August 8, 2007 -- As housing officials at colleges around the country send out roommate assignments to freshmen this summer, a growing number of schools say they're getting more requests for changes — from parents who don't like the roommates' Facebook profiles.
"They were getting an impression — false or accurate — of what the student would be like to live with," says Magda Manetas of The College of New Jersey in Ewing.
About a dozen other colleges contacted by USA TODAY report similar complaints. And this may be just the beginning: Some schools already have mailed roommate assignments for fall, but many more say they will be sending them out in the next few weeks.
Housing officials say parents who cite Facebook most frequently mention party-related content and photos as their primary concerns. Parents sometimes see cups in photos and make the leap to alcohol and drugs, Manetas says.
But Robin Berkowitz-Smith of Syracuse University says race, religion and sexual orientation are the top three concerns from parents contacting officials there.Maureen Wark of Suffolk University in Boston also ranked sexual orientation as a top concern of parents. Wark recalls getting a call from a parent who had "psychological and sanitary concerns" about a student's new roommates, both of whom were gay men.
"People don't give other people a chance," she says.
Most of the schools contacted by USA TODAY say they have not made roommate changes as a result of such calls from parents.
Katie Callow-Wright of the University of Chicago says the university does not make room changes until the third week of the quarter because the school typically begins the year at 100% occupancy.
Berkowitz-Smith says Syracuse has a similar freeze, which can last from the first eight weeks of school to the entire fall semester.
But Joe Paulick of the University of Central Florida says officials there try to make room changes if they can be accommodated.
"It's a struggle between educating young adults with living with different people and accommodating our customer-service needs," he said. "They are paying for the room, so we want them to have a good experience."
Berkowitz-Smith says Syracuse officials talk with students when they arrive on campus to determine whether they actually have reservations about a roommate, rather than assuming students have the same concerns parents do.
If roommates can't get along once they actually start living together, Syracuse and other schools typically mediate problems through dialogue with residence hall advisers and by consulting roommate contracts students fill out in the beginning of the year to discuss living habits. Students may also be referred to various campus services, such as the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Administrators at some schools have begun to talk to students and parents in advance about the tendency to look up roommates online. Paul Evans of the University of Wisconsin-Madison now includes a statement about social-networking sites in orientation literature for first-year students.
"It can be a problem, and we're just trying to warn people about taking everything that they see on there as fact," he says.