Jesse Singal laments the decline of the traditional college roommate experience, in which you’re paired with a random classmate:
It’s unlikely a circa-2014 college freshman will ever have to go more than a few hours without having a chance to communicate with distant loved ones. All of which only makes the rando roommate more important.
Just ask Bruce Sacerdote, a Dartmouth economist and one of the leading researchers into the effects college roommates have on each other. Sacerdote is a fan of random roommate assignment. Partially, that’s because it’s exactly the sort of event just about all social scientists love: a predictably timed injection of randomness. In what other situation could a researcher — ethically, at least — say, “Hey, let’s see what happens when you have a white Midwesterner live in close quarters with a Vietnamese immigrant for a year!” Since colleges have loads of data about who kids were before they matriculated — and since it’s easy to keep track of them in the years that follow — random roommate assignment is a unique opportunity to study how humans influence one another.
Singal goes on to cite research showing how beneficial roommates-of-difference can be:
According to Sacerdote, research shows that rooming with someone from a lower socioeconomic class “impacts your attitudes about financial aid, about redistribution,” leading to greater support for policies that help close the wealth game. It’s easy to see why: Rich kids tend to come from rich towns, and as a result don’t have much of a sense of what it means to struggle economically. But if you live with someone who is living financial aid check to financial aid check, things will (hopefully) snap into perspective pretty quickly.
This is well and good, until you consider how it goes for the learning-experience-providing roommate.