College presidents across the country are wrestling with student drinking and the new casual sex culture and their impact on higher education.
One president has what might seem like a radical solution to many: Bring back single-sex residences.
He's found a connection between coed dorms and what he sees as "the two most serious ethical challenges college students face ,,, binge drinking and the culture of hooking up."
Earlier this year a 19-year-old University of Florida student died from alcohol poisoning over spring break, a fraternity at Cornell was suspended after a student was found dead at his frat house in an apparent alcohol-related death and Tufts University president nixed a decade-long ritual that involved drinking and streaking, saying the blood-alcohol levels of students were at dangerous levels.
A CNN columnist reported last month in an article titled "My Take: There's nothing brief about a hookup," that sexually active teen girls are more than twice as likely to be depressed than those who are not sexually active and nearly three times more likely to commit suicide. College students who have been sexually active also have a harder time when they decide they want to spend the rest of their life with one person, the columnist reported.
And on Monday, the president of the Catholic University of America, John Garvey, proposed the idea of going back to single-sex dorms in a piece he wrote for The Wall Street Journal.
He quotes studies reporting that students who live in coed dorms are more than twice as likely as those who live in single-sex dorms to report having had three or more sexual partners in the last year and are also more than twice as likely to engage in weekly binge drinking.
Garvey believes colleges need to take an active role in teaching virtue. The Catholic University President of America quoted Aristotle in his piece, saying "virtue makes us aim in the right mark, and practical wisdom makes us take the right means."
Therefore, Garvey's college has decided, come next year, to assign all the incoming freshman to single-sex dorm rooms and will "extend the charge" to sophomores the following year.
Yet, it seems, most college are on the opposite track. The L.A. Times reported in an article last year that in the 1970s, colleges started moving from having single-sex housing for students to coed residences, then coed hallways, coed bathrooms and finally coed rooms.
"College officials say the movement began mainly as a way to accommodate gay, bisexual and transgender students who may feel more comfortable living with a member of the opposite sex," the paper reported. "Most schools say they discourage couples from participating, citing emotional and logistical problems of breakups."
And the media outlet said the trend of allowing "gender-neutral" rooms was accelerating.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that coed dorm rooms were offered at more than 50 colleges in the 2009-2010 school year and that 17 more colleges made that option available this last school year.
The vast majority of dorm buildings at the University of Utah have both men and women on the same floors, but they only offer single-gender rooms. Jae Lim, who has lived in the dorms for two years and is originally from Korea, said this concept of having coed dorm building was "shocking" at first. She said many universities in her country don't allow that and her mom wasn't okay with it at first.
Lim, though, has gotten used to the idea over the years, saying she just has to remind herself she is in America.
For some U students, like third-year student Brendan Morrisey, having single-gender buildings would be "weird." He said having males and females on the same floor allows him to be more social.
Most students, The L.A. Times reported, preferred to have a roommate of the same gender. And students were quoted in the article saying coed rooms are more acceptable than they used to be and that it's a generational thing and people against them are "old-fashioned."
Yet the paper also quoted a Pepperdine University official who said "not in the wildest dream" would the college move in that direction. Pepperdine University in Malibu is affiliated with the Churches of Christ.
Loyola Marymount University professor Christopher Kaczor wrote in an article for First Things last month that contrary to what some may believe, offering more or all single-sex housing may actually boost enrollment.
"Many parents would prefer to have single-sex residences for their children," Kaczor said. "Single-sex residences lead to the perception and the reality of a safer campus, especially for female students. Lower levels of binge drinking and participation in the hookup culture may also lead to higher graduation rates and a more academic atmosphere on campus, increasing prestige, which boosts enrollment."
Suite101 made a list of the positives and negatives associated with coed dorms. Some upsides, they said, to living in a coed dorm included being able to socialize more with members of the opposite sex, experience a more "'real life' experience because the world isn't separated into same-sex spheres," and have more housing options because only a limited number of residence halls are same-sex.
In the drawback list Suite101 says sexual harassment can be a "big problem" in coed dorms, they don't advise modest students to live in coed dorms because students walk around in robes or underwear, and while there are lots of dating options in coed dorms, they advise against dating someone in your same dorm.
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