College students given the opportunity to text it out

08/11/2014 1:21 PM

08/11/2014 1:22 PM

Students at Texas Wesleyan University who don’t like their roommates don’t have to hold it in and resort to passive-aggressive tactics or worse this year, with the addition of a new app designed to prevent conflict.

Roompact, launched this summer by a Chicago-based company, allows students to rate their roommate relationships by texting or emailing resident assistants through a secure virtual portal.

Students create their own roommate agreements and follow through with mini-surveys. They will receive weekly or bi-weekly mini-surveys in the form of text messages and emails in which they are asked to rate the relationships. An example text reads:

Hey, [student name], this is the residence life management team. How is your roommate relationship and residence life experience going? Text 1 for good, 2 for OK, or 3 for bad.

Repeated “bad” responses will highlight that dorm room in red in the online portal for resident assistants. “OK” responses turn the rooms yellow and “good” turns them green.

Resident assistants can log in and read the complaints, or receive messages in their email accounts or through text messages. The idea is to prevent roommate conflict before it’s too late to fix, said Matt Unger, Roompact founder and CEO.

Sharon Manson, Texas Wesleyan’s director of residence life, said the experience at Wesleyan has been that women tend to keep problems to themselves.

“What we’ve discovered is that women don’t talk about problems until they get real mad, and men kind of verbally slug it out and move on,” she said.

When a conflict arises the resident assistants will see it on Roompact and can intervene with face-to-face conversations.

“It’s often intimidating for students to come to RAs when they have problems,” Manson said.

Roompact could help identify problems before people decide to change rooms, she said. Manson said the last thing the university wants is for students to move out, but if staff intervention doesn’t work out as early as the first confrontation — they can.

While some schools fear losing students entirely because of roommate conflict, Manson said that wasn’t the case at Texas Wesleyan. She said she wanted to “provide another way to improve on-campus living for them. Our goal is for them to figure out how to find their voice and figure out who they are.”

Texas Wesleyan has 17 resident assistants and four dorms. Each resident assistant oversees a floor of 25-30 residents, which can be hard work.

Jeremy Hunt, a 22-year-old senior and resident assistant at OC Hall said students will come bang on doors into the wee hours of the morning if they have roommate problems.

He said one of the bigger issues he has faced was when a night owl and an early bird couldn’t get on the same page. The “older” male student liked to check in early, but his neighbor down the hall made too much noise.

Hunt said Roompact can also be used in situations that aren’t limited to one room.

“We can use this system to defuse the situation beforehand and make sure everything is copacetic,” Hunt said.

Another resident assistant, 21-year-old Nikaila Morrison, said she has used her personal Facebook account to connect with OC Hall residents for the past two years. Now she’s glad she can use technology to connect without having to divulge too much of her personal life.

“Our generation is so technology-oriented,” she said.

Other ways to reach out

Craig Allen, who oversees residence life at Texas Christian University, said TCU doesn’t use anything similar to Roompact, but focuses on roommate matching beforehand.

“You can’t avoid conflicts, so anyone that tries to sell a product that says it’s going to avoid them — I don’t believe that,” he said.

Allen said the university focuses on interpersonal relationships and community building throughout the year.

The University of North Texas also tackles the problem from the front end. UNT created an in-house “ice breaker” roommate matching program eight years ago, said James Fairchild Jr., who oversees residence life at UNT

“The interaction our housing staff has with students is designed to serve that need,” Fairchild said.

UT Arlington uses a software matching program called StarRez, which is a comprehensive student housing application.

University spokeswoman Kristin Sullivan said UT Arlington’s housing department has looked into Roompact, and will continue to evaluate the latest technology and programs available.

Star-Telegram media partner WFAA reported that Roompact will cost Texas Wesleyan $3,000 for all 400 students who live in dorms.

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