The roommate pairing process remains a source of mystery for many students at Deerfield Academy.
Students are uninformed on the various factors that may influence roommate assignments beyond the pairing survey sent to all ninth-graders. This has led to speculation about whether a student’s race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status plays a role in this process.
Before the school year starts, the Student Life Office, led by the Associate Dean of Students Rebecca Melvoin, sends out a 12 question form for incoming ninth-graders.
It surveys factors such as average hours of sleep, lifestyle habits (gaming, previous rooming experience, noise machines), and personality (introvert/extrovert).
In explaining the inspiration for the Deerfield roommate pairing form, Ms. Melvoin cited a Brown University study which found that roommate assignments are often most successful when paired students share some source of similarity.
However, there is a question on the Deerfield roommate form that poses the question: Is it important to you to have a roommate who shares a similar identity marker? (i.e. religion, ethnicity, race, etc).
For students that indicate it is very important to them, the DA administration takes special effort to accommodate these students.
Some students have raised concerns, however, that this survey leads to a disproportionate amount of roommate pairings based on race.
Ethan Chen ’20 said, “I definitely think there was a clear trend that minorities were paired together.”
Indeed, an examination of the assignments shows that, out of a sample of about 35 minority students in the class of 2020, 24 were paired with another minority student.
This pattern was similar but was slightly less pronounced for the Class of 2021’s assignments, in which amongst a sample of about 40 minority students, 24 were paired together.
Currently in the Village, about 26 out of 40 minority students are paired each other.
These statistics show a clear institutional pattern from the Student Life Office that students that request to have a roommate with similar identity markers are usually paired with other students from similar races.
Many students shared that this is problematic to the cultural competency vision that Deerfield has for its students.
Regarding this, Chen said, “People with similar upbringings may prefer certain environments. That preference can sometimes, although not always, emulate their own race’s culture, leading to the large number of same-race pairings.” Others pointed out that socioeconomic class would inevitably dictate the answer to the questionnaire’s answers.
In another context, students spoke highly of diverse roommate pairings. Benny Yang ’21 said, “Obviously Teddy Rockefeller ’21 and I are very different people but it was an amazing experience with him as a roommate. He’s a great guy and we would eat cheeseballs together at 1:00am. Also, through him, I got to know many of his friends who I probably would have never talked to otherwise.”
Oliveira added, “We need to pair kids with different backgrounds and ethnicities to break that invisible consider to be minorities and non-minorities. By forcing people out of their comfort zone, they will come out of that experience with new perspectives and legitimate expletives instead of false assumptions.”
However, members of the administration and faculty have argued for minority pairings as a source of support and comfort for students, particularly those who are far from home. Philosophy and Religion Teacher Ben Grimm said, “No, I don’t think I’m surprised. It seems like there’s a good argument to be made for putting students of minority backgrounds with students that will understand that aspect of their experience.”
Ms. Melvoin, while discussing what values Deerfield seeks to promote through the roommate system, stressed that “[a student’s] room should feel like a safe spot. ”Deerfield’s mission, in essence, is to support its students in feeling safe and comfortable in their respective dorm rooms.
Saadhya Bahudodda ‘20, who was personally involved in a minority roommate pairing, added, “Often, people from similar backgrounds have an easier time relating to each other. Depending on the person, coming to Deerfield can already be a large culture shock in itself. In these situations, the pairings can be beneficial in providing some form of familiarity.”
It is clear that students and teachers alike have diverging opinions on how Deerfield’s roommate pairing system should be structured, particularly whether or not a student’s race and socioeconomic class should be taken into consideration in the process.
Looking forward, many urge Deerfield’s administration to look into more creative and advanced methods to establish roommate pairings for incoming freshmen.
Tory Hansen ‘21 said, “Just because two people are completely the same on paper doesn’t necessarily mean they will be compatible as roommates.”
Christina Li ‘20 added, “There’s no perfect roommate pair. It’s impossible to match people based off of checkboxes. But we have to admit that the administration is doing its best.”
Indeed, the administration pairs students through a meticulous and individualized process, which sometimes is successful, sometimes not.
The process involves making deliberate decisions according to each student’s personality and background. And, sometimes, as Yang shared about his roommate experience, “You find someone to eat cheese balls with.”