Campus housing is a primary setting where the abstract goal of diverse interactions becomes a concrete reality – often for the first time – as students navigate living with and near individuals who differ from themselves in meaningful ways such as by race, religion, politics, country of origin, and socioeconomic status. One of the most significant points of interaction within campus housing is the roommate due to the closeness and time intensity of the relationship. Previous research has demonstrated that White students assigned a different-race roommate had more diverse interactions, on average (Camargo, Stinebrickner, & Stinebrickner, 2010; Gaither & Sommers, 2013; Mark & Harris, 2012). This has led multiple institutions to prevent incoming students from choosing their roommate in hope of increasing diverse interactions among their student body (Bauer-Wolf, 2018; Baumann, 2016).
While housing policies vary, many bachelor’s degree-granting institutions require living on campus for the first year to provide students more convenient access to campus programming and support services designed for their success. By negotiating this new social environment, students’ residence hall experiences represent a prime way to foster learning and development regarding diversity. However, research indicates that microaggressions are common in social spaces like residence halls, and these interactions often prove deleterious for racial and ethnic minority students (Solórzano, Allen, & Carroll, 2002; Solórzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000; Yosso, Smith, Ceja & Solórzano, 2009). Due to the competing tensions of promoting diverse interactions and the harmful effects of negative interactions between students on important outcomes, it is crucial to assess the efficacy of restricting roommate choose on its stated goal of promoting diverse interactions among students, while determining if the policy change has negative externalities on minority students.