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Residence Life

First-Year Roommates

Student Affairs staff review paper and online records as they select roommates for the incoming classIf you’re jittery about who your roommate will be in your first year of college, stop worrying. Not only do you have a lot of control over a good match at Grinnell, there are real people who care about it.

“Students fill out an application that asks for different types of preferences — identities, music, study habits, things like that,” says Joseph Rolón, director of residence life. “Other schools put them into a computer program and match them up. Here, humans actively research the students and care about how they’re matched. We literally spend three days in the summer hand-matching 400 first-year students.”

Rolón says it’s important that students are honest on the roommate form. “What students say on paper can be very different from who they are when they get here,” Rolón says, “especially if their parents were looking over their shoulder when they filled it out or their parents filled it out for them. Students need to be very honest because that’s what we’re basing our matches on.”

Positive Relationship

The residence life staff encourages incoming first-year students to contact their assigned roommates before arriving in Grinnell. Tulah Fuchs ’19 and Lauren MacKenzie ’19 chatted briefly, but Fuchs says they didn’t share a lot of personal information right away.

“What was really important for our relationship is that we didn’t attempt to get to know each other before we actually met,” Fuchs says. “That works for some people, but our relationship took off without the virtual pressure of telling our life stories on Facebook.

“I think the roommate form was a huge part of our positive relationship, and I think that the questions were really good,” Fuchs says. Questions about lifestyle and personal tastes are important, she says. Being asked to describe your ideal roommate “allows you to think beyond the basics and write down not just what you want in a roommate but potentially your first real friend in college.”

Records of students and floor map of Younker Pit with a number of rooms with big red Xs through themReflect and Prioritize

She advises incoming first-years to give themselves time to reflect about their answers and to understand that their roommate doesn’t have to be their best friend from the get-go. “I think there’s a lot of pressure on people to have that happen,” Fuchs says.

“Start off by prioritizing the basics, like when you go to bed and how neat or messy of a person you are,” Fuchs says. “Definitely be honest. If your roommate and you are best friends, that’s fine, but hopefully you’re not fighting about what time the lights should be turned off.”

Unusual Beginning

Rachel Swoap ’19 had an unusual experience that turned out well thanks to the efforts of residence life staff.  After arriving at Grinnell, Swoap learned that her assigned roommate had withdrawn from the College. For a time she didn’t have anyone scheduled to room with her. “That was like the last thing I wanted to hear,” Swoap says. “I thought, what’s going to happen to me?”

Arriving early for the Peer Connections Pre-Orientation Program (PCPOP) was good, Swoap says, because she had time to unpack and get familiar with her surroundings. Without a roommate for most of New Student Orientation (NSO), she had begun to accept the idea of living alone.

“The last night of NSO, I got an email saying ‘We have a girl who’s in a triple. Would you want to meet up with her and see if she could live with you?’ I got excited all over again,” Swoap says.

Happened Fast

Swoap met Liz Williams ’19 at an NSO event that night. “We hit it off and talked for two hours,” Swoap says. “We decided it would be perfect if we lived together and she moved in the next day. I got to meet her parents and help her unpack. It all happened very fast.

“We come from very different backgrounds,” Swoap adds. “Liz is from D.C. and moved around a lot as a kid. I’m from small-town Massachusetts. But it worked out so well. She’s fantastic and I’m just really happy about how it turned out.”

Sold on Process

It’s been such a positive experience that the two women plan to live together again this year. Swoap says the roommate form helped make it happen.

“I tried to answer questions as honestly as I could and I think she must have done the same, because we have very similar habits and even personalities,” Swoap says. “I guess something in the survey came through that they noticed.

“I think a lot of first-years get really nervous about who they’re going to live with for an entire year, but I’m just really sold on this whole process now,” Swoap says. “It’s a big deal who you’re living with and to have it work out so well is just amazing. I’m very grateful for that.”

Tulah Fuchs ’19 is from Brooklyn, N.Y. Lauren MacKenzie ’19 is from Manchester Center, Vt. Rachel Swoap ’19 is from Williamstown, Mass. Elizabeth Williams ’19 is from Washington, D.C.

Nourishing Mind and Body

For the residents of Food House, the road to personal development is paved with comfort food, cupcakes, and a community of growth and learning.

“As a first-year student, I had a floor that was very committed to creating a community,” says Sheva Greenwood ’16. “I wanted to make sure that I was going to continue getting that kind of interpersonal support. Food House in particular seemed like the place to be because I think that sometimes we put wellness on a back burner in college.”

Groups of students lounge on grass, sit on porch in front of Food HouseAt Food House, residents rally around the idea that cooking food together is a centering activity. It’s a break from the constant stress of classes, papers, and group projects. “Even the application is kind of funny,” Greenwood notes. “We have questions like ‘what is your relationship to garlic?’ and stuff like that.”

Greenwood, a Food House resident from 2013–15, sees project houses as an extension of the College’s ideal of self-governance. “It makes sense to me that as an extension of self-gov you have these spaces where people can really work out what their values are, work out what they want to do with their lives and how they want to live, in a more holistic way than just figuring out what they want as a future career.”

Residents of Food House cook “family dinners” together Sunday through Thursday, which are open to anyone on campus in search of a home-cooked meal and good company. They host fun outdoor movie nights, fancy cupcake soirees, and a Thanksgiving dinner for students who can’t go home for the holiday.

“For us, community building is not just for the members of Food House. We try to create ways for other people to connect to us,” Greenwood explains.

“Adulthood on Training Wheels”

Project houses like Food House are a long established tradition among Grinnellians. Past houses have included Music House, Art House, Dag House, Bird House, Bohemian House, and Tennis House. The project house program allows any group of 10–12 students to

  • unite in a common interest
  • delve deeper into their extracurricular passions
  • experiment with a more independent living situation.

Many students jokingly refer to project houses as “adulthood on training wheels.” They’re a way to learn the skills necessary to thrive after graduation while having a safety net of College support when needed.

That doesn’t just mean learning how to clean an oven or a toilet. It means learning how to say that you can’t eat another bite of that casserole your roommate made three weeks in a row. It means getting up the courage to ask everyone if they want to watch Broad City with you, even though you think they might be busy. It means learning to let loose and eat that weird recipe you found on Pinterest, just to see if it might taste better than it smells! In a project house, you’ll learn how to have fun, make friends, and overcome your fears.

“I think it’s just hugely important to have spaces where you can grow in the way that you want to,” Greenwood says. “I don’t think you need to know a massive amount about food justice to live in Eco House, and I don’t think you need to be an amazing artist to go live in Art House. And you certainly don’t need to be a chef to live in Food House. Everyone acknowledges that this is just another space of learning, and that you’ll get there. It might be a bit of a crash course. But you’ll come out of it with a lot more skills than you had before!”

Sheva Greenwood is a gender, women’s and sexuality studies major from New York City.


Residence Halls

In addition to providing students safe, comfortable living spaces, the residence halls at Grinnell College foster a sense of community, and provide a living and learning environment which complements their academic experience. Within these halls, Grinnellians learn to practice self-governance and incorporate the philosophy in their daily lives. Student volunteers fill the roles of Student Advisers, Hall Social Coordinators and Hall Wellness Coordinators, and are charged with building community and serving as a resource for their residents.