- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2011

A local law professor and legal activist is challenging Catholic University’s much-touted plans to begin converting to all-male and all-female dorms starting this fall, saying the plan violates city statutes forbidding sex discrimination.

“Under our D.C. Human Rights Act you cannot discriminate on race, religion, gender — any of these biases — unless it is absolutely required in order to remain in business,” said John F. Banzhaf III, a law professor at George Washington University. “Can you operate a university without having separate dormitories? The answer is very simple. The answer is yes.”

New Catholic University President John Garvey announced plans last month to implement a same-sex policy for the school’s 17 dorms, saying he hoped to decrease binge drinking and casual sexual hookups. The change will go into effect this fall for incoming freshmen.

Mr. Banzhaf, who has used to courts before on such issues as smoking and discrimination in area dry cleaners, filed the legal action against Mr. Garvey shortly after, accusing him of “aiding and abetting illegal discrimination on the basis of sex.”

“If they can say, ‘Unless we are allowed to segregate all of our dormitories we really cannot remain in business at all,’ then logically you could have separate parking lots for men and women. Separate entrances, exits, physics classes. It just wouldn’t work,” Mr. Banzhaf said.

But Dale Schowengerdt, a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal group that specializes in religious freedom issues, said Mr. Banzhaf is missing a critical step.

“[Mr. Banzhaf has] infamously filed hundreds of sex discrimination complaints and all of those complaints have one common seed — either males or females were treated discriminatorily,” Mr. Schowengerdt said. “When males or females are treated the same, then unlike race, there are reasons for the distinction of male or female living quarters.”

Mr. Schowengerdt added that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protected the university’s right to separate dorms by gender in order to promote virtue, a strong teaching of Catholic faith.

But Mr. Banzhaf countered that previous cases have proved that “being religiously-based does not get you around the law.”

CUA spokesman Victor Nakas said the school was prepared to defend its new policy as consistent with city statutes.

“The D.C. Human Rights Act explicitly allows single-sex educational institutions. There is no doubt in our mind that we may implement the far less drastic measure of maintaining separate residence halls,” Mr. Nakas said.

Mr. Nakas added CUA was waiting to hear from the D.C. Office of Human Rights and had every intention of implementing the policy this fall. He also said applications to the school have not decreased since Mr. Garvey’s announcement.

But student reaction over the new housing policy has been decidedly mixed.

Rebecca Rougier, a junior studying politics, said a lot of students have a strong opinion about the dorm decision — and she doesn’t think the idea is going to achieve the results the school is looking for.

“It’s college. Kids are going to party and hook up with each other no matter if girls and boys are living in the same building or not,” Miss Rougier said. “College is a time to build relationships, grow as a person, and experience new things. By eliminating co-ed housing, Catholic University is doing its students a great injustice.”

Sarah Morris, another junior at Catholic, said the plan is a step backward in terms of keeping up with the campus housing trends across the country.

“One of the main purposes of attending college is to take a step into the real world and the real world is not single-sex,” Miss Morris said.

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