“So, are you in a double or a triple?”
I’ve always loathed small talk. Why freshmen find housing situations such a fascinating discussion topic escapes me. But while most of these conversations are harmless, this particular question always makes me cringe.
“Actually, I live in a single.”
“You’re in a minisuite and you have no roommate?” Then, softly, “Lucky.”
I’ve become accustomed to hearing this in the past two months and it fills me with an uncomfortable dread every single time. As someone who is keen to call out ableism any time I recognize it, I struggle to classify this statement, knowing that it comes from a place of ignorance rather than contempt.
The term “lucky” implies that I would be just fine without this living arrangement and that it’s a perk for me rather than a necessity. But that’s simply not the case.
The week after receiving my acceptance letter to UC Berkeley, I made an appointment with the campus’s housing accommodations coordinator to discuss my options for living on campus. My decision to commit hinged on her assurances that I would receive a room that worked for me.
When filling out the paperwork for accommodation eligibility, I indicated my need for a semiprivate bathroom and a room with more space for equipment, among other things. But my mind was elsewhere. I couldn’t wait to meet my new roommate, the person with whom I would share all the highs and lows of freshman year. This was one quintessential college experience that I wanted to make the most out of.
When I received my housing assignment over the summer, I was disappointed. The requests I had made in April meant that I was placed in a single, and there was no alternate on-campus space that met all my needs. I resignedly accepted this fact — per usual, the practicality of my body weighed over the romanticism of my mind.
There’s just no way I can live without the accommodations I asked for. Any time I use the bathroom or take a shower, I need to be wheeled back and forth from my room to the bathroom in some state of undress. To avoid unnecessary exposure and to ensure that there is room for my bath chair, I need a partially private bathroom. Along with my bath chair, I keep a Hoyer lift, a BiPAP and a pulse oximeter machine in my room to live my daily life and to anticipate medical emergencies. I also have a personal care attendant who stays overnight and a single room is the only on-campus option that gives me space for all this equipment and an extra bed.
When people say I’m “lucky” for having a single minisuite room, they’re overlooking the genuine reasons I have it and negating the validity of my struggles. I always feel the need to justify myself (as I did just now) to convince people that I actually need all the accommodations I have received. It’s easy to forget that I’m not obligated to prove anything, and I find myself muttering explanations for why I get “special treatment” and why it’s actually not so great to live alone.
I want to have a roommate more than anything. Yes, I’ve heard my fair share of stories of bad roommates ranging from inconsiderate to downright evil, but it’s an experience that I’m missing out on. I’ll never know the awkwardness of accidentally flashing my roommate after a shower, and I’ll also never know the joy of a shared “Parks and Recreation” binge in the midst of late-night studying.
But I shouldn’t just complain. It’s important to acknowledge that, while I’m not “lucky” per se, I am very privileged. I have an incredibly supportive family. I’ve never experienced financial hardship and my housing accommodations enable me to attend a world-class university. I live an admittedly comfortable, easy life.
Recognizing this privilege is the first step to confronting the inherent prejudices that exist in our society. I know that my personal situation has been responsible for many of the advantages I’ve had throughout my life — I live in an upper-middle-class city and went to an excellent public school. I have the financial ability to explore my diverse interests, and my parents have helped me through every step of my education.
Because of this, it’s my responsibility to help make the world a more equitable place. Ideally, everything would already be built to accept and support all types of diversity. I would be able to receive the housing accommodations I need without missing out on the roommate experience. People with other types of disadvantages would be able to take part in all the opportunities available to others without bearing any cost.
We all come from different places. Building a just society can look different depending on the circumstances, so it’s important to consider all the implications of a person’s life experiences before judging their current situation. That’s the thing about privilege — what’s a perk for one person may be essential for another.
Vyoma Raman writes the Monday column on how mobility disabilities affect college life. Contact her at [email protected].