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Duke no longer allows students to request roommates

The Duke University Chapel on Duke’s West Campus, as photographed in 2017, serves as a symbol of the university.

The Duke University Chapel on Duke’s West Campus, as photographed in 2017, serves as a symbol of the university.

Duke University’s class of 2022 was informed last week that students will not have the option to request roommates.

A letter from Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs at Duke, and Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education, cited increasing numbers of pre-selected roommates in recent years.

Moneta and Nowicki argued random assignments can promote better "educational and social experience(s)."

"Research shows that the more diverse the interactions among students, the better equipped they are for life after Duke," they wrote. They did not reference specific research.

Moneta tweeted out the whole letter Feb. 27.

Rick Bradley, associate director of UNC's Department of Housing and Residential Education, said Duke made a bold move. 

"The adjustment to college and the university environment with high academic rigor brings its own stresses," he said. "If the student is comforted by having a known relationship with a prior friend, we want to provide that option."

Moneta could not be reached for a response.

The policy change elicited a generally negative response from current students.

Lauren Pederson, a junior at Duke, is worried whether the shift will be effective. 

"Horror stories exist for both random and pre-selected roommates," she said.

Duke students pushed back against Moneta and Nowicki's claims that random roommate assignments will improve their college experiences.

In an editorial last week, The Duke Chronicle argued against the change, calling the policy a hastily-created, quick-fix solution. 

"Simply forcing students from different regions of the world to eat, sleep and work together is not a fix-all for racial and class disharmony on campus," the editorial said.

Ryan Briggs, a sophomore and vice president of the Black Student Alliance at Duke, tweeted that the idea of living with a rich white person is terrifying as a black person from a low socioeconomic background.  

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Bradley said he thinks there is an assumption that having a roommate from a different background is good for all students, but that the policy wouldn’t work at UNC for safety reasons.

He referenced feedback from students from marginalized groups who are concerned with entering a safe living environment. 

“If we were to implement that policy here, I would be worried about those groups," he said.

The policy change follows months of conversations about Duke housing. 

A 2016 Duke study found independent students have a lower sense of belonging than those who join a selective living community, like a Greek organization. The study set goals such as increasing the level of community and interactions with students from diverse backgrounds.

In a January community forum, students assessed the Duke housing model. Students who attended addressed disparities between Greek Life housing, selective living groups and independent living arrangements, as well the housing policy at large.

Duke Students for Housing Reform proposed a new housing model in The Duke Chronicle on Feb. 5, arguing the current set of policies could be improved. The proposed model attempted to address multiple student calls to reform the housing policy.

Pederson does not think the recent policy change is the solution.

"College already comes with so many unknowns for students,” she said. “And I'm not sure what will happen when Duke forces another one on them.”