More colleges shift to random roommate assignments to ensure students engage with diverse perspectives

Duke University is joining a growing number of universities no longer allowing incoming freshmen students to choose their own roommates, according to the The Washington Post. “In the last few years, we’ve seen increasing numbers of students who have pre-selected roommates, often with very similar backgrounds to their own,” wrote Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Moneta and Dean and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Steve Nowicki in a letter to the Class of 2022 explaining the policy.

Research supports the concept, according to Inside Higher Ed, with one study finding that white students assigned students of color as roommates became “more open-minded” about race and a second concluding that white students are three times more likely to interact with Black students if they live in the same dormitories.

But some are concerned that this policy could create more problems for students of color. “There are so many cultural things that would have to be taught to my roommate to have a comfortable living experience,” Ryan Briggs, a Duke sophomore and vice president of the university’s chapter of the Black Student Alliance, told Inside Higher Ed. “And I do not have to work for the school to make sure some ignorant student learns how to be a better attribute to the community.” He suggested instead that the university create diverse dormitories rather than focusing on individual roommate arrangements. The student newspaper called the policy a “hastily-created, quick fix solution” to the various issues surrounding race on Duke’s campus.

But in his letter Moneta tells the incoming freshman class that he and Nowicki “believe that you’ll enjoy the opportunity to meet someone you’ve not previously known and will have a great opportunity to explore your roommate’s history, culture, and interests.”

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