June 16, 2011 -- A college president has a new old idea for curbing binge drinking and hooking up on campus -- going back to single-sex dorms -- even though it bucks current trends in campus housing.
John Garvey, president of Catholic University in Washington, D.C., wrote in the Wall Street Journal this week that next year, all freshman would be assigned to single-sex dorms, and the following year, sophomores would be too.
"Our students will be better off," said Garvey, citing research that suggested students in coed dorms binge-drink twice as often as those in single-sex housing, and are more likely to have had multiple sex partners .
Garvey said he's not surprised about the sex but was taken aback about the drinking: "I would have thought that young women would have a civilizing influence on young men," Garvey wrote.
Some students believe Garvey needs to get real. "If students want to drink, they're going to drink," said Madison Taylor, 19, of Santa Barbara, Calif., who just finished her freshman year at the University of Chicago.
Taylor, a chemistry major who lived in a dorm that had coed floors and bathrooms, said the bathroom setup "seemed a little weird" before she arrived at college. "It turned out fine. A lot of my best friends are boys. By the time people go to college, they're mature enough to live with the opposite sex and not have it be a big deal."
Not everyone's so sure. Sally Rubenstone, a college adviser for collegeconfidential.com, said single-sex dorms are a good idea for freshmen. "It provides a safe haven in the first year. When you remove all the noise of that sexual energy, you're just giving them that chance to say, 'Whew,' and close the door -- at least for 10 minutes until their boyfriend shows up."
Garvey's back-to-the-future plan goes against a movement toward coed campus housing, which started in the late 1960s, and has become the norm.
About 90 percent of U.S. college students in on-campus housing now live in coed dorms, according to a study in the Journal of American College Health. The study, which influenced Garvey's decision to move to single-sex housing, looked at five universities across the country, controlling for students' religious affiliation, sex and race, and found that in both big and small colleges, students in coed dorms drank and hooked up more.
"When men and women are in the same building, there's a different dynamic in terms of expectations," said Bryan Willoughby, an author of the study.
But Kathleen Gardner, chairwoman of the commission for housing and residential life at the American College Personnel Association, said, "We would see binge drinking in all types of housing environments" on campus.
Few colleges have resisted the move to coed housing, although the University of Notre Dame, which is Catholic, and Brigham Young University, which is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have stuck with single-sex housing.
There is now a move led by such schools as Oberlin College in Ohio to allow "gender neutral housing" in which a male and female student could share a room. James Baumann, a spokesman for the Association of College and University Housing Officers International, said that practice is "growing," although it's not yet commonplace. Coed dorms predominate, said Baumann, but many colleges will reserve a dorm or a portion of one for single-sex housing -- generally for women. "They know there's a demand for that," he said.
Some students do see Garvey's point. Jill Bridges, 21, from Michigan, who graduated this year from the University of Michigan, lived first in a coed dorm and then in a women's dorm. "I definitely preferred the all-female dorm. They had a stronger sense of community there. It was like sisterhood," she said. "Girls are nicer to each other when there aren't any guys around to compete over."