For most college students, living with roommates is part of the college experience, and particularly in the case of first year students, your roommate is likely to be someone you’ve never met. Chances are this person’s background or beliefs may differ from your own.
In December, Intelligent.com surveyed 1,000 prospective and current college students ages 16-23 to understand how comfortable they would be living with someone who differs from them.
While the majority report they would be comfortable sharing a room with someone whose identities and beliefs differ from their own, this is not the case for everyone.
Our findings reveal that some are uncomfortable sharing their room with someone with different / who has a different:
- Political views (19%)
- Sexual orientation (11%)
- Religious beliefs (8%)
- Dietary habits (7%)
- Race/ethnicity (1%)
Below, we cover our findings in more detail.
1 in 3 liberals uncomfortable sharing room with someone with different political views
When asked how comfortable they would be living and sharing a room with someone whose political views differ from their own, the majority of respondents say comfortable. More specifically, 13% say they would be ‘very comfortable’ and 40% ‘comfortable’ with this rooming arrangement.
On the other hand, 27% are not sure how comfortable they would be, while 14% say they would be ‘somewhat uncomfortable’ and 4.8% ‘very uncomfortable.’
Students who identify as liberal are more than twice as likely as conservatives to say they would be uncomfortable sharing a room with someone who has different political views (29% vs 14%); 13% of moderates also say they would be uncomfortable.
Students wrote-in that they would be uncomfortable sharing a room with a student with different political views for a variety of reasons, including safety concerns and worry it would be a divisive environment. Here are some of the write-in responses we received:
- “Because I would want to feel safe.”
- “I don’t like getting into arguments with people due to their opinion on certain topics when it comes to politics, I usually try to be respectful to one another and wish that it doesn’t escalate into something bad.”
- “I would only get uncomfortable when they don’t support same-sex marriages and black lives matter.”
- “In short, as a member of the lgbtq+, if i were to share a living space with someone who drastically disagrees with me— my life could be in danger.”
- “Because politics nowadays causes violence and a lot of tensions so it’s better off sharing a room with someone with no or similar political views.”
“Based on the write-in responses we received, it’s clear some students believe that politics on their own cause tensions or equate to someone else imposing their views onto them,” says college admissions and educational advisor, Blanca Villagomez.
“Unfortunately, there is an assumption and fear that cohabitating with someone who has different views automatically equates to heated arguments. It’s important to debunk this dominant narrative to decrease the harm and divisiveness that can occur. In fact, what often leads to these unproductive discussions is a lack of open-mindedness, listening, and acceptance.”
1 in 4 conservatives uncomfortable rooming with someone with a different sexual orientation
When it comes to sharing a room with a student who has a different sexual orientation, 33% are ‘very comfortable’ and 35% are ‘comfortable’ doing so.
However, 21% are not sure, while 6.6% would be ‘somewhat uncomfortable’ and 4.6% ‘very uncomfortable.’
Conservatives are far more likely to say they would feel uncomfortable. Of those who say they have conservative political views, 25% say they would be uncomfortable sharing a room with someone who has a different sexual orientation, compared to 6.5% of those who have liberal views.
Additionally, those who identify as LGBTQIA+ are much less likely to say they would be uncomfortable sharing a room with someone whose sexual orientation differs from their own. Less than 2% of those who identify as LGBTQIA+ would be uncomfortable, compared to 15% of those who say they do not identify as LGBTQIA+.
Those who say they are very religious were more likely to say they would be uncomfortable than those who are not religious at all (19% vs 11%).
Respondents wrote-in a variety of reasons for why they wouldn’t be comfortable. The justifications ranged from religious beliefs to fear to blatant intolerance.
Here are some of the write-in responses we received:
- “They may try to hit on me or groom me.”
- “I would feel awkward because it clashes with my religious beliefs.”
- “Because they might do something to me.”
- “The idea of sexuality has become insanely politicized nowadays. I don’t want to feel like I’m sharing a room with a ticking time bomb that possibly hates me for being a straight white man. It’s not worth the risk. And besides, I’m not into that stuff.”
- “I’m christian and i’m used to growing up around straight people.”
- “They are different to me and I don’t want to say anything that might offend them.”
“Often our intolerance of differences stem from fear or a lack of understanding,” says Villagomez.
“We all navigate life with varying degrees of unconscious bias shaped by numerous factors such as family upbringing, religion, race, culture, gender, etc. As long as no party is causing harm (physical, emotional, and/or psychological), or trying to impose their own beliefs, there is great potential in a college setting for students to increase their tolerance for diversity, become more mindful, and engage in respectful dialogue.”
8% uncomfortable sharing room with someone with different religious beliefs
Overall, 24% are ‘very comfortable’ and 49% are ‘comfortable’ sharing a room with someone who has different religious beliefs than their own. However, 19% are not sure, while 5.8% are ‘somewhat uncomfortable’ and 1.8% are ‘very uncomfortable’ doing so.
Those who report being more religious tend to be less comfortable rooming with someone who has different beliefs.
Reasons respondents wrote-in include:
- “It depends on how much different their religious beliefs are from mine, and depending on their beliefs I might not feel safe.”
- “They may be a satanist and the practice of satanic worshiping goes against my religion.”
- “I would feel less comfortable because I think it would scare me too much.”
- “I am fearful of the effects of hyper religious beliefs, as I am a potential target of discrimination and harm.”
- “If they try to impose their beliefs on me or are constantly bringing up their beliefs to contradict my own.”
- “With different religious beliefs comes a difference in morals and I can’t live with someone like that.”
7% uncomfortable sharing room with someone with different dietary habits
When it comes to sharing a room with someone who has different dietary habits, 22% are ‘very comfortable’ and 48% are ‘comfortable’ doing so. On the other hand, 23% are not sure, while 4.7% would be ‘somewhat uncomfortable’ and 1.8% ‘very uncomfortable.’
Reasons that respondents wrote-in touched on fears of being judged and ensuing disagreements, including:
- “I might feel pressured to eat like them instead of how I usually eat.”
- “I would be afraid of being judged.”
- “I feel it would be very hard to live with them because I could never have the food I want at the place.”
- “I think it’s because since we’re eating differently, we technically don’t have anything in common. For instance, if I am a meat eater, however, my roommate is a vegan eater, this will not only make my roommate uncomfortable, but also me.”
- I would feel less comfortable sharing my room with someone who has different dietary habits because I only eat halal and I would not feel comfortable with someone having pork or non halal food.”
1% uncomfortable sharing room with someone of a different race/ethnicity
Overall, the vast majority of students are comfortable sharing a room with someone who is a different race or ethnicity; 48% are ‘very comfortable,’ 43% are ‘comfortable. However, 9% say they are not sure how comfortable they would be, while 0.7% say they would be ‘somewhat uncomfortable’ and 0.2% ‘very uncomfortable.’
Those with diverse friends are more comfortable rooming with different people
The data shows that respondents who have friends whose identities or beliefs are different from their own are more likely to be comfortable rooming with someone who also shares this difference.
For example, respondents who have friends with a different sexual orientation from their own, are more likely to say they are comfortable rooming with someone with a different sexual orientation.
Villagomez believes students with more diverse social groups are more accepting and tolerant of others.
“During my sessions with students I often observe how some first year students undergo a very interesting intellectual and ethical development,” says Villagomez. “They tend to move away from dualism as they interact with more diverse groups of students and learn more about themselves in relationship with their peers.”
“Students with more diverse social circles are often open-minded to expanding their worldviews, thus creating more room to listen without judgment, accept new opinions and values, and genuinely respect people’s different experiences. This development happens over time and requires personal accountability, continuous learning, and an evaluation on how our implicit biases shape our actions and beliefs.”
Villagomez says universities can play a critical role in encouraging students to be more open-minded by exposing them to a diverse range of identities and beliefs.
“Universities have procedures for encouraging students to explore multiple identities, values, and beliefs by participating in social events, group dialogue sessions, and one-on-one conversations,” says Villagomez. “Students are also encouraged to explore multiple identities, values, and beliefs by participating in social events, group dialogue sessions, and one-on-one conversations.”
Many have experienced intolerance themselves
The vast majority of students consider themselves to be ‘very tolerant’ (38%) or ‘somewhat tolerant’ (49%).
While 2.2% say they are ‘somewhat intolerant’ and 0.4% ‘very intolerant’. Additionally, 11% say they are neither tolerant nor intolerant.
Unfortunately, many say they themselves have been treated unfairly in the past year due to their identity or beliefs.
“Although students living in the spaces also agree to a code of conduct and an agreement to the mission and values of the university, schools know that their mission of encouraging diversity does not come without its challenges,” says Villagomez.
“Students who are uncomfortable sharing a room with someone simply due to their differences does not make them entitled to receiving accommodations. There are procedures and policies in place to help residential staff resolve nuanced conflicts and differences among students. Many housing and residential programs encourage their students to create roommate agreements early on to set boundaries and realistic expectations. These agreements serve as guidelines to build relationships with mutual respect.
“However, it’s also important to validate the threats and safety concerns stemming from personal experiences with racism, assault, and discrimination. Sometimes due to their beliefs individuals take actions that can cause other students physical, emotional, and/or psychological harm.”
All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by Intelligent.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish on December 29, 2022. In total, 1,000 U.S. prospective and current college students ages 16-23 were surveyed.
Appropriate respondents were found via Pollfish’s demographic tools. Respondents’ employment status had to be student and they had to answer a screening question to indicate that they are currently in high school and planning to attend college or are currently an undergraduate student.
Pollfish uses Random Device Engagement (RDE), which is both random and organic. This survey uses a convenience sampling method. You can learn more about how Pollfish’s methodology works here.
You can view the full survey data here.
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