Jockstraps and tampons

Coed housing pilot addresses campus necessity

Jock straps in the laundry bin, tampons cluttering the medicine cabinet: When you’re living with a member of the opposite sex, what else could go wrong?

Besides those kinds of minor inconveniences, we don’t see a problem with mixed-gender housing. Students already live in areas coed by floor and wing; coed by room seems like the next logical step.

There are two reasons to support mixed-gender housing at Carnegie Mellon: a need and a want. The need addresses LGBT students who may prefer to have a roommate of the opposite sex. The want is for the university to respect our capabilities, as adults, to make mature decisions about who we want to live with.

The assumption that all students would be more comfortable living with a roommate of the same gender is outdated. For gay and lesbian students, there’s the risk of encountering a homophobic roommate as well as the possibility of becoming attracted to their roommate. A housing proposal submitted to The Daily Gazette, a newspaper at Swarthmore College, cited these reasons and others as motivating factors for gender-neutral housing.

Swarthmore currently offers coed housing in all forms, including apartments, suites, and even doubles. According to an article in The Phoenix, Swarthmore’s online student newspaper, the school was making plans to expand its gender-neutral housing options as recently as last spring.

Besides the potential benefits for LGBT students, coed housing is often associated with the stereotypical roommate nightmare: If a heterosexual couple decides to live together, what happens if they break up?

It’s a valid concern; things could get messy. Still, it’s a misconception to believe that the potential for drama in a living situation is exclusive to roommates of the opposite sex. If a pair of same-sex friends decides to live together, what happens if they have a fight?

When choosing a roommate, it’s always important to keep the future in mind. An oft-repeated tip for room draw is that it’s a good idea to live with a friend, not a best friend. If a student, regardless of gender, makes a poor roommate choice, it’s the student’s fault — not the system’s.

Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of coed housing, but we believe in the possibility of a proposal that could take into account these students’ concerns. Karl Sjogren and Andrea Hamilton’s current initiative for a housing pilot beginning in fall 2007 is one such proposal.

According to the proposal, no student would ever be forced to live with a member of the opposite sex. If part of the support for gender-neutral housing is to honor student preferences, then preferences belonging to students who would prefer to live with same-sex roommates are just as valid.

In addition, coed housing would not be offered to first-year students. The pilot would be restricted to only those upperclassmen interested in participating.

Even if the housing pilot does not succeed in providing comfortable housing for coed cohabitation, any potential discomfort will be confined to a small part of our university housing system: the small Oakland Community Apartments. Apartment-style living is a good place to start; while adjusting to the new situation, participating students will have an optimal amount of room.

Haverford College has offered coed apartment options since 2000, as reported in an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Students sign up for coed housing in groups, and the administration chooses not to monitor which students (of which genders) sleep in each bedroom.

That same article addressed the possibility of gender-neutral housing at Carnegie Mellon. In response to an article published in The Tartan, the Post-Gazette compared the housing availabilities at a number of universities and colleges, including Swarthmore and Haverford.

The problem: That article was published in 2002. Five years later, it’s time we stopped talking about coed housing and start initiating new policies. The 2007 housing pilot is our opportunity to do just that.