Clash of the Titans LXXVIII: Co-ed Dorms

April 15, 2008, 2:32 pm; posted by
Filed under Debate, Erin, Steve  | No Comments

In this corner, opposing co-ed dorms, is Steve!

And in this corner, backing them, is Erin!

The context of this clash was whether it would be wise for a Christian college to build a dorm that would house both men and women. I think it would be both foolish and unnecessary.

I strive, in all areas, for a realistic philosophy, based on facts and data. History tells me it is impossible for sinful humanity to eradicate poverty. Obvious physical and emotional differences between the sexes illustrate why (in general) I prefer my firefighters male and my schoolteachers female. I would be a terrible painter, so rather than fighting for a Pyrrhic victory in the name of fairness, I seek the best realistic outcome.

To fight poverty, that means capitalism — using greed to increase wealth for all. In the workplace, that means a system where anyone can work a job, but we don’t lower standards to achieve arbitrary quotas. And when it comes to young adults, it means we consider all the consequences of having them (not just ones on close-knit ministry teams) sleep in close proximity. Without some tremendous benefit, the simple biology of the matter rules it out instantly. I don’t see that benefit.

Erin argues that separating genders “warps the ideals” each holds about the other. That might be true — MIGHT — if we were returning to the days of separate classes and segregated chapel services. But we’re talking about separate sleeping areas — places where men can be fools without irritating women, and where women can be fools without feeling judged by men. We’re talking about a system that makes it easy to see who belongs in a dorm, making sexual assault far more difficult.

Besides, if anything warps gender ideals, it’s co-ed dorms. At Syracuse, they corroded and profaned relationships, breeding misbehavior, distracting from studies, and (from all accounts) eliminating romance. They were a buffet of loveless hookups and debauchery. In this era where so much of our lives are open to the world, there is still something powerful to be said for mystery — for boundaries. Houghton is not Syracuse, but co-ed dorms still do not reflect real life, because they are not much like reality. They are a contrived environment vastly unlike any other in the world, and if you think they’ll help you learn about men, I expect you’ll learn the wrong things.

Living with the opposite sex is not the same as knowing them. I learned about women by growing up with a mother and sisters, and by meeting women outside my home. I don’t understand how seeing female classmates brushing their teeth in pajamas would have improved our interaction — or much of anything, really… At least anything worth improving.

As for “real life,” the point of college is to educate people and prepare them for careers. Thus, it need not reflect “real life” in any significant way; in fact, it’s easier to learn when you don’t have to work for a living at the same time. And so students choose their own schedules; sleep in with few consequences; queue up at certain times to be fed by others; and deal with virtually none of the hassles of independent life. American colleges give students the illusion of maturity while protecting them from real responsibility. Many students never even connect the experience of college with its rapidly rising costs, thanks to loans and parents.

Yet, perversely, when college students speak of being treated as adults, they always want more of the freedom and none of the responsibility. If a college truly wished to prepare students for real life, it would not make it easier for them to act — it would make them more immediately responsible for the consequences of their actions. That is reality.

So not every decision a college makes is based on whether it trusts its students. Some things are just bad ideas. Even for good people.

I agree with what Steve says about college students crying out for “real life” and actually meaning more freedom with less (meaning almost never an equal amount of) responsibility.

Just as much as any other college student, I certainly have wanted to be treated more like an adult and then, when it happens, been a bit overwhelmed by all that it entails. Where I think that I differ is in my idea that although perhaps the modern Christian college is not intended to reflect real life, this can in no way be a positive thing.

Yes, there should be an element of the monastic, but especially at small Christian colleges, that element can very easily be taken and shoved down the throats of students who either do not understand it, do not understand why it is in place, or will continue to act out despite any actions taken to keep them in a study-focused “good student mode.”

Keeping women in one dorm and men in the other warps the ideals that either gender has of each other. Maybe I’m just exaggerating, or my experience has been strange, but this I have seen: when all women live together in one place, and are always together, warped expectations that emerge from that bunch as regards how men act on a day-to-day basis.

I’ve lived in close proximity to unrelated men for extended lengths of time, and I can honestly say that every time, I came away either thinking about, or beginning to understand, some of the differences between the sexes — and appreciating them! This you can’t get from across campus… not really.

As for mystery eliciting romance – if there’s one thing that a lot of (especially conservative) Christian youth need, it’s a deromanticizing of the college experience. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t date, but often that mystery about the opposite sex, when coupled with traditional expectations and parental pressures to get married (so common at Christian colleges…and most colleges, really) translates into a hyper-romanticized experience, which can be all the more disappointing for those who don’t themselves get a ring by spring. Does the sentiment, “God told me that you’re the one I’m supposed to marry!” disturb anyone at all?

I’m not saying that I didn’t appreciate having nights where I could walk from the shower room to my room without having to worry about a guy somewhere (and mutual embarassment). I’m not pretending that in many schools (the one where my best friend attends, Central Michigan, is a prime example) that do have co-ed dorms have seen a corroding of the male-female relationship, or distraction.

But what I am saying is that when the administration tells the student body just how deeply they care for us and believe in our ability to make choices… then go on to delineate, point by point, all of the regulations set in place to keep us dependent, immature, and well-behaved, I get frustrated.

I don’t think that, had South Hall been co-ed by wing as was possible when it was built, Houghton would have seen a major decay in the behavior of its students. To tell someone that they are mature and able and adult, but then not give them the freedom to prove that, is the same as saying that you don’t trust them, and although co-ed dorms would not solve that problem, it would certainly give that freedom.

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