mindful of the consequences when creating residential policies.
“What we would hope is that schools would continue to allow students to find their own roommates,” Gonyea said. “Because that, particularly for students of color, provides a safe home setting where they can feel comfortable in their own culture.”
Junior Mariah Villaroman served as a resident assistant last year in Teter Quad. Villaroman is a person of color. She lived in a single room her freshman year. She said roommate choices and preferences vary from student to student. She said some residents enjoy being paired with a random roommate.
“For others, especially for students of color, when they do choose their roommates and are able to live with members of their own community of color, I think it helps establish an element of solidarity among them,” Villaroman said.
She said students of color may be comforted by sharing a room because IU’s campus is predominantly white. Only 24% of IU-Bloomington's student population is domestic students of color, according to IU’s website.
“As a person of color, I do find it comforting when I have someone who literally looks like me and understands a bit of how we go about living on campus through the lens of being a student of color,” Villaroman said.