Heading to college can be quite a shock; it’s challenging to transition from the comforts and privacy of home to the sheer human density of the college dormitory experience. For most everyone, it’s the least privacy they’ll experience in their entire lives; dozens of eighteen- and nineteen-year-old men and women jammed into cinderblock buildings on campuses throughout the United States attempt to get along in often less-than-glamorous surroundings.
For some people, the experience leads to the formation of life-long friendships. For the majority, it’s tolerable and they survive by finding new friends and negotiating truces with those who might have quite different lifestyles than their own.
And for the few, it can evidently be so hellish that lawyers have to get involved.
There are the rare but tragic stories such as that of Tyler Clementi, whose roommate at Rutgers University, Dharun Ravi, was found guilty of illegally recording Tyler’s sexual encounters in their dorm room when Ravi was out of the room. Tyler ended up committing suicide as the result of Ravi’s cyberbullying.
But other cases seem to point to a generation of college students who seem incapable of resolving disagreements that young adults should be able to negotiate. Lindsay Blankmeyer had a roommate who had sex with her boyfriend while Lindsay was just a few feet away, trying to sleep. So what did she do? Lindsay sued Stonehill College, in Easton, Massachusetts, claiming that her roommates sexual behavior drove her into a deep depression. She sought $150,000 in damages, even though, according to a college spokesperson, she was “presented with multiple options for housing on campus, including a private room. The College also made special arrangements for the student to complete her degree while living at home. At no time did the student notify College staff that her concerns involved sexual activity by her roommate.”
Then there’s the story of Molly Brownstein, a Pennsylvania State University senior who is being sued by her former roommate Rachel Lader for defamation of character and breach of contract. Brownstein insists that Lader is a “classic mean girl” with “a Ph.D. in intimidation,” while Lader responds that her former roommate is a “coddled whiner, quick to turn to her parents to solve problems she created.”
You might not be surprised to learn that the two ladies are sorority sisters, and as one of the lawyers involved in the case noted, “You’re going to make a federal case out of this—a dispute between two sorority sisters?” Evidently they are. Lader, who describes herself as “an aspiring lawyer,” filed a defamation and breach of contract lawsuit in federal court in Philadelphia in mid-August.
Lader alleges that Brownstein’s parents pulled strings to have her put on academic probation and threatened with expulsion for her behavior during a study abroad trip to Barcelona during which the women shared a room. Brownstein complained the music was frequently too loud and that Lader brought a man back to their room. Lader, for her part, isn’t without fault, and admits to dumping a bowl of pasta on her roommate’s bed after becoming frustrated with her slovenliness.
And the breach of contract? The two women had signed a lease to share an off-campus apartment prior to their study abroad program and now neither wants to break the contract, even though they clearly shouldn’t be living together. In previous eras they might have found a way to mediate their differences and behave like adults. Today, however, aided and abetted by helicopter parents, you can turn personality differences with a sorority sister into a federal case, suggesting just how entitled, legalistic, and misguided some college students have become.
Fortunately, the vast majority of young men and young women who head to college and find themselves sharing a dorm room with someone unknown are far less dramatic. They might argue and annoy each other, but working through those differences and learning to compromise is part of growing up. It will also save you a lot of money in legal fees.
This article was republished with permission from Acculturated.