I remember the scene on move-in day quite vividly. It was almost as if the sun’s emergence harkened the apprehension and excitement that always came with moving away from family for school. Having had some experience with roommates already from the freshman dorms and a high school summer program, it felt like things would not be too terrible when I moved into on-campus housing’s apartments. But I was wrong.
When four girls voluntarily sign up to share a two-bedroom apartment with a single tiny kitchen, bathroom and common area, initial conflicts were always a given, especially when everyone else except for my actual roommate and I were completely unfamiliar with each other. For coherence and avoiding giving real names, I will call my dorm friend and roommate Nathalie, while the other two roommates are Helen and Bianca.
While Nathalie and Helen had more passive personalities, Bianca and I were quite high-strung personalities. Assertiveness is a double-edged sword if unmediated and it was a trait that was uncontrolled in Bianca. It first started with her taking over more than two-thirds of her shared room with Helen prior to Helen moving in. This gradually evolved into attempts to dictate and establish rules about the common areas through passive-aggressive notes and longer and longer delayed monthly internet payments to me. Then the pushing, overcrowding and racist remarks against me, both when the two of us were alone and when her friends were over. This all culminated into increasing daily micro-aggressions, verbal shouting matches and subsequently, repeated calls to the on-duty Resident Advisors (RA).
Only now do I realize that I had become Bianca’s victim and that this was bullying. In part, I do blame mainstream culture and family and friends for giving me advice that only encouraged Bianca to continue this behavior. From advice such as “just ignore her,” “you should do this back at her” and “you should move out,” I took that all in while increasingly avoiding my apartment. I even went home every weekend, even for just a short half day, and dreaded trying to guess which roommate was waiting behind the apartment door. Frenzied excuses and self-blame made me think “maybe it really is just me” and “am I really that inconsiderate of others?”
When the situation began to escalate, with Bianca coercing me into physical rather than merely verbal fights by moving items and intentionally trapping me in the apartment, I finally reached my breaking point. It was like a switch was turned on and I had to let school officials see my complete meltdown rather than let it tame down after confiding with my family. It was the completely unmediated panic and fear along with the calls to the RAs on-duty that finally got school officials to pay attention to this. This was what I should have shown to school officials instead of waiting almost eight months for it to boil over by ignoring it.
While I cannot say which school officials or departments are more suited for handling cases of bullying, there is a definite lack of reporting and utilization of those resources by students. My hallmate from last year definitely was facing the distress that I was but never reported it either. Whether or not she was discouraged to do so because it was only a year-long experience, her case is all too similar to those which create a bad reputation for school officials addressing bullying. Instead of ignoring it and downplaying it as growing pains, students should be educated about about how new living situations can turn into hostile environments and how these can actually be mediated and resolved by being persistent in conveying those frustrations to school officials. This is what these officials are trained in and their efforts will only get better if more students demanded that those resources improve. Resources such as RAs being better trained in recognizing bullying signs and in following up with students who are repeatedly calling in distressed, or an actual trained counselor assigned to housing for its staff to refer suspected serious cases to.