Loyola prods freshmen to talk problems out

For four young men on their second day at Loyola College, negotiating the small details of everyday life in the dormitory could mean the difference between friendship and "freshmanocide."

Pat Coleman, from Rockland County, N.Y., will share an L-shaped dormitory room with three other freshmen this year. Yesterday afternoon, during a session with his roommates that is part of a new Loyola program begun this fall, Mr. Coleman said he was willing to compromise on many things, but with one exception:


"I'm not going to make my bed," he said. "I've never done it in my life. I'm not going to start now."

"Good," responded junior Jerry Jabbour, the resident adviser for the floor, who sat in on the meeting to prod the new students to talk about their expectations. "Communication is essential."


The discussion marks the first step toward a roommate contract, a program started by Loyola administrators this fall.

While many campuses ask students questions about their tastes and habits, Loyola is joining a handful of schools nationally that require freshmen to sit down and hammer out a pact aimed at smoothing the rough edges off living in close quarters during their first year away from home.

The agreement can be altered, but is intended to be honored, officials say.

The roommates -- Mr. Coleman, Rick Desi, Paul Romano and Andy Asfendis -- had never met before this week. But they already appear to have a lot in common.

For example, they apparently share a taste for posters of women dressed in sleek swimwear. None of the four seems fastidious, but they say they'll clean up dishes immediately after using them and they agree that roommates should be able to borrow compact discs without asking, but not clothes.

"I have four brothers, and that happens a lot," Mr. Desi said of borrowing clothes. "I didn't mind that they did it -- I just minded they didn't even ask."

After the half-hour meeting, all four said that they did not expect any conflicts to emerge and that the program had encouraged them to talk over any problems that might arise.

But if the experience of residence officials on other campuses is any guide, even small concerns can escalate into problems. For example, Mr. Coleman's smoking, Mr. Asfendis' girlfriend's overnight stays and Mr. Desi's concern over raids on his food supply all could prove sticking points.


"It may seem right now that there aren't going to be any problems," Mr. Jabbour, the resident adviser, told the 16 freshmen who will live on his floor yesterday afternoon. "Maybe you won't have any. But it's really going to take hard work."

Arguments over when to play music, who gets the telephone, even whether a student uses someone else's hair dryer can loom large as the semester progresses.

Ben Klein, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, still remembers his freshman-year roommate -- whose personality was almost the opposite of his -- in fall 1990.

Over that year Mr. Klein and his roommate worked out an accommodation, he said. Ultimately the roommate, who at first had hated Mr. Klein's classical music, even adopted Mozart's "Requiem" as one of his favorite pieces, he said.

Pam Mielke, director of residence life at the University of Maryland College Park, said different outlooks on smoking, sexually explicit posters and religion can derail roommates even before classes start.

"It's amazing that we can check in 7,500 people, create a community here overnight and have as few problems as we do," she said. The difficulties college students today have getting along may be related to larger social trends. Bill McCartney, director of housing and residence life for the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, suggested that "20 years ago, the typical college student had shared a room at home."


Now, he said, many students have grown up with their own room and "probably already had their own TV and their own stereo and driven their own car."

That means many students probably are inexperienced in solving the kinds of problems that roommates can face.

Living contracts, Mr. McCartney said, enable roommates with conflicts "to sit down and say, 'Time out here. You're violating that part of the agreement. Do you want to live by it or do you want to renegotiate?' "

The Johns Hopkins University, Goucher College and University of Maryland College Park all send questionnaires asking how neat students keep their rooms, whether they smoke and how late they go to bed -- with early being before 12 a.m.

But surveys cannot eliminate all the problems. At Hopkins, for example, every few years a male and female mistakenly are assigned a room together. Administrators there have now added a question asking students to state their gender.

Some problems escalate into major conflicts. In 1992, for example, Robert Babula, a freshman about to enter Albright College in Reading, Pa., responded to a campus questionnaire by requesting a roommate like himself -- someone studious and quiet who did not stay up late.


But according to a $150,000 lawsuit filed in federal district court in Philadelphia in May, that is exactly what Mr. Babula did not get. Instead, court documents allege, he was paired with a hard-drinking football player whose friends abused Mr. Babula.

Albright officials say they cannot discuss the case because it is being adjudicated, and John Devlin, the college's lawyer, did not return telephone calls seeking comment. However, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported after the suit was filed that the college denied the allegations.

While the case has received humorous press coverage -- this month's issue of Harper's magazine excerpted portions of the complaint under the headline "Unger v. Madison," a reference to Neil Simon's play, "The Odd Couple" -- Mr. Babula's lawyer, Jim Cavanaugh, says the case shows the college's indifference to the students whose lives it controls.

Mr. Cavanaugh lauded the efforts of schools such as Loyola to step in before problems arise.

"If something like that had happened at Albright," Mr. Cavanaugh said of the Loyola initiative, "I'm sure that such a problem would have been ameliorated, if not solved."