A group of 11 staff members gathered over lunch on Tuesday, April 25, in Alumni Hall to discuss the importance of the campus residential experience to life after college and how Wake Forest can continue to improve the residential experience it offers its students.

Everyone in our group, five of whom attended Wake Forest as undergraduates, was asked to talk about his or her “most interesting roommate” before, during or after college. In all 11 instances, the identified roommates were considered interesting because they were appreciably different from the speaker. These areas of distinction included personal cleanliness habits, choice of attire, level of academic commitment, ethnic or racial background and age.

As our conversation continued, one participant pointed out what many had been thinking: The spatially compact environment in these situations creates unavoidable moments of inconvenience. These awkward times, in turn, generate valuable personal growth. To put it another way, if you’re trapped, you’re forced to adapt. The process of adaptation necessarily expands the worldview of all involved.

Our group unanimously agreed that colleges should make changing roommate assignments difficult, and that they should prioritize student-to-student resolution of difficult issues, for example.

Hitting upon a slightly different theme, one person in the group said her fear of not fitting in helped her reach out to an international student who lived directly across the hall. The conversations that followed were eye-opening, and were undeniably facilitated by the physical circumstances of on-campus residential living.

Five of the 11 participants keep in touch with the roommate they named – a surprisingly high figure because all 11 are more than 10 years removed from their last days as roommates. Four people in the group identified a roommate they had as Wake Forest undergraduates. Three of those four are still in contact with that person.

To wrap up, we discussed elements we hope Wake Forest leaders address regarding the campus residential experience. One participant said the general mission should be to stop the recent erosion of a feeling of campus community. Another individual stressed that many of the lessons of residence life must take hold in the first year, because many students quickly revert to the association patterns they held before arriving at Wake Forest.

Our group’s conversation generated several specific policy and program suggestions:

  • Create pre-enrollment questionnaires for incoming students to ascertain sleep habits in the name of avoiding conflicts that bear health implications.
  • Offer expert-guided seminars on conflict resolution.
  • Initiate a Faculty Fellow-guided discussion on the history and traditions of Wake Forest.
  • Increase flexibility in the implementation of Campus Life policies and the imposition of discipline.