Colleges Must Protect Students Against Bad Roommates
by Maria Minsker | Cornell University
College dorm rooms are basically closets with windows, and surviving at least freshman year in that tiny box of a room is almost like a right of passage for students. If you’re one of the lucky ones, perhaps your randomly assigned roommate will become your best friend, but most likely, you’ve found that you don’t have much in common and just learn to tolerate each other and be civil. Of course, some roommates are worse than others, but no matter how angry you are that she didn’t do the dishes again or that he randomly blasts music on Tuesday nights, these conditions are livable. They may be annoying, but they’re livable. When a roommate situation escalates to the point where one person begins to feel suicidal, however, that becomes a completely different problem — one that should immediately be addressed and remedied by the university.
Just last week, Lindsay Blankmeyer, a former student at Stonehill College, a Roman Catholic college, filed a lawsuit against the school, claiming that administrators did not do enough to help her when she complained that her roommate was having too much sex in their dorm room and engaging in vividly sexual video chatting in their room while Blankmeyer was in her bed just feet away.
According to the lawsuit, Blankmeyer talked with officials and tried to get a private room, but after her requests were denied, she moved off campus and into a hotel room. A senior, Blankmeyer fell into a dark and suicidal depression requiring her to take a leave of absence from school and undergo extensive psychiatric and medical treatment before completing her final semester at home.
University spokesperson Kristen Magda told the Associated Press that Stonehill responded to Blankmeyer’s requests and even offered her two room options, which she turned down. One of the offered rooms was previously used as a study lounge, and the other option was to move to a dorm with a reputation as a “party dorm” to live with a girl Blankmeyer did not know, the lawsuit states.
Roommate dynamics are a serious issue. This is especially true given some of the horrific stories that have been in the news recently, like the Rutgers freshman who committed suicide after his sexual encounter was live-streamed on the Internet. Given the fact that Blankmeyer already suffered from depression and attention deficit disorder (ADD) prior to enrolling at Stonehill, why did she face such difficulty when she needed a room change? Assuming she was professionally diagnosed, attention deficit disorder alone should warrant special room accommodations, considering that students with the disorder likely need special conditions to concentrate and study effectively. Knowing that Blankmeyer was diagnosed with depression, the college should have been even more helpful in accommodating her to prevent the depression from worsening and leading to something much worse, like suicide.
There is, however, the statement from Magdam that claims that Blankmeyer never informed the college officials that her concerns involved her roommate’s sexual activities. As in any case, there are two sides to any story, and what actually happened remains to be seen. However, even if Blankmeyer didn’t explicitly describe the sexual interactions that were bothering her, her mental health condition should have been enough to grant her request for a room change.
If Blankmeyer were in a wheelchair, for example, would the university expect her to live in a room on the fifth floor with no way of getting up there? No. The American Disabilities Act would protect her right to comfortable access to her dorm. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the ADA applies to mental illness as well, but there is one technicality. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, state and local government activities, public accommodations, public transportation, telecommunications and public services. It doesn’t necessarily prohibit discrimination in a private institution, like Stonehill College. But Stonehill is a Catholic college founded by the Congregation of Holy Cross. Shouldn’t an institution with a foundation in religious morals and principles know better than to leave a student in desperate need of attention to fend for herself?
Surely universities and colleges can’t meet every demand for a roommate change. Typical squabbles between dorm mates are to be expected, and the university can’t build a fabulous private room for every student that complains that his roommate snores too loudly. But when a student feels suicidal and goes so far as to rent a hotel room to remove herself from an unfortunate situation, there’s a major problem that should have been handled better.Maria Minsker is a junior English and communication double major at Cornell University. She is an aspiring journalist who loves to travel, try foreign cuisines and watch reruns of old sitcoms.