Saturday, November 16, 2013

Advice for Dorm Politics

College dorms are a bit like little countries. Each dorm has its own stereotype and its internal politics, not always related. Different floors in the same dorm have different cultures; some groups may be in tensions with one another. Dorms may have celebrities: the people the gossip is about or the people everyone knows. Maybe even the people everyone dislikes.

All of these tensions and quirks come to a head in dorm politics. When you get involved in dorm politics, you're stepping forward for responsibility and discussion.

Read more for advice on entering dorm politics.


It's sad to say, but things don't change that much since high school at least for dorm politics and elections. Popularity can be a major part of who 'succeeds' in dorm politics. 

Different floors have different popularities as do different residents. Some residents are known to be friendly to all floors and are loved while other residents may never be seen outside of their room. These different reputations can affect voting as can floor reputations. If your floor is known to be the 'fun social floor' you may have and advantage over a resident who lives on the 'quiet study floor' for a position that typically goes to outgoing people. 

Also keep in mind that different floors may have popularity and legacies for positions. Sometimes a inter-dorm position is always filled by a person from a particular sorority. 

Please don't be discouraged if you want to get involved. There is a lot that goes in and most dorm leadership delegates to people. If you goals is to help rather than hold a position, you're sure to be able to find a cause to help with. 

Mob Mentality Happens

Try to remember that dorm politics draws out the worst in people. Individuals that are perfectly fine may turn into horrors when in a group. Group dynamics turn into mob mentality. A dorm is what some people consider a home; most people have strong opinions about where they're living. When people start e-mailing large groups of people, things can quickly get out of hand. Some people are looking for drama or a distraction from their own work. Whatever the case is, take a step back from the drama. If you want to or feel comfortable doing so, talk to a few people one on one, in a quiet relaxed place.

  • Be very careful of dorm politics close to exams. People are stressed and may react much more strongly and negatively when they're stressed. Others may use dorm politics as a distraction from their exams. Tensions are always high so try to plan cushion time around exams.


People dislike change. Even good change can cause negative reactions. Don't take this personally. It has nothing to do with you. It may not even have anything to do with the change that you are proposing.

Ask people to do you a favor, to try out the change. Let them know that they can go back to the traditional. If you can, offer a celebration - free smoothies, small snacks, dinner for those who offer opinions- to welcome the change, and discuss to improve it. Not to mention that the best way to cut down discontent after a change is to point out that no one spoke out when initiating the change.


Do what you think is right. This is the most important. You're not the president of the US; you are still you. Even if it means that you lose your position for a term, do what you think is right. In the long term, it means a lot more to you, to your friends, and to the dorm.

In my experience, the thing that really sticks with you is whether you did the right thing. While hurtful words can be painful in the moment, the thing that gave me strength was that I was doing good for people. Time usually ends up proving you right.

For example, I was really adamant about making sure people submitted their presidential application early on. I brought up in discussion with the dorm the problem we had of claiming to be inclusive but really not doing anything to fix the divisive issues between floors. A person stepped forward to be president late in the game; I questioned if we should let their application be put to a vote since they hadn't demonstrated any interest in the position aside from claiming to be inclusive without a plan of action. People really criticized me especially after this person won the election; I had a hard time of it and was less welcome on the floor this person was a part of. But I knew that expressing my concern for the dorm was the right thing to do. When the going got tough, the president huffily resigned. In the end, I was right. It didn't make me happy to be right.

What did make me glad was that I had done the right thing and weathered the storm that went with it. Because I had spoken up, other people and I were prepared to step in and help the dorm as we transitioned between presidents mid-term.


The best way to avoid confrontation is to leave room for face-to-face conversation. This might sound counter intuitive, but it's very empirically true. People are much nastier when they don't have to see the face of the person that they are talking about.

Sending out an email with the intent for it to stay under the radar only encourages a flame war.

Set up a meeting time that's a little removed from the blow up: give them time to cool down and give yourself time to think about what you want to say.

  • What do you see as the problem?
  • What do they see as the problem?
  • Are these problems compatible?
  • What are the resources available for this?
  • How can you help people who are having this problem?
  • Why did you feel the need to speak up?
  • Where is the other person coming from?