The Cons of Coeds

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Maybe I’m old fashioned. No, I know I am. I smoke a pipe for Chrissake. And, having spent my college years sleeping on a couch in my parents’ basement, it’s not the case that I have a tremendous frame of reference when it comes to dorm life. When I was in college, the dorms were a place I had no business being; I went to Georgia State and student housing at the time was in the former Olympic Village down near Georgia Tech. Being that I was never looking to “score” (yeah, no drugs either), I seldom found myself down there, and when I was, I typically waited in the car and rummaged through the glove box of whomever I happened to be riding with.

As news editor of the college paper, I saw the police reports and I knew what kinds of crazy shit went down in those dorms. I also understood what used to be where those dorms were; it was a place called Techwood, and it was low-income housing that had gained a respectable level of infamy. When they demolished Techwood to build the Olympic Village, they got rid of the housing, but not the people. The same elements that made Techwood so unsavory continued to linger around the Village. From the police reports, I became aware of the occasional drug deal gone bad, assault (sexual and other), medical emergencies probably resulting from overdoses and alcohol poisoning and other manner of general shenanigans.

The students I knew who lived in the dorm didn’t seem at all too concerned about it. I only had one room of girls who came to me as a last resort when they had witnessed a shooting in the dorm room across the hall and really wanted to be moved to another room since the shooter was at large, knew what they’d seen and knew where they lived. (Seems I recall the university’s response was to install new locks.) The Village was a large place, it had security systems to lend a false sense of security, and because of the limited common areas (every room had four bedrooms, two bathrooms and one kitchen/living room), most people didn’t seem to know any other residents extremely well.

The dorms were, in fact, coed. Men and women did not necessarily share the same rooms, but certainly shared the same floor. They were, in a way, a sort of low-income dwelling, not so unlike the Techwood development they replaced. That they were coed isn’t at all surprising; research indicates that 90 percent of American universities now employ coed housing.

Research published in 2009 indicates that the major reason why schools employ coed housing is based on student demand. It’s easier, apparently, to attract students who will not be forced to sneak into their boyfriend or girlfriend’s dorm in secret and hide from the R.A.’s. However, the research said, students who live in coed housing are more likely to have multiple sexual partners while in school and engage in other risky behaviors, including binge drinking and the use of illicit drugs.

OK, of the four researchers who wrote “The Decline of In Loco Parentis and the Shift to Coed Housing on College Campuses,” one was from Brigham Young University, which – for reasons that should be obvious – does not have coed housing and most likely never will. This is a school that sacrificed one of their best shots at an NCAA title in basketball by benching their center for boinking his girlfriend. Students rioted once because a vendor was inadvertently stocking a vending machine with a beverage that contained caffeine. They take this shit seriously.

And the only university looking to turn back the clock and reestablish single-sex housing is the Catholic University of America. I mean, if the Mormons can have single-sex housing, why not the Catholics, right?

Liberal though I am, I don’t think this is a bad idea. In fact, I rather think this is an excellent idea. I endorse it, even. Catholic University President John Garvey, in a report from NPR, cited Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, and the idea that a “virtuous life” is essential to achieve sustained happiness.

A man who cites Aristotle is a man after my own heart.

Now, I’m not saying celibacy and clean living is the road to happiness, but I can see how coed living could produce many an opportunity to make regrettable mistakes. And I believe as well that everyone should be afforded the opportunity to “study,” or rather, step away from social pleasures and take the time to think, read and gain a better understanding of themselves and their world. Without understanding yourself, you’ll never know what makes you happy, and you’ll never know just what path Aristotle’s virtuous life ought to lead you down. Even Aristotle would endorse that sex, drugs and rock and roll are permitted, but in moderation.

From what I’ve understood of dorm life, moderation is hardly standard.

In full disclosure, it should be noted that there is research out there that suggests coed living has the opposite effect of that described here. A professor at George Mason University, David Anderson, has been studying the effects of coed living for a long time and says that it actually does have a moderating effect, with residents looking out for one another as brothers and sisters.

However, based on my own observations and experience, too much too fast and too young rips one’s health asunder. It takes time and experience to understand how to healthily manage life’s affairs, from seeing someone you love find happiness with another partner to knowing how far down that handle of bourbon you can go before you start writing stupid poems about that someone you love and the asshole she’s with. It is best to expose yourself to such things gradually and carefully, understanding pain and the pleasure of indulgence and how best to control both. At 18, full of vinegar and hormones and released on a building full of potential suitors, I’ve no doubt that I wouldn’t have lasted as long in school as I did.

I like this idea of single-sex dorms; at least for students of a certain age. The housing must be equal for it to be fair, to be sure, but I think this is a very good policy. Sustaining single-sex dorms for a period of the students’ formable years (at least freshman and sophomore) will provide that opportunity to immerse themselves in their subjects and explore their own desires in life.

And if the desire in life is to live in coed housing, there will be plenty of time for that after they wed. But it won’t be anything like they expected.

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