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OSU roommate assignments lose some human touch

RICK SCHANZ / Managing editor for content

About 9,900 students live on campus each year, and all are in search of the perfect roommate. It is one woman’s job to decide who each of these students will live with for the school year.

Toni Greenslade, housing administration director, assigns roommates to every student who applies to live in one of Ohio State’s residence halls by hand, meaning she does not use a computer. Students who renew their housing contracts often request roommates and residence halls, which makes the process easier, Greenslade said.

“For current students, it takes a week, max,” Greenslade said. “For new students, it probably takes closer to five weeks.”

Greenslade said that of the housing applications her office receives, 35-40 percent are renewals and 60-65 percent are for new residents.

“It’s a heavily labor-intensive process,” Greenslade said.

The date students turn in their housing applications drives the process of assigning roommates and residence halls.

Current students have a period in January and February to renew their housing contracts. Future students can start submitting their applications for housing in April.

“Once we do a pass through and put everyone in buildings … then I will sit down and start putting roommates together,” Greenslade said.

Students are placed together based on their answers to a questionnaire they completed with their application for housing.

“Not always will the outcome be perfect or anything, but it makes the students feel like a person instead of just a number on campus,” said Gabby Bockelman, assistant director for Housing Services.

Greenslade said the housing department typically receives less than a 0.2 percent request for change once students get their rooming assignments.

“We lived in Lincoln (Tower) and had a big suite of girls and we all got along really well,” said Katy Ettinger, a second-year in psychology. “We’re still really close.”

Every spring, Greenslade receives one or two gratifying phone calls from parents thanking her for their child’s successful room assignment.

However, Ashleigh Muth, a fourth-year in animal sciences, said she had so many roommate problems that her grades suffered.

“After one quarter, we had a knock-down, drag-out fight. I ended up moving out at 12:30 a.m.,” Muth said. “The matchups were just bad. They seemed to be OK on the surface because we all had the common goal of becoming a veterinarian, but that’s it. That’s all we had in common.”

Although circumstances such as Muth’s do arise, Greenslade said the students are wonderful.

Greenslade has been doing her job for 27 years.

“She enjoys doing it and it’s sort of a skill that she has,” Bockelman said.

As an undergraduate, Greenslade interned at Princeton University and helped with the housing process. A mentor at Princeton told her that if she enjoyed her work, she should pursue a master’s degree.

After graduating from Hiram College in northeast Ohio, she came to OSU for graduate school. Following an internship at OSU, she was hired. Greenslade said she plans to remain at OSU until she retires.

The biggest change Greenslade has seen over the years is in the interests of the students.

“When hacky sack was first a craze and it started on the East Coast, we started seeing comments,” Greenslade said. “‘We’d like a roommate who can play hacky sack.’ Well that’s very interesting, but first we had to find out what hacky sack is.”

Starting this summer, OSU will make the switch to automated rooming assignments.

“We want to try to stay up with what the other schools are doing,” Bockelman said. “Most of the Big Ten schools question … why would you put all that time and pressure on yourself to physically assign people rather than just have a computer do it for you?”

As OSU moves to semesters, the new process will enable the housing department to get rooming assignments to students sooner. It will also keep track of communication with students and store all e-mails.

“The world is technology,” President E. Gordon Gee told The Lantern editorial board Jan. 12. “Technology, if done well, is also very personal. In fact, you can get more characteristics … than someone reading a sheet I think, and there will still be a very strong human element to it.”

Greenslade said they’ve been happy with the system thus far.

“We’ve spent a lot of time looking for a system that is multifaceted. It’s a relatively new phenomenon, so we didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon,” Greenslade said.

Mark D’Arienzo, associate director for university housing and administration at Northwestern University, said it went to an automated process a few years ago and it has worked well.

D’Arienzo said he thinks students today want to know the housing department has its data under control and it isn’t just one person assigning their future.

“They want to know the man behind the curtain,” D’Arienzo said.

With OSU’s new automated system, Greenslade has taken on the management of a housekeeping job.

“It’ll be sort of sad,” Bockelman said. “I think it’ll be somewhat difficult for (Toni), giving up that control.”

Greenslade said the new system will have many benefits and save time, but she has always enjoyed her work.

“I’ve been doing it so long it’s … something I’m very comfortable with,” Greenslade said. “This is going to sound funny, but I know what feels right.”


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