THE UGLY TRUTH: How to Live with a Stranger


Photography By: Brandon Sapp

It’s about that time, ladies and gentlemen.  Can you smell the sweet scent of education?  See the flyers for campus parties and clubs?  Feel the anticipation that comes with a fresh start in a new place?  College is all fun and games except for the fact that now you have to live with a total stranger–your new college roommate.  I am an official student at Howard University and have experienced firsthand the wonders of having–not one–but two beautiful roommates.  

Roommates can either be a blessing or a curse.  Your first friend or first enemy. But, regardless, you have to live with them.  And the question is, how?  How do you live with a complete stranger?  And I’m here to answer that for you.  I asked two guys and three girls what questions they had about college roommates and this is what I got:


Female, 19

1). I’ve been in college for three weeks now and my roommate and I don’t get along at all.  She leaves hair everywhere and never cleans up after herself.  And she hates that I blast my music all day and night but I can’t go to sleep without it.  What should I do?


Although I’ve been blessed with two roommates that I can tolerate–and even enjoy–it’s not uncommon to find yourself less than happy with your University’s random choice of roommate.  The best advice I can give you is to always be respectful, considerate, and always treat her as you want to be treated.  As far as cleaning duties, come up with a cleaning routine that can fit both of your schedules.  My roommates and I clean every Sunday, each of us taking turns deep-cleaning the bathroom area.  But, if that doesn’t work for you, just sit down with your roommate and lay down ground rules.  Sweep the floor after you style your hair, wipe down the counter after you use it, wash dishes immediately them, and etc.  Then there’s the music issue.  You pay enough money every semester for housing to be able to play your music whenever you want but just be mindful.  If you notice your roommate studys at a certain time of the day or goes to sleep by a certain time, turn the music down or even put on headphones.  Just be mindful and communicate with your roommate for the best outcome. I hope this helps!

Male, 18

2). So, I want to have friends/my girlfriend over my dorm but my roommate literally never leaves the room.  How do I get him to leave occasionally so I can have people over without him being there?


For one, you can’t get him to leave.  Half of that room belongs to him rather you want it to or not.  To start off, I would simply start taking note of his weekly schedule.  He might not leave the room for activities on campus but he has to leave for class.  Maybe he works out at the gym, goes to the library to study, or even watches tv in your dorm lounges.  During those times I would attempt to have company over.  But, if that’s not enough time for you or if his schedule is too unpredictable then I honestly say just meet your friends or girlfriend at their dorms or somewhere on campus.  Asking your roommate to leave their room is just wrong and, in my opinion, a bit rude.  That’s just something you’ll have to deal with unless you want to switch rooms.

Female, 16

3). What if you and your roommate have cultural or religious differences?  How do you find things to talk/relate about?


Being at an HBCU, which is a historically black college or university, I still find myself finding all types of cultures around my campus.  And I have run into this problem myself, trying to relate to people that I have nothing in common with.  It’s hard to speak to someone of a different culture and not mistakenly feed into stereotypes and make assumptions.  It is normal, unfortunately, we all do it.  But, the thing I’ve learned is to never be afraid to ask questions.  For example, one of my roommates hung up a flag on her side of the room and I recognized it but I couldn’t remember what country it was from.  Instead of making an assumption or simply not knowing, I asked her and she proceeded to tell me it was the Jamaican flag and we had an entire discussion on her culture.  The best advice I could give you is to ask questions, embrace your cultural differences and learn from them.

Male, 19

4). How do you approach your roommate about a personal belonging of yours going missing in the dorm without sounding like you’re accusing them of something?


This is a touchy situation because it’s hard not to sound like you’re accusing them of something when you’re asking where your stuff is.  I think vocalizing that you aren’t accusing them of anything would be your best bet at not offending them.  For future reference, and this is for all college students with roommates, I would suggest investing in a lockbox.  A lockbox holds all of your valuables like wallets, cameras, passports, birth certificate, and more.  It makes it easier to keep up with things like that and practically ensures no one can steal it.  As for now, if you’re truly afraid of conflict, I would consult with your residence assistant because they might be able to handle the manner without there being a big uproar.

Female, 18

5). I’ve only been living with my roommate for a week now and there’s already an issue with personal hygiene.  I don’t want to hurt her feelings because she’s a sweet girl but I don’t want our room to stink either.  Help!


Unfortunately, this a problem that a lot of people are having as they settle in with their new roommates.  We’ve all had a friend that has smelled less than pleasant but the truth is, we don’t have to go home with them.  When your roommate is smelly, you have to live with the stench and it is oftentimes frustrating.  If you’ve only been with your roommate a week, I don’t recommend confronting them face to face about it.  I would only suggest talking to them if you guys were already friends before moving in together.  This is another problem for an RA to handle.  An RA might approach the situation more delicately and be able to handle it without anyone’s feelings getting hurt.  If that doesn’t work, I might consider switching rooms because no one wants to live with someone who isn’t taking care of themselves.  Just remember to always be kind because there could be more to the story than you know.


My last piece of friendly advice for dealing with roommates is try to build a bond with them. I know I said earlier that a roommate can be your first friend or enemy but, for the most part, they’re our first friends on campus.   I like to believe that these people are put in our lives for a reason so watch out for each other, respect each other, learn from each other, and just have fun.


Love & All,



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