Jun 14, 2011

Catholic University Returns to Single Sex Dorms

Over four decades ago, I was assigned to a single-sex dorm at the University of Pennsylvania. Hill Hall, now rebranded Hill College House, was a new, sixties-looking brick dormitory with a single entrance and walkway over what was essentially a moat blocking unwanted male intruders from getting in.

To enter the dorm, we passed a front desk presided over by a dorm mother and/or one of her minions. It was the era of “in loco parentis,” Latin for “in place of a parent.” In other words my parents in suburban Maryland could be assured that Penn was taking full responsibility for both my morals and behavior while I was under their jurisdiction.

And so we had curfews and rules. Young men were allowed in the building only during specified hours, and an “open door, feet on the floor” policy made it tricky for unauthorized congress to take place between sexes.

Zoom forward about 30 years, and my daughter is living in a “residence hall” at Yale on a floor with six young men. She has a private room, but shares the shower and toilet facilities. The arrangement made me cringe, but she thought nothing of it. The sexual revolution made single-sex housing appear frumpy and hopelessly old fashioned.

So it comes as somewhat of a surprise that just when George Washington University announces that male and female students will be permitted to live in the same room or suite in nearly all of its residence halls next fall, Catholic University across town is making a U-turn and returning to single sex dorms.

Using an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal to make his announcement, Catholic’s new President John Garvey admits that what he is doing is “countercultural” as more than 90 percent of college housing is now co-ed. But quoting liberally from Aristotle, he justifies his attack on the “ethical challenges” of binge drinking and hooking-up by looking at the facts.

“...Christopher Kaczor at Loyola Marymount points to a surprising number of studies showing that students in co-ed dorms (41.5%) report weekly binge drinking more than twice as often as students in single-sex housing (17.6%),” writes President Garvey. “Similarly, students in co-ed housing are more likely (55.7%) than student in single-sex dorms (36.8%) to have had a sexual partner in the last year—and more than twice as likely to have had three or more.”

Next year, all freshmen at Catholic will be assigned to single-sex dormitories. The year after, the change will be extended to sophomore halls.

The transition will no doubt cost money, and Catholic will have to pay closer attention to the ratio of men and women admitted to the freshmen class. But college administrators feel it’s in the best interests of students.

And in matters of housing, at least, elements of “in loco parentis” will once again be injected into the college experience.

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