Your dorm room is where you’re supposed to feel at home on campus. You should be able to feel as comfortable in your extra-long twin bed as you would in your own house. This might be easier said than done, especially if you were assigned a random roommate whom you haven’t met before. You don’t have to be besties with your roomie, but when you’re sharing a space as intimate (and by intimate, we mean cramped) as a dorm room, you and your roommate should feel safe and have a respectful relationship.
However, sometimes matching disasters occur, and you might be paired up with someone who might be totally unsupportive of who you are. It might be the way she stares at you when you put on your “Same Love” T-shirt or the way she blurts out triggering comments right in front of you, but living with her is clearly going to be difficult. If your roommate is homophobic, we have a few tips for you to make your dorm experience much more enjoyable.
1. Have a discussion about what exactly makes your roommate uncomfortable
For many collegiettes, being in college is the first time you come across people with beliefs different from your own. There are countless reasons why your roommate might be homophobic and ways she might express it—and even a chance that she might not know her behavior is problematic.
UW-Madison junior Rachel* says that her roommate was from a small town where she had never met anyone who was openly gay.
“When we did have a conversation about it, she mentioned that many people in her town were very religious and conservative,” Rachel says. “She didn’t know how to feel about knowing someone who was gay, much less living with someone who was gay.”
Whether it’s about religion or other types of personal beliefs, pinpointing exactly what makes your roommate uncomfortable might help move the conversation along to a place where you can empathize with each other.
2. Try setting ground rules with her
Once you confront your roommate about her homophobic behavior, it’s important to talk about things that you both need from each other to make the year go as smoothly as possible. A roommate contract usually works best by listing all of your expectations of each other. If you start this conversation about your needs at the beginning of the year, it could help you avoid future confrontation.
First, tell her what specific behavior makes you uncomfortable. Is it the fact that she spits out slurs in her everyday vocabulary? Let her know which specific words she uses are offensive, and explain to her why. Maybe it’s the way she tries to force her opinions on you. Tell her that while she has every right to her own opinion, you’re not going to adjust your beliefs to fit hers.
Make sure to also have a discussion about things you can potentially do to make her feel more at ease. It could be as simple as letting her know when you’re bringing a girl over so that she can leave the room. Just make sure that the compromises you make are reasonable and not detrimental. If she asks you to change anything that is essential to your identity, politely let her know that this is not an option. You can’t change who you are to accommodate her.
3. Talk to an adviser or counselor
Not having the freedom to be yourself in your own room can cause a major blow to your self-esteem, causing stress, anxiety and even depression. It’s not something that you should have to go through by yourself.
Fortunately, most campuses have free counseling services if you need to talk to a professional during a rough time like this. During your time with a counselor, he or she will be open to listening to you vent, rant and even cry if you need to as you express your frustrations. A counselor can even potentially direct you to other resources or support groups that exist in the community on and off campus.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone or you don’t have these resources available to you, there are also hotlines for people experiencing homophobia. The It Gets Better Project has a listing of 24/7 hotline numbers of people you can talk to if you ever feel like you’re in a crisis.
4. Talk to your RA about room-switching options
If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable rooming with this person, you definitely want to contact your RA about getting a room switch. Feeling like you’re in a dangerous place in your own living space is not a good situation to be in. At some schools, such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, acts of homophobia can count as a form of harassment, which could potentially get your roommate removed from the dorm.
UW-Madison RA and senior Nadia Carlson says not to hesitate to move out of your dorm if your roommate is homophobic.
“It’s not worth wasting a significant part of your college experience,” she says. “This is your moment to shine and be able to express yourself, so you should be able to remove yourself from whatever pressure … might inhibit that.”
5. Get in contact with the LGBTQ+ center on campus or other possible advocates
While many collegiettes might not feel comfortable talking to their RAs, there could be other people and communities on campus who would be more than willing to help you. The LGBTQ+ center on campus or any other organizations of that nature could potentially play a huge role in listening to and defending your case to the higher-ups in university housing. They’re present on your campus to support you in all of your endeavors.
Dany Seiler, a UW-Madison senior and a former intern at the UW-Madison LGBT Campus Center, totally understands how a homophobic roommate could dampen a college experience.
“For me, coming to college was the first time I could experiment with stuff because you’re no longer in high school and you don’t have to worry about a lot of things,” Dany says. “Having a homophobic roommate makes you worry that they’re always judging you, everything from what I wear towho I bring back to the room. It’s important to realize that these students need all the help they can get in these situations.”'
While the roommate matching might not have worked in your favor this time around, it’s important to remember that this situation shouldn’t play a detrimental role in your college career. College is one of the biggest learning experiences you’ll ever have. You’ll learn how to deal with people who don’t always agree with your beliefs, but you’ll also learn how to take care of yourself and your needs. By following this advice, you’ll be on your way to having a safe environment.
*Name has been changed.