The roommate effect

College students become more sympathetic to the social group to which their freshman roommate belongs, says a new study. Whites who had black roomies are more supportive of affirmative action. Whites with rich roomies are less sympathetic to income redistribution.

Our preliminary results show that, when compared with white students who have white roommates, white students with black roommates express much more positive attitudes regarding affirmative action policies one to three years after college entry. Whites assigned minority roommates are also more likely to say that they have more personal contact with and interact more comfortably with members of minority groups.

My freshman year, I had a roommate from a family that had given millions of dollars to Stanford. After she flunked out due to heavy drug use, I got a Native American roommate who’d been orphaned as a child and had nothing but her brains and grit. It was an educational year for me.

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Comments

  1. “Whites assigned minority roommates are also more likely to say that they have more personal contact with and interact more comfortably with members of minority groups.”

    I wonder if the reverse is also true.

  2. Someone needed a study to tell them this

  3. Laura,

    That question just isn’t important or germane…

  4. PJ/Maryland says:

    Reading the abstract, I had the same question as Laura. The conclusion seems to focus on white students; is there no effect on minority students who room with a white student?

    I also wonder about “white students with black roommates express much more positive attitudes regarding affirmative action policies”. The assumption here is that affirmative action is a pro-black policy, and failing to support it is anti-black. Does it necessarily follow that these students are also more in favor of reparations for slavery, or plan to vote for Al Sharpton?

  5. One of my freshman roommates at the University of Wisconsin spent the entire year drinking and smoking dope. He planned to return to the dorms so he could similarly enjoy his sophomore year, but after he tortured and killed all the pet mice he kept in our dorm room, the university refused to renew his housing contract. It didn’t matter, because he was also expelled for having failed all his classes.

    In my case, I did not become more sympathetic to people like me roommate who abuse chemicals, animals and publicly-funded universities.

  6. I agree with Stefan: having a black roommate who was skipping classes and financing his partying by dealing drugs didn’t seem to make me any more supportive of affirmative action, welfare, or reparation payments. In other words, he was a jerk. Blacks have a stronger word for blacks that act like him, it was quite freely used on his records, but whites aren’t allowed to use it… We weren’t roommates for very long (I think drug laws are an intolerable invasion of freedom, but it’s hard to concentrate on Schrodinger’s wave equation while your roommate’s speakers are shaking the whole building, and second-hand marijuana smoke has nasty effects on my sinuses), which makes me wonder whether this study would have counted me as one of those with white roomies.

    It seems likely that selection bias would invalidate this study. That is, students who wake up in the middle of the night screaming “Kill the honky”, or who bring their KKK robes with them, are bound to wind up with roommates of the same color after a little initial switching around, if they manage to stay in school at all. Students who remain with roommates of a different color were probably fairly comfortable with other races in the first place, and drew roommates who weren’t jerks.