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Conflict Management in Higher Ed Report
Volume 5, Number 1, Sept 2004

Multi-party Roommate Conflict
continued...

Roommate 3: Alex

You are one of four graduate students sharing a five bedroom, three-story house near Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. You’ve been living in the house for 2 years now, and in general you have been happy with the living arrangement. The rent is reasonable, which is hard to come by in this area of the city, the house is gorgeous, and while there’s been a steady rotation of different housemates, in general roommate relations have been good.

Every month the house has a house meeting, and you suspect that this month’s meeting is going to be pretty exciting.

Two months ago the house got a new roommate, Grace. At first it seemed like Grace would fit right in. She’s bright and has a great sense of humor, and you’ve had some fantastic philosophical discussion with her. Unfortunately, you’ve noticed that her strong religious convictions, and in particular her view of homosexuality as a sin, are beginning to chafe with Will, the housemate who’s lived in the house the longest, who is openly gay, and who, like Grace, has a room on the top floor of the house.

You’re not sure how long tension has been building between Will and Grace, but from side remarks you’ve heard from both of them over the past week you know that things are reaching a breaking point. As a culture studies grad student, you’re sensitive to the profound need for tolerance and empathy in a pluralistic society. But you also know that ideas like “tolerance” and “acceptance” are social constructs, and you don’t want to see Grace’s beliefs—no matter how much you happen to disagree with them—be mocked, marginalized, or punished simply because they aren’t popular or your own. Maybe it would help if one of them moved downstairs. You’d love to give up your downstairs room and get one of the upstairs rooms with the swank view of the city.

On a side note, at this month’s house meeting you expect that your other roommate, Mallory, will probably bring up the issue of the downstairs study being messy. You’re in the midst of writing your dissertation proposal, and for the past month you’ve been camped out in the study writing, researching, and taking breaks to unwind and think (play computer games and smoke some weed to take the edge off of some of your anxiety about the work). You know that ultimately this arrangement can’t work forever, but you only have about one or two more months worth of work to go before you’re done. And besides, as fellow grad students you’d hope your roommates would understand the stress of the process and have some flexibility.

Roommate 4: Mallory

You are one of four graduate students sharing a five bedroom, three-story house near Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. You’ve been living in the house for 2 years now, and in general you have been happy with the living arrangement. The rent is reasonable, which is hard to come by in this area of the city, the house is gorgeous, and while there’s been a steady rotation of different housemates, in general roommate relations have been good.

Every month the house has a house meeting, and you suspect that this month’s meeting is going to involve working through some tough conflicts.

Two months ago the house got a new roommate, Grace. At first it seemed like Grace would fit right in. She’s bright and has a good sense of humor. But you had a hunch things might get difficult when you began to learn more about her close-minded religious beliefs. Grace’s opinions are clearly beginning to chafe with Will, the housemate who’s lived in the house the longest, who is openly gay, and who, like Grace, has a room on the top floor of the house. You’re not sure how long tension has been building between Will and Grace, but from side remarks you’ve heard from both of them over the past week you know that things are reaching a breaking point.

You imagine that Will probably just wants to kick Grace out of the house, and he might even have half a chance of pulling it off since he’s close with the landlord and Grace has yet to officially sign the house lease. But that option doesn’t sit well with you. Grace was worried about not being able to sign the lease when she first moved in—the landlord was out of town, so it wasn’t possible then—and you along with the rest of the roommates gave your word that it wouldn’t be a problem.

But beyond that concession, you have a hard time sympathizing with Grace’s plight. You’re a fervent believer in tolerance and acceptance, and hate and homophobia aren’t things you’re prepared to put up with in a place you call home. You’re not sure how much it would solve, but you would be willing to let Grace take your room on the second floor and you take her upstairs room next to Will—you’ve wanted one of the upstairs rooms with the great city view for a long time.

On another front, for the past month you’ve been growing increasingly frustrated at how Alex, your other roommate, has been treating the common study area on the first floor of the house. He’s constantly camped out in the room, and although he claims to be working on his dissertation proposal, every time you walk into the room you find him just playing computer games and smoking pot. You’re a sociology PhD candidate yourself, and you remember the stresses of the proposal writing process. But this is a common space and you have work you need to get done there as well. You’ve tried gently bringing this up with him on several occasions, and although he keeps saying he’ll clean up and be better about sharing the space, nothing changes.

You kind of think of Alex as a younger brother, and you want to push this issue not just so that you can use the space, but so that he can get on with the job of getting his proposal written and stop slacking off so much. Confronting him alone isn’t getting the job done; you want to bring this up at the general house meeting so that the other roommates can get involved. They don’t end up using the downstairs space as much as you, but it is a common area of the house and when issues like this come up it should be a shared responsibility for getting them resolved.

Role 5 (optional): Jack

You’re a next-door neighbor and friend of Alex’s from grad school, who spends a lot of time over at the house goofing off. Alex is a good drinking buddy, and you’ve always like the vibe of the house. You’ve attended some house meetings in the past—mostly by accident, because you just happened to be around—and you’ve again found yourself unexpectedly in the midst of a house meeting.

Aside from being friends with Alex, over the past two months you’ve been getting close to Grace. Nothing serious or romantic. The two of you just hit it off, and you’ve been kind of fascinated by someone with such conservative Christian views (you were raised in a very conservative Christian home, but have since strayed from the faith for a variety of reasons). Grace really seems to mean well, and you’d really like to see that she doesn’t get too attacked or persecuted by the group just because her beliefs are different.

You’re also hoping the meeting can get done with in a reasonably quick time period. You kind of were hoping to do some drinking and play video games with Alex, which is why you came over in the first place.

If the group suggests you moving in and swapping places with Grace or anyone else, you have to decline. You just purchased the one bedroom condo you live in next door, and moving isn’t an option for you. You want to help them get along and resolve this, but you can’t contribute any material resources to help.

(c) 2001, John Windmueller

John Windmueller is a doctoral candidate (all but dissertation) at George Mason University's Institute  for Conflict Analysis & Resolution. His academic background is in inter-disciplinary International Affairs, with a MA and BA from Florida State. He's done training and been certified in mediation  (Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediator) and inter-cultural communication and conflict resolution. He is a co-teacher of ICAR's graduate course in Interpersonal & Small Group Conflict.

 

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