Three Cheers for Catholic University

John Garvey, the president of Catholic University in Washington D.C., recently announced in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, that Catholic will be phasing out co-ed dorms next year. Here is a blurb from the Inside Higher Ed report on Catholic’s decision:

When it comes to gender and residence life, the hot topic in recent years has been gender-neutral housing, in which students share not only buildings or floors, but also sleeping quarters and bathrooms. But the president of the Catholic University of America went in the opposite direction when he announced Monday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that next year, the institution will begin phasing out its coeducational dormitories.

In making his case, President John Garvey notes the university’s moral obligations and, to a lengthier extent, also cites research showing that students who live in single-sex housing arrangements are less likely to engage in risky behavior like binge drinking and casual sex. He also writes that these behaviors have negative impacts on mental health and academic performance. The transition will only affect incoming classes, so current Catholic students won’t have to move into single-sex housing.

Quoting Aristotle, Garvey says that virtue “makes us aim at the right mark, and practical wisdom makes us take the right means.”

“If he is right, then colleges and universities should concern themselves with virtue as well as intellect,” Garvey said. Hence, he reasons, single-sex housing.

Even though officials from the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International could not recall another institution that has returned from coed housing to single-sex dorms, and 90 percent of colleges have coed dorms, they said it makes sense that a Roman Catholic University would revert to single-sex housing because such decisions typically reflect an institution’s philosophy. “Introducing a coed facility was pretty darn dramatic for that particular campus,” said Jill Eckardt, director of housing at Florida Atlantic University and president of ACUHO-I. “When you think about the Roman Catholic church, you know, they’re not for premarital sex and hooking up. That’s not part of their doctrine. Not everybody who goes to Catholic is Catholic, but that is part of their mission and vision.”

In an interview Tuesday, Garvey said the real reason for the change was moral, not statistical; the research was simply another reason to do it. The announcement also wound up being the culmination of a year of meetings, events and performances exploring intellect, virtue and Catholic identity. “This conversation about life in residence halls and about drinking and sex and so on was all part of that,” he said. “In my thinking about it, it’s got a lot more to do with my wife’s and my being the parents of five children whom we’ve sent to college … and seeing the kind of life” that students lead.

I am glad to see that Catholic University has chosen to strengthen its religious identity by going in this direction.  The Inside Higher Ed article makes it sound as if Catholic’s decision is strange and unusual.  Perhaps it is unusual to move from co-ed dorms back to same-sex dorms, but many Catholic colleges and universities (as well as many non-Catholic church-related colleges and universities), including the University of Notre Dame, have resisted the move to co-ed dorms.

But not everyone is so thrilled about Catholic’s decision.

Today’s Inside Higher Ed reports that a law professor at George Washington University is going to sue Catholic University for violating the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Act which prohibits discrimination in “employment, housing and commercial space, and public accommodations on the basis of sex and other factors like race, religion and marital status.”  Here is a taste of the IHE report:

Banzhaf likens Catholic’s move to a “separate but equal” scenario. “Suppose a university decided that there would be less racial tension if all the blacks were in a black dorm, all the whites were in a white dorm,” Banzhaf said. “Each one is, quote, getting their own dormitory, and maybe some of them would be happier that way. But surely no one would suggest that it’s lawful.” The statute does not require that a certain population be disadvantaged for an action to be illegal; the simple act of segregating the genders is enough, Banzhaf said.

What do you think?

4 thoughts on “Three Cheers for Catholic University

  1. Per Banzhaf's argument, monosex bathrooms violate the 14th Amendment.

    That this cretinous reasoning even gets this fellow's name mentioned among adults is enough to illustrate the decline of Western civilization.

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  2. This is really interesting, John–both Catholic U.'s decision and the responses.

    I went to BYU, where dorms are not only strictly segregated by sex, but those of the opposite sex can only be in the room of the other sex during limited “visiting hours” (when I lived in the dorms there a decade ago, it was Wednesday evenings from 6-8 and then every other Sunday for 2 hours). So Catholic's decision seems quite tame by comparison.

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  3. This is interesting to see. For my senior research I studied single-gender dorms. I don't remember reading about any other university making the same decision.

    The scientific evidence about residence halls is, at best, mixed: not unanimously supporting the view that President Garvey puts forward, but not denying it either. What I found interesting was a handful of articles saying about co-ed dorms that, essentially,”there ought to be significant benefits for young women in co-ed dorms. We haven't found them yet, but they should be there.”

    Oh, and wouldn't the 'separate but equal' problem be taken care of under a religious exemption? DC's HRA § 2-1401.03.(d) seems to cover Bazhaf's argument.

    It is exciting that Catholic is taking its tradition seriously and starting to act on that understanding.

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