Sex, Booze Survive at Catholic U.

Students covered by policy keeping frosh men living separately from frosh women see no shortage of the activities the rules were designed to scale back.

October 31, 2011

WASHINGTON -- “Life is Co-Ed” has become the unofficial rallying call of the Catholic University students unhappy and unconvinced by their president’s unprecedented decision to revert all dormitories to single-sex living quarters.

John Garvey, president of Catholic, announced in June that the university would be phasing in single-sex residence halls, in an effort to curb binge drinking and casual sex. He said that the change would better align the university with its moral obligations as a Roman Catholic institution.

The decision to eliminate co-ed living to revert to single-sex living, which looks to be the first of its kind, has been the talk of the campus since it was enacted at the beginning of this semester, with opinion split almost 50/50 on the issue, students say. Administrators are phasing in the living policy with this year's freshman class, with units for older students remaining co-ed. But that doesn’t mean its intended outcomes are coming to fruition. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, some students say.

“If people want to have sex they are going to have sex,” said Melissa Reid, a freshman living in the all-female Ryan Hall. Reid, who goes to Mass nearly every other day, said she talked about the policy in one of her psychology classes recently. Nearly all the students, including Reid, agreed that this housing change will not stop students from having sex or drinking. "If you have to separate people to prevent that then what are you saying about those people?” she said.

Interviews with many other students, while walking around near the first-year dormitory area, reveal many similar comments. While students have a range of views about the wisdom of the policy, most agreed that there is still plenty of sex and drinking — and that single-sex living has not fundamentally changed those features of college life.

Catholic University officials, told that Inside Higher Ed had interviewed students about the policy, did not make anyone available for interview. But Victor Nakas, associate vice president for public affairs at Catholic, wrote in an e-mail that students' declarations on how much binge drinking and casual sex they see is mere conjecture -- what do freshmen have as a comparison? Nakas also said that administrators know this housing policy is not going to totally eliminate drinking and casual sex.

At the beginning of the semester, spray-painted graffiti depicting a man and a woman with the slogan “Life is Co-Ed” appeared on several places on campus and in the nearby Metro station. 

Now the student government is stepping in to try and put a number on the campus chatter surrounding the issue. Leslie Martin, speaker of Catholic’s student government, said the governing body will be voting at its meeting Wednesday on holding a referendum (which would not be binding on the university) about the issue. "We really want to make sure our student body is able to voice their opinion on such an important issue,” Martin, a senior studying politics said. Martin said to her knowledge no one in the study body was asked about the new policy before it was announced. 

Martin said there seems to be strong support for the referendum in the government and she expects it to pass.  If the measure is approved, in about two weeks students will be able to vote online to voice their support of or opposition to the new housing policy.

And Martin said the student government’s delegation is representative of the larger student population: it's split right down the middle on the issue. 

Personally, Martin said “we do have to remember the Catholic identity of CUA because we are the Catholic University of America,” but, still, the administration needs to smooth out some kinks in the new housing setup.

She’d like to see more outlets for opposite-sex socialization and 24-hour study spaces so students don’t feel confined to friendships with those of the same gender, she said.

Martin said she does not know how the administration will react if the majority of students have a negative opinion of the same-sex housing policy. But they are going to keep the discussion going — the student government is planning a town hall meeting with the vice president for student life, the general counsel and Garvey to talk about the housing change. A time and date has yet to be set, she said. 

Nakas said he could not comment on the referendum proposal because he did not have enough information about it.

Taking a less neutral stance on the issue is the university’s chapter of DC Students Speak, a district-wide political action group advocating for student issues. The group started an online petition earlier this month, calling for the policy to be struck down. 

The petition, which has almost 100 signatures, says "mandatory single-sex residence halls denounce reality; promote the seclusion of male and female interaction; and deny students the free and fair right to choice, whether it be their living arrangement and/or decision-making in everyday life."

The university is also facing a lawsuit in the wake of the announcement earlier this summer. John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University, who is known for public interest suits, says totally eliminating co-ed dorms would violate the District of Columbia's Human Rights Act.

While some students are saying the policy change is a shift back to the 1950s, others understand the reasoning. One freshman living in the all-female Magner Hall said it doesn’t bother her to be living only with other women.  She has still been able to make male friends. 

But now it’s “more tempting to people to [bend the rules]," she said.

Nakas said there are currently 11 single-sex dorms on campus, and by fall 2012, all freshmen and sophomores will live in single-sex dwellings. Freshmen and sophomores are required to live on campus. Guests may visit student rooms between 9 a.m. and midnight Sunday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Nakas said in most first-year buildings a public safety assistant monitors and signs in room guests from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. every day. The university enforces these guest limitations with communication between resident assistants and the door attendants to identify rooms that may have gone over their visitation hours.

Freshman Liam Crowley is living in the all-male Flather Hall. He put Flather down as his first choice for living preference after an older female friend and fellow student suggested it.  He only found out about the housing changes for his class after he put down his deposit and committed to the university. Now, he said, he spends most of his time in the co-ed Centennial Village residence area.

"I’m not the most religious person, but this is not in line with much because it’s up to people to make decisions,” Crowley, a media studies major, said. “This is not going to change how people act."

He said, if anything, his male friends act crazier when female students are around on the weekends. One senior, who now lives off-campus in a mixed-sex house, said he thinks this policy change is just an attempt to "appease the bishops."

"If you’re going to hook up, you are going to hook up no matter if you live in a same sex dorm room or on the floor below you," he said.

Several students said they understood the Catholic values behind the reversal, but said it limits the freshman class’s ability to meet friends of the opposite sex.

“I think they should be co-ed and I’m pretty Catholic,” Reid said.


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