- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2011

Officials at Catholic University say the early response to their plan to phase out coed dorms has been highly favorable, but not every college student is anxious to see the move become a trend.

“I think if my school even attempted to introduce this measure, there would be riots,” said University of Cincinnati graphic-design major Elishia Candelaresi.

Ms. Candelaresi said that although she supports the option of single-sex dorms, she also cherishes her right to choose.

“I feel that it’s important to give people a choice on how they want to live their life and also to realize that you can’t just protect and shelter people their whole lives because then they never learn how to control themselves,” she said.

Catholic University of America President John Garvey sparked a nationwide conversation on U.S. campuses when he revealed plans earlier this week to institute a same-sex policy for the Washington school’s 17 dorms, describing it as a means to reduce the level of binge drinking and casual sexual “hookups” on campus. Beginning this fall, all entering Catholic freshmen will be assigned to single-sex residence halls.

Victor Nakas, associate vice president for public affairs at Catholic, said the response to Mr. Garvey’s announcement this week has been strongly supportive.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Mr. Nakas. He explained that some of the readers who applauded the school’s effort stressed that they were not even Catholic.

The larger reaction, however, from students to colleges to Catholics to blogs, has been more mixed.

“It’s a pitch to the parents as much as anything else,” said one poster on the Ordinary Gentleman’s blog.

Video producer Erica Wisniewski, a graduate of Catholic, predicted in a Twitter post that her former school’s new policy would not bring major changes in student behavior.

“I attended CUA, lived in a same-sex dorm, drank & hooked up to my heart’s content!” she said. “CUA’s new policy won’t change one thing.”

Brian Willoughby is a researcher at Brigham Young University who has studied university student housing patterns. His studies back up Mr. Garvey’s argument that coed dorms are associated with higher levels of binge drinking and sexual hookups, even controlling for religious beliefs and other factors.

According to Mr. Willoughby, the research suggests that “a lot of [coed dorm] policies are being made without any type of evaluation.”

Many religious universities already have same-sex dorms and say they have no plans to change.

Shawn Holtgren is vice president for student development at Indiana’s Bethel College, an evangelical Christian school with no coed dorms.

“We have policies where there’s open dorms,” Mr. Holtgren said. “They have lounges in all the buildings, and most of them are open until midnight.”

Mr. Holtgren said that even though there are no coed buildings on campus, the generous curfew gives the male and female students a lot of room to interact.

Ms. Candelaresi said a diversity of choices is key.

“If every university in the U.S. decided to make this change, it might be irritating, but I guess I still feel like there would be ways kids can sneak around the rules,” she said. “And I guess the big question is, can students live in off-campus housing after their freshman or sophomore year, because then there are a whole new set of freedoms.”

Mr. Garvey, a former dean of the law school at Boston College who has headed Catholic University for a year, told the Catholic News Service he was surprised but pleased by the response he has gotten since announcing the change.

“I think it touched a cultural nerve,” he said.