Before freshmen meet their roommates on that fateful day in September, they anxiously wonder whether their roommate will become a best friend or just be some other student who sleeps in the top bunk.
One of the issues that can arise between roommates, especially freshman year, is the issue of homosexuality.
Christl Denecke '00, an Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender peer educator, was placed with a lesbian roommate freshman year. "Living with her was one of the best parts of my freshman year," she said. "We ended up getting along very well."
Chris Milne '01 also had a homosexual roommate freshman year. Milne was excited about the situation. "I thought that was just excellent," he said.
Milne attended a "kind of conservative" boarding school, he said. "I didn't know anyone who was gay."
Some students, however, are more uncomfortable about such situations.
"She was very religious," said one gay undergraduate about her roommate freshman year. "It's not that we didn't get along, it's just that we were totally different people. . . . I censored what I said on the phone. We couldn't talk about things in the beginning, and it ended that way."
Adam Rockman, coordinator of undergraduate housing, said there is no housing policy that concerns the issue of homosexual roommates.
"There truly is not a policy regarding this," he said. "Our policy regarding room changes is we like to assist the student regarding room changes where we can do it."
Nick Salvato '00, an LGBT peer educator who is homosexual, said he thinks switching rooms is often the best way to prevent problems. "If someone is really uncomfortable in a situation. . . it's better for that person to move out because it's easier to deal with that problem in that way rather than have two unhappy people."
The issue of homosexual roommates arose this fall at Harvard University, when the undergraduate council proposed an "anti-phobia" bill that would force Harvard to end the policy of allowing students to change rooms because of gay roommates. The bill passed overwhelmingly, although the council has no authority over such administrative issues, said Harvard junior Roman Martinez, editor of the Harvard Salient — the conservative newspaper on campus.
Martinez, who said he would not mind having a homosexual roommate, said that the issue has too often become a political one. "It's very difficult to have an honest discourse about these things because there's a contingent on campus — the radical left," Martinez said. "Whenever anyone voices a criticism against homosexuality, they denounce you as a bigot."
Like Princeton, Harvard does not have a policy directly concerning the issue. "Whenever a student raises a question about a roommate, we deal with each situation on an individual basis," Karen Avery, Assistant Dean of the College at Harvard, said. " We want the whole community to embrace" homosexual students.
Betty Trachtenberg, Dean of Student Affairs at Yale University, said there is no direct policy at Yale, either. "It's not a problem that we deal with," she said, adding that such an issue has not arisen recently.
While administrations have not created specific policies because they want roommates to work out their problems, the lack of space is another reason that such policies do not exist, Rockman said. "If we have space available, students can submit a room change request," he said. "Almost regardless of what the request is, we try to assist them when we can."
When a request is submitted, Rockman said he counsels roommates to work out their problems.
LGBT peer educators are another source for counseling. During his three years as a peer educator, Salvato said he has seen a change in students' attitudes toward gay students.
"There was a lot of friction and resistance," Salvato said. "The longer we did it, the more comfortable people were with the issue and the more informed they were."
At the beginning of the year, peer educators meet with freshman groups to discuss the issue of homosexuality. "Every year there's usually someone in some R.A. group who asks what to do if someone comes out to you," Salvato said. "It used to be more motivated from anxiety, but now it is more from concern."
Catherine Archibald '00, an LGBT peer educator who is bisexual, said she feels the issue of homosexuality still is not discussed enough. "It's definitely an issue that doesn't come up much because people are afraid to talk about it," she said.