Living with roommates can be rewarding, but it also can have its challenges, even more so with an ongoing pandemic. It’s important to feel comfortable in your home, and that takes continuous work in respectfully communicating your needs, active listening, and compromising. Flexibility and understanding are key.

Given the stresses we are all under during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s strongly encouraged to have conversations and develop a contingency plan. This can feel difficult if you and your roommates don’t agree on behaviors or if someone receives a positive test. While GSAS does not mediate disputes between roommates, the following best practices may help you all communicate and feel more comfortable during these uniquely challenging times.

Reflect and Prepare

Before talking with your roommate(s), think about or write down how you are feeling to help you identify and understand your concerns. This may help you communicate more effectively. It’s best to choose a few topics to discuss rather than address everything at once. Remember, you may need to have several conversations as information or feelings shift. Remember that people approach conversations from their own experiences, identities, thoughts, and feelings: It’s critical to be clear, but kind and respectful. Don’t forget that what you say and how you say it are two different things.

Think about:

  • What are your goals for the conversation?
  • How is your attitude/feeling about this conversation? Acknowledge—and be aware during the conversation—of your own emotional energy.
  • What are my needs and what are my fears?
  • What would a positive outcome look like? Remember, this may not be an agreement, but rather a compromise. A productive outcome could be an agreement to revisit expectations later or to check in as guidance shifts.

Let’s Talk: Invite Your Roommate to Have a Conversation

Think about the time and setting before beginning this conversation. How will you approach this conversation? Are there already organic moments when you can connect? If you don’t typically see or get together with your roommate(s), you might try saying something like “Can we find a time to talk about COVID and how to stay healthy this year? I want to find time to talk about your thoughts and a plan. I am happy to talk now, or in the next week when there is a better time for you.”

Share Your Thoughts and Develop a Plan

Think through how you would answer the questions below, for example. Then ask your roommate to share their thoughts. Use “I” statements to express how you are feeling. If helpful, revisit the GSAS Coronavirus and Keeping Harvard Healthy websites.

  • How do we feel about inviting guests, friends, or family into our living space or visiting others?
    • Will we ask if a visitor is vaccinated before we invite them?
    • What will we say if they are not vaccinated?
    • How many visitors will we allow at a time?
    • Will we ask the other roommate(s) about having guests in advance? How will this be communicated?
  • What are your plans for travel this year? What will travel quarantine/protocol look like for us?
  • How important is cleanliness in the living space? What are your expectations for cleaning and hygiene? What are the cleaning practices we will use in common spaces?
  • In which situations do you wear a mask and engage in physical distancing? Why or why not?
  • Would you like to share the name and phone number of your emergency contact person with me?
  • If one of us tests positive for COVID-19:
    • How will we communicate this with each other?
    • How will we plan to isolate?
    • How will we plan to prepare/eat our meals?
    • Are you willing to help me on occasion by running to the grocery store, etc.? Can I help if you need assistance?
    • Do you have a plan in case you get or are exposed to COVID? If so, would you be willing to share it with me?
      • A plan may include things such as creating a contact list (family, friends, health or mental health care providers, advisors/department administrator, etc.) of who you would like me to contact.

You may wish to discuss non-COVID-related aspects of living with others as well!

If your roommate isn’t receptive to talking or if you want to practice this conversation and strategize, reach out to someone you trust such as friends or family, or another Harvard resource.

Be kind to and take good care of yourself and one another.