I was assigned a roommate for the coming year. While we emailed each other, how do I learn about his background?
Your question will probably be asked by every student having to share with a stranger. Those that are lucky enough to share a room or dorm with friends are indeed fortunate. You will be spending a lot of time together so it pays to have a little background information on the person that will be sharing your life.
Since the college assigned your roommate, should they have the responsibility to run some checks during the application process? On one side, colleges should not delve into the backgrounds of students by asking criminal history questions as they are unlikely to prevent a crime from occurring. University admissions procedures are not the correct forum to evaluate criminal record checks and the college is not competent enough to make extra-judicial judgements on people.
On the other side, student and campus safety is paramount, so people should be screened at application. If colleges do not trust students to submit their academic credentials, why should they trust them with criminal history. Costs of background checks could be rolled into the admission fee. Statistically, very few college applicants have criminal records and some colleges do run criminal record checks but you may have to do your own homework.
You should ask your roommate for basic personal information such as name, current address and living status, name and number of employer, and a reference from a former landlord if possible. This information can be confirmed by contacting former employers or landlords
Social media can offer some big clues to the lifestyle of your new roommate. People share an alarming amount of personal information online. Run their name through a search engine and take a look at their Facebook profile, which can tell you a lot about a person’s habits and interests. As part of their career planning, it is likely they will have a LinkedIn profile with more in-depth data.
Criminal history information can be researched online, since the local courthouse will hold information on crimes and convictions. Also, the Department of Justice’s National Sex Offender Public Website has a list of registered sex offenders. Public records also have information on marriage and divorce, legal disputes, and residency history.
Even if you are satisfied with your online background research, this does not mean you will be compatible as roommates. Before you contact a moving company and start living together, you need to set some mutually agreeable ground rules. While not a legal document, a roommate contract is a way to build rapport and trust. Most freshmen have never lived with anyone else aside from their parents, so having guidelines will alleviate any potential arguments, providing you both abide by them. They would include cleaning up, respecting each other’s privacy and sleeping habits, keeping stuff neat and tidy, agreement on guest policy, and above all communication – if there is an issue just discuss it before it escalates.
When you say accident, perhaps you mean crime.
Written by Jacob Maslow, founder and editor of Legal Scoops.