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If there is one thing that is consistent throughout the annual housing process at Penn, it is the drama. Each year, the housing process comes and complicates so many friendships, leaving some people hurt, and others feeling guilty. How does a group of friends turn so easily into fragmented groups of fiercely held grudges?

There’s a lot of talk about how broken the housing process is logistically at Penn, but there’s also work to do on our side as students. 

Housing can be insidious, sneaking into inner insecurities about our relationships at Penn, who we consider close to us, and most importantly, if others consider us close to them. But housing shouldn’t destroy our friendships at Penn, and we can have a layer of professionalism during the process to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

First off, why does it hurt us?

It’s because of what we think the implication of who we room with is. We can’t help but extend “Who should I live with?” to “Which of my friends actually like me, and which of them hate me?” when that’s an incorrect assumption. It’s easy to think catastrophically like that, as if the housing process is the deciding factor in whether or not to people are actually your friends. It’s undeniable that at some level it’s going to be based on the level of friendship with one another. But that’s not the entire picture. There are so many other factors that go into who makes a good fit for roommates, and it really shouldn’t have such a strong hold on whether or not your friend likes you.

Credit: Yolanda Chen

Students walked past by the High Rise Fields, where trees showed signs of autumn.


There’s always a weird sort of courting process, like when the teacher says “Get into groups!” and we look around and see if anyone’s interested. Other people's eyes meet, and we are desperately looking around the room, trying to find someone that will reciprocate our eyesight. Housing is awkward, really awkward. It’s showing our hand to what feels like the question: “Are you actually my friend or not?” when we don’t want it to be that question.  We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but we also feel strongly about the people we want to live with.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

The truth is that housing presents a problem with no good solution. It makes us feel like we have to rank our friends. A three bedroom when you have four or five close friends. The system gives us a mental model that is structured to rank our friends, and it’s bad, but perhaps unavoidable at some level. 

There needs to be a layer of professionalism that comes between our interactions with housing and our relationships. If someone doesn’t want to room with us, it shouldn’t shake the deepest fears in us, and call the relationship into serious question. It’s okay to not want to room with one of your friends. It’s not okay to not be transparent about it. It’s not okay to lead people on, or commit to something you will later on retract from. 

We accept the right of our friends to want to room with other people, because we also have the right to say the same thing to them. If we think of housing as an indicator of our friendships, or as a way to measure how close we are with our friends, we are bound to get hurt or hurt others.

The way to make this easier is to be clear and honest about your intentions, and not take things too deeply to heart if your ideas don’t go as planned. Mostly everyone has good intentions and doesn’t want to ruin relationships over whether they get into Harnwell or Rodin.

Lastly, if relationships have already been damaged by the housing process, try your best to make amends. It doesn’t matter who's to blame, it matters that the friendship was damaged all because people chose to live with other people. A healthy friendship shouldn’t be destroyed by this.

The housing process sucks. It makes you feel bad, and at times, it makes you hurt other people, regardless of intention. It is infuriating to think that it has that much control over our relationships. But it’s just a process; it’s only the rooms we sleep in. It’s nothing compared to the friendships and relationships that we’ve built, so there’s no reason it should threaten that. Your friendships at Penn are precious and to ruin them over housing is unfortunate.

JOEL LEE is a College sophomore from Groton, Conn. His email address is joelslee@sas.upenn.edu.

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