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第4册 - Unit 5, Section B - Roommate Conflicts

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Identical twins Katie and Sarah Monahan arrived at Pennsylvania's Gettysburg College last year determined to strike out on independent paths. Although the 18-year-old sisters had requested rooms in different dorms, the housing office placed them on the eighth floor of the same building, across the hall from each other. While Katie got along with her roommate, Sarah was miserable. She and her roommate silently warred over matters ranging from when the lights should be turned off to how the furniture should be arranged. Finally, they divided the room in two and gave up on oral communication, communicating primarily through short notes.

During this time, Sarah kept running across the hall to seek comfort from Katie. Before long, the two wanted to live together again. Sarah's roommate eventually agreed to move out. "From the first night we lived together again, we felt so comfortable," says Sarah. "We felt like we were back home."

Sarah's ability to solve her dilemma by rooming with her identical twin is unusual, but the conflict she faced is not. Despite extensive efforts by many schools to make good roommate matches, unsatisfactory outcomes are common. One roommate is always cold, while the other never wants to turn up the furnace, even though the thermometer says it's minus five outside. One person likes quiet, while the other person spends two hours a day practicing the trumpet, or turns up his sound system to the point where the whole room vibrates. One eats only organically produced vegetables and believes all living things are holy, even ants and mosquitoes, while the other likes wearing fur and enjoys cutting up frogs in biology class.

When personalities don't mix, the excitement of being away at college can quickly grow stale. Moreover, roommates can affect each other's psychological health. A recent study reports that depression in college roommates is often passed from one person to another.

Learning to tolerate a stranger's habits may teach undergraduates flexibility and the art of compromise, but the learning process is often painful. Julie Noel, a 21-year-old senior, recalls that she and her freshman year roommate didn't communicate and were uncomfortable throughout the year. "I kept playing the same disk in my CD player for a whole day once just to test her because she was so timid," says Noel. "It took her until dinner time to finally change it." Although they didn't saw the room in half, near year's end, the two did end up in a screaming fight. "Looking back, I wish I had talked to her more about how I was feeling," says Noel.

Most roommate conflicts spring from such small, irritating differences rather than from grand disputes over abstract philosophical principles. "It's the specifics that tear roommates apart," says the assistant director of residential programs at a university in Ohio.

In extreme cases, roommate conflict can lead to serious violence, as it did at Harvard last spring: One student killed her roommate before committing suicide. Many schools have started conflict resolution programs to calm tensions that otherwise can build up like a volcano preparing to explode, ultimately resulting in physical violence. Some colleges have resorted to "roommate contracts" that all new students fill out and sign after attending a seminar on roommate relations. Students detail behavioral guidelines for their room, including acceptable hours for study and sleep, a policy for use of each other's possessions and how messages will be handled. Although the contracts are not binding and will never go to a jury, copies are given to the floor's residential adviser in case conflicts later arise. "The contract gives us permission to talk about issues which students forget or are afraid to talk about," says the director of residential programs.

Some schools try to head off feuding before it begins by using computerized matching, a process that nevertheless remains more of a guessing game than a science. Students are put together on the basis of their responses to housing form questions about smoking tolerance, preferred hours of study and sleep, and self-described tendencies toward tidiness or disorder. Parents sometimes weaken the process by taking the forms and filling in false and wishful data about their children's habits, especially on the smoking question. The matching process is also complicated by a philosophical debate among housing managers concerning the flavor of university life: "Do you put together people who are similar - or different, so they can learn about each other?" A cartoon sums up the way many students feel the process works: Surrounded by a mass of papers, a housing worker picks up two selection forms and exclaims, "Likes chess, likes football; they're perfect together!"

Alan Sussman, a second-year student, says, "I think they must have known each of our personalities and picked the opposite," he recalls. While Sussman was neat and serious about studying, his roommate was messy and liked to party into the early hours of the morning. "I would come into the room and find him pawing through my desk, looking for postage for a letter. Another time, I arrived to find him chewing the last of a batch of chocolate chip cookies my mother had sent me. People in the hall were putting up bets as to when we were going to start slapping each other around," he says. Against all odds, the two ended up being friends. Says Sussman: "We taught each other a lot - but I would never do it again."

同卵双胞胎卡蒂和萨拉·莫纳汉去年来到宾夕法尼亚的葛底斯堡大学,决心闯出一条独立之路。

虽然这对18岁的姐妹曾要求住在不同的宿舍楼,但宿管处还是把她们安排在了同一栋楼的第8层,中间只隔一条过道。

卡蒂与室友相处融洽,但萨拉却十分不快。

她因许多事情与室友暗地里不和,诸如什么时候熄灯、家具应如何摆放等等。

最后她们将房间一分为二,彼此不再说话,主要通过写便条进行交流。

这段时间里,萨拉不断跑到过道对面卡蒂那儿寻求慰藉。

不久两人又想住在一起了,

而萨拉的室友最终也同意搬出。

"从重新住在一起的第一晚开始,我就感到很舒服,"萨拉说,

"就好像回到家里一样。"

萨拉以和同卵双生姐妹同住的办法走出了她的困境,这种办法很少见,但她所遇到的冲突却并不罕见。

尽管许多学校已做了许多努力来为学生安排合适的室友,但结果常常不尽如人意。

一位室友总感觉冷,而另一位却总是不想调高暖气温度,尽管气温计显示室外温度已达零下5度。

一个喜欢安静,而另一个却每天练习两个小时的小号,或将音响开得很大,响得连整个房间都在振动。

一个只吃有机蔬菜产品,认为所有生物都是神圣的,即使是蚂蚁、蚊子也如此,而另一位却爱穿皮草,喜欢在生物课上将青蛙开膛破肚。

彼此性格不合时,离家上大学的那种兴奋感就会立刻变得索然无味。

而且,室友会互相影响对方的心理健康。

根据最近的研究,大学生室友的忧郁症往往会从一个人传给另一个人。

学会容忍陌生人的习惯可使大学生学会灵活应变和妥协的艺术,但这往往是一个十分痛苦的过程。

21岁的朱莉·诺埃尔是大四学生。她回忆说,她一年级时与室友无法沟通,彼此整整一年都很不自在。

"我曾从早到晚用CD机播放同一张碟,就是为了试试她,因为她太羞怯了,"诺埃尔说,

"直到那天晚饭时,她才终于改变了她的羞怯。"

虽然她们没有将房间一分为二,但是到了年末,她们还是大吵一场分开了。"回想起来,我真希望当时能跟她谈谈我的感受,"诺埃尔说。

大多数室友间冲突的起因都是小小的令人不快的分歧,而不是抽象的哲学原则上的重大争执。

"都是具体的事情弄得室友不和,"俄亥俄州一所大学的宿舍管理处主任助理说。

在极端的情况下,室友间的冲突可能引发严重的暴力事件。去年春天哈佛大学就发生了这种情况:一位学生将她的室友杀害后自杀。

许多学校都已经启动了化解冲突的项目,以缓和紧张形势,要不然它们就会像火山一样蓄势待发,最终导致暴力行为。

有些大学采用了"室友合同"的做法:所有新生在参加有关室友关系的讨论会之后,都要填写签署该合同。

学生们订下详细的宿舍行为准则,包括可以共同接受的学习时间、睡眠时间,动用彼此物品的原则,以及如何处理留言。

虽然合同不具有法律约束力,也永远不会诉诸法庭,但合同副本都被送到所在楼层的宿舍指导员处,以防日后发生冲突。

宿舍管理处主任说:"合同允许我们处理一些同学们没有想到或不愿谈及的问题。"

有些学校试图通过电脑配对安排住宿,以期防止争吵发生。不过这种做法更像推测游戏,并不科学。

它根据学生对住宿表格上一系列问题的回答将他们组合在一起。这些问题包括是否容忍抽烟,选择什么样的作息时间,以及对个人习惯是整洁还是凌乱的自我描述。

有时家长会拿走表格,就他们孩子的习惯填入不真实的、一厢情愿的数据,特别是在吸烟问题上,这就削弱了这种做法的效果。

此外,宿舍管理人员中关于大学生活特色的理论之争也使这一安排过程复杂化。这一争论围绕的主题是:"到底是让相似的人住在一起,还是让不同的人住在一起,让他们取长补短呢?"

一幅漫画道出了许多学生对这一做法的感受:面对一大堆资料,宿舍工作人员随便拿出两张待选的表格,叫道:"这位喜欢象棋,那位爱好足球,他们住在一起是最理想的了!"

一位二年级学生艾伦·萨斯曼回忆道:"我觉得他们肯定了解我们的性格,然后就选性格相反的(搭配)。"

萨斯曼喜欢整洁,学习认真,而他的室友却邋里邋遢,而且喜欢通宵聚会直至凌晨。

"我一进房间,就看见他在我的桌子上到处乱翻,想找邮票去寄信。

还有一次,我回来就看到他在吃我的最后一块巧克力曲奇饼,那是我妈妈带给我的。

宿舍楼里的人都在打赌我们什么时候打起来,"他说。

但是出乎人们的意料,他们却最终成了朋友。

萨斯曼说:"我们彼此从对方身上学到了许多东西──但我也决不想再有这样的经历了。"

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