Moving into your Dorm

Written by Amy Bugwadia, National Council of College Leaders member

Moving to college can be worrisome for anyone, not to mention the unique challenges that an IBD patient may face. Something that will inevitably arise is how and when to tell your roommates about IBD. Remember that IBD does not define you as a person, and your roommates will not judge you for having this disease. Telling your roommates may seem daunting at first, but as a freshman at UCLA, I have found that it is nonetheless an integral part of the college experience to make them aware of the situation in order to be prepared to deal with any issues if and when they occur.

IBD can affect every aspect of daily life, including sleeping patterns, food, and bathroom use. A common symptom that comes along with IBD is fatigue. It’s important to recognize that you may require more sleep or rest, especially in the midst of a flare. Getting a sufficient amount of sleep is something that will serve you as an IBD patient well and help keep your health as stable as possible. Having a conversation about it at the beginning of the year is what helped both my roommates understand and be able to accommodate these needs. During this conversation, setting quiet hours is a good way to easily set boundaries. You and your roommates can also set a signal to indicate when you would like guests or visitors to leave the room so you can get some rest.

Although living in a dorm does not come with the same cooking responsibilities as an apartment, informing your roommates of your dietary restrictions will create a more understanding environment for all those involved. I discussed what I can and can’t eat with my roommates, and they notified me of any food allergies or other restrictions as well. This made it much easier to shop for snacks or other food items to share amongst ourselves. If you are on a special diet, your roommates will also understand your need to keep your food separate.

Access to the bathroom may vary depending on the type of dorm you live in. Most dorms consist of communal bathrooms. Knowing where the closest bathroom is on your floor will help you get there as quickly as possible if need be. Luckily, communal bathrooms will generally always have a few stalls unoccupied and ready for use. Other dorm styles may include bathrooms inside the room. This, too, has its pros and cons, because although it does mean fewer people to share with, there is only one bathroom, and you should coordinate with your roommates accordingly. Living in this type of dorm room, my roommates and I always check in with each other about whether anyone needs to use the restroom before we shower. In the instance that the bathroom is in use when I need to use it, I’ve also made sure to check in with my hallmates in advance to let them know that I may need to use theirs.

Your RA can help you talk to your roommates and set up a plan for the above accommodations if need be. Your RA can also be an amazing resource to help when certain unexpected needs arise. He or she can, for example, give you tips on the Student Health Center on campus and perhaps even point you to other students with IBD or other chronic illnesses. I’ve personally been able to meet a few people with other chronic illnesses in my building through this. You’ll be surprised about how many people you may meet who are in a similar situation as you are.

Remember, it’s always your choice who you tell about your IBD and how much you disclose. Hopefully, keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be better equipped to approach your roommates about IBD. While you do not need to divulge every single detail about your health, keeping those close to you informed about your basic needs will serve you well as a patient.