On June 13 of this year, the president of the Catholic University of America, John Garvey, announced that next fall’s incoming freshman class would be housed in single-sex dorms. In other words, males would live in all-male dorms while females would live in all-female dorms. President Garvey arrived at this decision after reviewing the extensive research regarding the physical, emotional, and spiritual damage that is possible in co-ed dorms.
Specifically, there is much evidence that co-ed dorms are not moral communities but instead tend to be hotbeds for excessive drinking and a “hooking- up.”For the uninitiated, the term “hooking-up” refers to a common practice on many colleges, including so-called Catholic ones, where men and women pair up after a party of heavy drinking and have a sexual encounter, to put it delicately. In many, if not most, cases, the couple hardly know each other and may have met for the first time at the party. There is no expectation that this encounter will lead to a serious relationship, and, more than likely, the couple will never talk to each other again.
For those Catholic parents out there who have daughters currently in college or plan on sending some in the near future, they should not assume that the fact their daughters attended Mass each week or matriculated in a Catholic high school are immune to the pressure of such a hedonistic lifestyle. In fact, several studies point out that Catholic girls are actually more inclined to hook up than their Protestant sisters. To be precise, researcher Elizabeth Stoddard, after surveying 235 college women, concluded that an affiliation with the Catholic Church made no difference in reducing the rate of sexual promiscuity.
A careful reader will notice that the focus in this article is on female students. Certainly, it takes two to tango, but the negative effects of the hook-up culture seem much more devastating for women than men. What are these effects? From an emotional point of view, women are at greater risk of feeling used and hurt after having casual sex. Also, the sexual encounter is often forced upon women, leading to a sense of victimhood, which, in turn, can lead to depression.
Physically, more and more college women are reporting an explosion of STD’s. In addition, many women will become pregnant after a one-night stand, and how many children are aborted as a result? After all, another survey reported that nearly one third of Catholics who attended a Catholic college have rejected the Church’s pro-life position.
As for the abuse of alcohol, the focus is on binge drinking and the dire effects it has on both genders. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, in a 2002 study, considered the consumption of alcohol on campus a public health crisis. The most common effects are “poor academic performance, depression, anxiety, risky sex, rape, suicide and accidental death, property damage, vandalism, fights and a host of medical problems.”
So, President Garvey, recognizing the inherent dangers of the hook-up culture and the negative consequences of binge drinking, decided to do something about the “two most serious ethical challenges college students face.” Thus, single-sex dorms for next year’s freshmen.
Now when the head of a Catholic college takes a step toward common sense, it should be applauded. And I do so. But, at the same time, there is something quite troubling about Mr. Garvey’s time table. Current students will still be able to live in co-ed dorms, so sophomores will have three more years, juniors two, and seniors one–if they so choose. Also, incoming freshmen honor students will be exempt from living in a single-sex dorm. (Apparently, “smart” students do not participate in risky behavior.) If the goal of single-sex dorms is to protect students, then why phase it in? If the Washington D.C. health department informed President Garvey that his dorms were filled with asbestos and that there was a serious risk to the health of the students living in them, would he phase out their use? Or would he close them immediately? My guess is that he would take the latter option. So why delay the implementation of single-sex dorms when their very existence might be so helpful to so many students?
President Garvey is on the right track. But he must not sound an uncertain trumpet. If mixed dorms are a serious physical, emotional, and spiritual threat to the students, then they should not exist now. After all, how does one phase out occasions of sin?
THOMAS ADDIS is a retired high school teacher and published author, most recently authoring a children’s book, A Gift of Light, which is available at Amazon. An M.A. graduate of Oakland University, he is Associate Editor of Catholic Journal. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and cycling.