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Alexandra Piacenza
Noodle Expert Member

December 18, 2019

Living with another person means being considerate yet assertive, and making decisions about how to share your space.

College is a defining time, both academically and emotionally. Being in a new environment, where you are most likely more independent than you were before, means making your own choices. The way you address these challenges and the decisions you make will become a part of who you are.

Kirk Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, has some excellent advice for students about to enter college — or anyone about to take on a new role: Try to anticipate the ethical tests you’re likely to encounter.

Hanson explains, “In any role we play in life, there are a set of unavoidable ethical dilemmas that come with that role, that come with the territory. Practical ethics is about knowing [the potential ethical dilemmas] are coming so they don’t blindside you, and [about] preparing yourself to handle them."

One of the first realities of college life you’re likely to encounter is the lack of available space in a college dorm room intended for two people to occupy. It’s a little like one of those tiny cabins on a ship at sea, and learning to share the space equitably is essential to peacefully navigating the waters of your roommate relationship.

In addition to physical space, having a roommate also means dealing with personal space, the boundaries that both you and your roommate set for accommodating possibly intrusive questions, interruptions, and quirky behavior.

Hanson and a team of ethicists recruited 10 students at 10 different campuses to interview 50 of their friends about ethical dilemmas typical for freshmen in college. Not unexpectedly, one of the most common questions reported was, “How does my behavior affect my roommate?"

You don't have to like your roommate, but to get along with a modicum of peace, you do need to observe some boundaries in how you treat her. It’s normal to have a roommate who may annoy you from time to time; it’s easy enough to get over it and go on. But what if you’re matched up with someone you really just can't stand? Beyond applying for a room transfer, make sure any action you take is:

  • Legal and in line with college policy
  • Fair, both to you and your roommate
  • One you would be comfortable sharing with family and friends


Grasgreen, A. (2011, July 15). The Ethics of Student Life @insidehighered. The Ethics of Student Life @insidehighered. Retrieved May 14, 2014, from Inside Higher Ed

Five Ethical Choices You Will Have to Make in College. (2014, January 1). Five Ethical Choices You Will Have to Make in College. Retrieved May 14, 2014, from Santa Clara University

McKelfresh, D. A., & Gasser, R. (n.d.). The Ethical Development of College Students. Housing Pros. Retrieved May 14, 2014, from