As I was perusing CNN.com a few days ago, one of their headlines caught my eye. The article—taken from the AP newswire—addressed the living situation in dorm rooms across several different college campuses. Specifically, it mentioned the increasing trend of two people, of different genders, sharing the same dorm room. From the article:
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(from CNN.com’s AP report, May 2008).
While my undergraduate education was not so long ago, this article was still somewhat surprising. The prevalence of schools offering this option interests me, because though universities and colleges typically lie on the liberal end of the political spectrum, they usually err on the side of pursuing policies that, if they become defendants in a lawsuit, shelter them from paying damages. There seems to be something about this type of rooming option that just begs for abuse. In a short paragraph, the article also addresses what happens when existing couples choose to avail themselves of this rooming option:
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(from CNN.com’s AP report, May 2008).
The article moves on to discuss the relative number of students participating in this rooming option:
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(from CNN.com’s AP report, May 2008).
After I finished examining the article, I spent some time remembering my undergraduate experience and trying to quantify—if the option had been available—if a coed roommate would have worked for me. I think there are distinct periods in college life (for those students that move away from home and live at the college). The article was unclear if this option was given to freshman students, but I suspect that not many freshman have the option. Housing the increasing number of incoming college students is already difficult enough, finding particular buildings where coed rooms will work just increases the load on the housing placement boards.
My first 2 years of college, there is only one girl I can think of who I could have shared a room with. (Let’s call her ‘Katie’). I met Katie during Welcome Week, and it was one of those instant friends type of situation. We both were interested in the same major; we spent most of Welcome week attending different social events together. Our first year we worked on homework together, and participated in a social club together as well. My second year, when I had a single dorm room, after late night studying or other events, Katie often just spent the night. In my meager efforts to be gallant, I slept on the floor while she used the bed; but she was regularly mentioned her willingness to share the bedspace.
The simple question that is not addressed in the article, but that resounds with me on my recollections of the past, is not about how the two roommates avoid sexual tension between each other, but how do they avoid sexual tension amongst their potential significant others. Quite frankly, the first 3 years of college generally consist of college students increasing their levels of sexual experimentation and activity. While my rough hubric—that 20% of the students were having 80% of the sexual encounters, while the remaining 80% of students fell into the last fifth—probably still holds for a majority of colleges, having two opposite gender heterosexual roommates might cause intimacy issues for those attempting to pursue a committed relationship. If I had to guess, I would suspect the majority of these opposite gender (both heterosexual) roommate pairings consist of two single people, while the opposite gender (hetero/homo) roommate pairing consist of one or both of the people being in relationships.