When my first-semester roommate invited her boyfriend into our dorm room one night many years ago, I didn’t know it at the time but I was in the process of being “sexiled.”
Instead of leaving our room night after night when my roommate’s boyfriend inched his way onto her bed, I suffered in silence with my pillow plopped over my head, trying to pretend that was how I actually preferred to sleep. This awkward ritual added to the general malaise I felt my first semester at college, and though I switched roommates in the spring, I had transferred to another school by the following fall.
I first came across the term “sexiled” a few months ago, when I was reading a new book, The Ultimate Guide to College Transfer: From Surviving to Thriving, by Lucia D. Tyler and Susan E. Henninger. Because I was about to drop my older daughter off at college for her freshman year, I decided to ask Tyler, a college admissions counselor in Ithaca, N.Y., the town where I live, what to do if I suspected that my own daughter was being “sexiled” by her roommate.
How Being “Sexiled” Can Affect a Student
The problem often starts out innocently enough, as it did in the case of my friend’s son. In his freshman year, his roommate invited his girlfriend to visit campus, and she ended up spending two weeks in their room. My friend’s son camped out on a friend’s couch in a different dorm, but it turned out that a student there had contracted spinal meningitis, and he ended up getting the flu.
“Being displaced can cause health problems,” Tyler said. “You’re not comfortable with where you’re living, and you’re not in your normal bed, surrounded by your things.”
The situation can often lead to depression, which Tyler said is the number one reason why students leave college. Students who are depressed may stop going to class, keeping up their grades, and socializing with friends. Ultimately, they may need to undergo therapy in their home town before they are able to handle the rigors of college life again.
Detecting the Problem
If you are the parent of a college freshman, you need to ask some questions to determine if your son or daughter is having roommate problems. Often, conversations between a parent and a new college student can be very one-sided, as it has been with my daughter.
Our typical weekly exchange will go something like this:
“What’s your favorite class?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you keeping up with your work?”
In her book, Tyler recommends another line of questioning that will help parents assess whether their child’s roommate has developed any negative behavior. Although your child may find it uncomfortable to discuss her roommate’s sexual activity, if you ask specific questions, you may get to the bottom of the problem:
“How’s it going with your roommate?”
“Does he/she have a girlfriend or boyfriend? Is he/she in the room a lot? Does he/she ever spend the night?”
“Do the other kids on the hall and/or the resident assistant know about this?”
Parents can also ask how much sleep their child is getting, how his or her grades were on that first test or paper, and whether he or she is studying in the dorm or somewhere else on campus.
How to Handle a Case of Being “Sexiled”
Once you find out that your child’s roommate has a boyfriend or girlfriend sleeping in their room, you should encourage your child to discuss the situation with the RA on the floor. Most likely, the RA will tell your son or daughter to try and work it out with the roommate.
As was the case with my first college roommate, however, your child may want to avoid this confrontation. I never spoke to my roommate about her boyfriend’s nightly visits to her bed, nor did I ever tell my parents about it. I simply asked a housing official at the university if I could room with a friend I had made in the dorm for the spring semester.
But your child shouldn’t have to suffer an entire semester of not being able to feel at home in his or her room. If your child doesn’t want to discuss it with his or her roommate, then it may be time to contact the director of student housing.
“If students don’t get any resolution with their RA, they may need to talk to a more senior housing official,” Tyler said. “And they may need parental help to advocate for them.”
Feeling at home at college is ultimately the goal for your child from day one. If a roommate’s relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend is making that impossible, you may need to step in to help resolve the sticky issue of your child being “sexiled.”
Sherrie Negrea is an Ithaca, N.Y.-based freelance writer who has specialized in higher education for the past decade. She regularly writes for magazines and websites at Cornell University, Rutgers University, Ithaca College, and SUNY Geneseo. You can visit her website or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.