A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, May 03, 2008

I'm pretty sure my parents would not have gone for this

Some colleges are giving students in dorms the right to live with anyone they want as a roomie-- even someone of the opposite sex:
Erik Youngdahl and Michelle Garcia share a dorm room at Connecticut's Wesleyan University. But they say there's no funny business going on. Really. They mean it.

They have set up their beds side-by-side like Lucy and Ricky in "I Love Lucy," and avert their eyes when one of them is changing clothes.

"People are shocked to hear that it's happening and even that it's possible," said Youngdahl, a 20-year-old sophomore. But "once you actually live in it, it doesn't actually turn into a big deal."

In the prim 1950s, college dorms were off-limits to members of the opposite sex. Then came the 1970s, when male and female students started crossing paths in coed dormitories. Now, to the astonishment of some Baby Boomer parents, a growing number of colleges are going even further: coed rooms.

At least two dozen schools, including Brown University, the University of Pennsylvania, Oberlin College, Clark University and the California Institute of Technology, allow some or all students to share a room with anyone they choose — including someone of the opposite sex. This spring, as students sign up for next year's room, more schools are following suit, including Stanford University.

As shocking as it sounds to some parents, some students and schools say it's not about sex.

Instead, they say the demand is mostly from heterosexual students who want to live with close friends who happen to be of the opposite sex. Some gay students who feel more comfortable rooming with someone of the opposite sex are also taking advantage of the option.

"It ultimately comes down to finding someone that you feel is compatible with you," said Jeffrey Chang, a junior at Clark in Worcester, Mass., who co-founded the National Student Genderblind Campaign, a group that is pushing for gender-neutral housing. "Students aren't doing this to make a point. They're not doing this to upset their parents. It's really for practical reasons."

Couples do sometimes room together, an arrangement known at some schools as "roomcest." Brown explicitly discourages couples from living together on campus, be they gay or straight. But the University of California, Riverside has never had a problem with a roommate couple breaking up midyear, said James C. Smith, assistant director for residence life.

Most schools introduced the couples option in the past three or four years. So far, relatively few students are taking part. At the University of Pennsylvania, which began offering coed rooms in 2005, about 120 out of 10,400 students took advantage of the option this year.

At UC Riverside, which has approximately 6,000 students in campus housing, about 50 have roommates of the opposite sex. The school has had the option since 2005.

Garcia and Youngdahl live in a house for students with an interest in Russian studies. They said they were already friendly, and didn't think they would be compatible with some of the other people in the house.

"I had just roomed with a boy. I was under the impression at the time that girls were a little bit neater and more quiet," Youngdahl said. "As it turns out, I don't see much of a difference from one sex to the other."

Garcia, 19, admitted: "I'm incredibly messy."

Parents aren't necessarily thrilled with boy-girl housing.

Debbie Feldman's 20-year-old daughter, Samantha, is a sophomore at Oberlin in Ohio and plans to room with her platonic friend Grey Caspro, a straight guy, next year. Feldman said she was shocked when her daughter told her.

"When you have a male and female sharing such close quarters, I think it's somewhat delusional to think there won't be sexual tension," the 52-year-old Feldman said. "Maybe this generation feels more comfortable walking around in their underwear. I'm not sure that's a good thing."

Still, Feldman said her daughter is partly in college to learn life lessons, and it's her decision. Samantha said she assured her mom she thinks of Caspro as a brother.

"I'm really close to him, and I consider him one of my really good friends," she said. "I really trust him. That trust makes it work."

Well, the changing clothes thing actually might work. I had a roommate one year from Indonesia, which is a very conservative country, and she always changed her clothes in the closet, and I tried to be sensitive about such things beyond my normal modesty. The last two years I was at school, the university built its first "co-ed" dorm, although there were separate floors for girls and separate floors for guys. I lived in one of the girls' dorms. Males were not allowed in our dorm rooms after midnight on weekdays and after 2 am on weekends. Not that that stopped anyone if they were sneaky. And I think that term "roomcest" is hysterically funny.

I certainly have had many male friends throughout my life, having been quite the "tomboy" and I can assure that there was not sexually tension present with most of them. So I think it is completely possible to care for someone as a human being and not have issues of sex enter into the relationship. I don't know how I'd feel about my daughter having a male roommate in college. It would depend upon the boy. But after having good roomies and bad roomies myself, I can tell you that you can have problems with anyone.



At 5/3/08, 2:15 PM, Blogger Rose said...

As someone who went to one of those colleges that has had co-ed rooming (co-ed dorm halls, hallways, rooms, and *gasp* bathrooms) for a while now, I really never gave it a second thought until I started giving Admissions tours and a lot of parents were really concerned. Prospective students often didn't seem to mind, but many parents certainly raised their eyebrows after noticing that even the bathrooms were co-ed. I made it part of my regular spiel to specify that, while the bathrooms were not gender-specific, the toilet and shower stalls all had locking doors. (I didn't quite get that parents were more bothered by the fact that the bathrooms were co-ed, and less bothered that, in one dorm, the bathrooms also act as through-ways for getting from one part of the building to the other.)

Anyway, how it works at Hampshire College (my recent alma mater): no, you don't get randomly housed in the same room as someone of the opposite sex, but the norm is co-ed hallways unless you indicate a preference for a single-sex hallway, which would also typically keep its shared bathroom single-sex too. That said, the entering class rarely sees single-sex hallways because hardly anyone requests it. Returning students choose their housing situation, both the location and the people they will live with. Some may be specifically choosing all male or all female "hallmates", but it could be as much of a matter of having friends of one gender rather than a conscious "I don't want to live with women/men" choice.

For most students co-ed living just becomes commonplace, something not even given a second thought. The people who really benefit the most are transgender students. On the other hand, I believe there are a few female students and employees, though, that are less comfortable with co-ed bathrooms, especially because that's how they are in most academic and office buildings, too.

I for one really liked living on a hallway with guys. Though I could imagine some women feeling less safe, I in fact felt more safe. I knew that my neighbors, male and female, would come to my rescue in a heartbeat the moment I called for it. In fact, they did -- when I was choking and pounded on the wall for help, and my (male) neighbor ran in, assessed the situation, and performed the Heimlich maneuver. Another thing that makes this situation work: only about 1 out of every 10 rooms in the dorms are doubles, and a lower ratio in the on-campus apartments. You choose your roommate, whether they are male, female, or whatever gender they identify with.

On the downside of this arrangement, as an RA, I do remember having to talk to one male resident about not walking to the bathroom and shower in his tighty-whities. I also remember that RAs as a staff had to remind residents of community norms, which unfortunately included the rule of "no shower booty". (And no, incidents were not limited to opposite-sex couples.)

At 5/5/08, 3:50 PM, Blogger Friar said...

I worked at a university for a few years and I've seen how cowardly college administrators can be when it comes to potential lawsuit risks.

And so I don't mean to sound crude or insensitive when I say that this trend will last until the first parents sue a co-ed rooming college because their daughter was sexually assaulted by an opposite-gender roommate, or until one of the students files the same kind of lawsuit. Schools that haven't gone that way yet will run hemming and hawing in the other direction and schools that have such programs will start furiously re-evaluating them.

Perhaps I have a pessimist's view of human nature, but I believe that in the current collegiate environment's combination of youthful lack of judgment, absence of meaningful supervision and overindulgence in alcohol by the inexperienced, the only question about such assaults is, unfortunately, when they will happen -- not if.


Post a Comment

<< Home

free statistics