Relationships: New college students try to adjust to dorm din

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 14, 2007 - 11:26 AM

Consider it yet another learning experience: figuring out how to (diplomatically) tell roommates and suite-mates to turn down the noise.

With school back in session, many parents of new college students are probably fielding phone calls that sound something like this:

"Um, would you be OK if I dropped a class?" or, "Do I really have to find a part-time job?" or, "Can you please send my ... (fill-in-the-blank)?"

But for kids who largely enjoyed the comforts of their own thick-walled bedrooms at home, another revelation might also arise: Man, college is noisy.

Some students discover that throbbing music, flushing toilets, running showers, blaring TVs, ringing cell phones -- not to mention loud intimate encounters in adjoining rooms -- can make it hard to study or even think. And many don't feel comfortable speaking up about it.

"People have issues with their roommates, but don't want to say anything," said Tyler Lantz, 22, a junior and residence hall adviser at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. "They're not matching up on bedtimes, or they're having people over when someone wants to study. Music is going, [as are] video games and movies." To make matters worse, he said, some dorms are "really echoey, so even if you're not that loud, it echoes a lot down the hall."

Rose Thompson sees it, too. The 21-year-old from Brooklyn Park is a senior political science student at St. Cloud State University and "community adviser" for 70 students sharing suites.

"A lot of the complaints I hear are, 'This room seems really loud and I'm trying to study.' ... anything from loud laughter and talking at 2 in the morning to loud phone calls in the hallway, alarm clocks blaring and people not waking up to them. It's when you have a lot of people together, you make a lot of noise."

Erin Sayer, 33, of Minneapolis, attended St. Mary's College in Indiana, where the dorm-room walls "were paper thin." Her neighbor snored so loudly, she said, that "it sounded like a dump truck was in my room." Her solution? "I would call her in the middle of the night (this was before cell phones) and hang up when she answered. I don't think she ever figured out all year who was calling almost every night at 2 a.m."

Thanks to rapidly evolving technology, the opportunities for noise annoyance are growing. Courtney DiPaola, a freshman from Minneapolis studying film at New York University, got creeped out on her way to the bathroom during her first week at college by her suite-mate's boyfriend whispering, "Honey?" Turns out he wasn't next door, but across the world in China, attempting to video-chat with his girlfriend, something they do "24/7," DiPaola said.

"Even at night, they leave the computers on because of the huge time difference," DiPaola said. "I haven't asked her to turn it off, because it is pretty weird and I don't know her very well yet."

Thompson said other students unwittingly embarrass themselves by stepping out into dorm hallways to talk on their cell phones. Not only can their roommates still hear them, but pretty much everyone on their floor can, too.

Rules in place

Sometimes all that's needed to remedy the problem is patience. Much of the noise can be attributed to new-school jitters and clinging to old habits before everyone has to hunker down and study.

"People don't realize how much their music carries over," said Ralph Lahr, 22, also a community adviser at St. Cloud. "First-year students are getting used to living with someone that close to them."

Other times, the problem is solved by simply reminding students about "quiet hours" established by most dorms, generally from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

St. Cloud also offers an optional -- but encouraged -- "roommate agreement." Information includes sleeping, TV and music habits and questions such as, "Is it OK if my boyfriend sleeps over?"

The agreement, Thompson said, "helps circumvent some of the problems at the beginning of the year. They can pull it out and it says, 'I'm a morning person.' It's documented so that everyone is on the same page."

When students aren't on the same page, advisers encourage students to first try to solve the noise problem themselves.

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