No Respect

September 7, 2023
District house and gate

Dear Conflict Coach, 

I just wrapped up orientation, and most things seem great. The only issue is my roommate. I was so optimistic about our roommate relationship. We agreed that we would be respectful of each other, but my roommate is repeatedly doing things like eating my food and inviting friends over without permission. They're nice, and I’d like to get along but their lack of common sense, especially after we agreed to consider each other, is really hard for me.

–Don’t Get No Respect

Dear Don’t Get No Respect-

First, I’m glad that you see some nice things about your roommate and others around you. And I love that you both set out to be respectful of each other. That’s the foundation of any good relationship. 

I’m guessing, though, that you never defined what “respectful” meant. In your family or your high school community, everyone may have had a shared understanding about what respect means. As your circle broadens in GW’s diverse community, you’ll find that people have lots of different definitions of respect. Respect might mean welcoming each other’s guests. Respect might mean asking permission first. (GW does have rules against guests disrupting sleep and study.) 

Respect is great, and you and your roommate probably need to be clear about what respect means. The sooner you both clarify that, the sooner you can enjoy the nice person you know your roommate is. Here are some quick tips for setting effective expectations with peers.

  1. Start with the assumption that people can have diverse understanding about phrases like “respectful” and “common sense.” Communicate your own expectations, and listen to others about what they expect. Develop shared expectations together, rather than assuming they exist.
  2. Phrase expectations in terms of what you want, not what you hope to avoid. Also, set an expectation that applies to all involved. You could say, “I’d like us to agree that we’ll ask before eating food that the other bought.” Stating what you want in a goes-both-ways phrasing is usually clearer and more welcomed than saying, “I don’t want you to eat my food.”
  3. Agree on a plan to revisit expectations in about four weeks. That way, as you adapt to life at GW, your expectations with each other can change and adapt as well. 
  4. If you want more support for talking to your roommate about this, reach out to your Community Coordinator. They’re a great resource for helping you talk to your roommate.

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