Roommates, Version 1

“I’m beginning to think it would work just as well if we put all of the keys in a basket and let people grab one. The roommate matches couldn’t be any worse, could they?” I don’t remember which housing job I had or which roommate situation pushed me into making this pronouncement, but clearly whatever process we were using for roommate matches didn’t seem to be working that day. Campuses use short forms and long forms, some use computer programs; students come with friends, take ‘pot luck’, check people out on Facebook and still some roommate matches work and some don’t.

I know why they put Judy* and me together. On the housing application we must have looked like a perfect fit. Neither of us were smokers (still one of the most important criteria even if we no longer allow smoking in rooms). Neither of us were night owls and we both predicted we would study in our room, a lot. We were so much alike we were both enrolled in the same Beginning Russian class during our first semester of college (hard to believe there were two people who thought this was a good idea and two advisors who signed off on it). Must have looked like a match made in heaven.

Judy had moved in a week before I arrived. She and our two suitemates had arrived early for sorority Rush. Our suitemates had joined a sorority and were quickly absorbed into that very active social life and we mostly saw them in our shared bathroom. I don’t remember their names, but I do remember they had one of the few TV’s on the floor, a small black and white. My predominant visual memory is of them getting ready to go out, make-up, hot rollers and trying to figure out what to wear. I also remember that our built-in beds shared the wall with their built-in beds and some nights Judy and I knew more about their social life than we would have liked.

I had not wanted to go through Rush. My mother had been in a sorority but it didn’t seem to have played an important part in her college experience. She told me she joined a sorority to have a place to live in her sophomore year. She also told me that she had missed ‘sing’ practice once and that’s when they figured out who was off-key; she was to mouth the words when they had to perform. I don’t know if she was teasing though it is true that singing is not a family talent and required singing sounded like a reason to opt out of the experience. I didn’t care that I hadn’t been invited to join our high school version of a sorority and saw no reason why I would want to do something like it in college. My Mom did ask me about it because she knew I would need to get recommendations and she would need to help me with that, but once I declined that was the end of it.

I don’t remember if Judy’s mother had been in a sorority or merely wished she had, but she seemed to call constantly, insisting that Judy go through the secondary Rush process. Rush wasn’t designed for people like Judy and me. Hot days, wearing dresses and high heels, going from house to house meeting new person after new person and trying to make a good impression; it’s not where an introvert shines. Judy was quiet, shy and had no connections to the sorority world. She was short and round with naturally white-blond hair. Later in the semester she would cut her hair in a style that was supposed to be like Liza Minelli’s in the movie ‘Cabaret’ but instead gave her an unfortunate resemblance to songwriter Paul Williams – she even had glasses like his. She had not had a successful experience and had spent several days alone on campus watching the giddy excitement of the other ‘rushees’ and waiting for her roommate to show up.

We started off with a lot of togetherness during those three days before classes began. She had only met a couple of folks not involved in the Rush process and I knew no one at all. As a result, we ate all of our meals with one another. It turned out that we didn’t have much in common, but hanging out together was much better than going to the cafeteria alone. I suppose we explored campus and found our classrooms; I think I bought my books for class. Possibly we went to the stores on “Campus Corner”, a shopping area on the other end of campus or to the little stores across the street, but I don’t remember us doing much beyond meals in the cafeteria and sitting in our room.

Now we work diligently to keep students active and involved before classes begin. Too many students find themselves so homesick in those first few days that they leave before the semester has even started. I don’t remember anything about any activities and, if they were happening, I was much too scared to check them out. I never considered leaving, but even forty years later I do remember it was a long three days. So there we were. Judy was miserable every time her mother called. I spent the time missing my high school boyfriend. We had been dating for just over a year and he had gone to school in Dallas. I’m sure we were a delight to be around. (In 1975, we thought twice about making long distance calls. We didn’t make daily calls to our parents or friends from high school. Going away to college meant going away.) As nervous as we both were about classes, it was a relief when the semester started and we had something else to do.

Judy did go through that secondary process called Open Rush and she did find a sorority that worked for her a month or so into the semester. While we had class together and did study our Russian together for a few weeks, once she pledged, she spent more and more time at the sorority house. New members had required study hours and she soon did all her studying there until late into the night. The norm was that people who pledged lived in the residence halls for a year and then could move into their sorority or fraternity house, but somehow Judy got an exception and at the end of the semester she packed up all of her belongings and moved them to her new room into the sorority house. We didn’t have a class together in the second semester and I never ran into her on campus so I don’t know the rest of her story. Not the worst roommate experience by far, and as I was to find out the next semester, too much alike is actually better than too different.

*Not her name.

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