Sleeping with the enemy?

Although not a field of study in the Mellon College of Science, the science of co-ed dorm rooms could soon be a topic studied by the entire Carnegie Mellon community.

A new proposal has suggested a University-wide mixed-gender housing pilot study that could go into effect as early as the Spring 2007 room draw. The proposal would allow students to live with a member of the opposite sex in university housing.

The plan was proposed by the student government last December. To increase community awareness, Student Body President Karl Sjogren, a senior SDS major, and Student Body Vice President Andrea Hamilton, a senior art and ethics, history, and public policy major, have presented the proposal to the Student Dormitory Council, Senate, and Housing and Student Life Office.

The proposal is awaiting approval by Tim Michael, assistant vice president for campus services. Michael’s decision will determine whether or not the plan will proceed.

“We have received the proposal from the student body president for gender-neutral housing and are still studying it and our own benchmarking of other college and universities that offer such a housing option on their campuses,” he said.
“Since room draw is almost ready to begin, we need to make a decision next week on whether to pursue a pilot or wait another year and do further research.”

Sjogren and Hamilton have worked to inform the campus community about the proposal through presentations and by soliciting students’ views in order to gauge their level of interest in the project.

“Currently, housing’s room assignment process is dictated only by gender,” Sjogren and Hamilton stated on their website. “This prevents students who would like to live in a mixed-gender environment from living in campus housing.”

The proposal would allow students of opposite genders to share both on-and off-campus residences, beginning with the Small Oakland Apartments, which include Shady Oak, London Terrace, Veronica, and Shirley, and expanding according to student demand. In addition to being able to request to live with or “pull in” someone of the of the opposite gender during room draw, current first-years, sophomores, and juniors could specify male, female, or no preference when entering into the process blind. Those who choose to respond with no preference might return next fall to a roommate of the opposite gender.

The plan will not apply to incoming first-year students, who would still be assigned a roommate of the same sex.

Students stated that they would opt for the proposed choice if they wanted to live with a platonic friend between opposite genders; if they were gay, lesbian, or transgender students and felt more comfortable living with the opposite sex; or if they wanted to move in with a boyfriend or girlfriend.

“It would be a huge step for CMU if they offered co-ed housing,” said Ellen Parkhurst, GLBT intern for the Office of Student Development and a sophomore policy and management major. “It would possibly put our campus in the top 20 schools for GLBT students.”

According to The Advocate, Carnegie Mellon ranks in the top 100 best colleges and universities for GLBT students.
More than 20 colleges and universities across the nation already offer co-ed housing options. Students at Wesleyan College, Haverford College, and Swarthmore College can choose to room with a member of the opposite sex, according to a February 27, 2002 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Wesleyan reported that less than one percent of its students have taken advantage of the co-ed alternative, and Swarthmore and Haverford cited similar percentages. However, despite the low numbers of participants, the colleges have continued to offer the option for the past several years.

Currently, Wesleyan allows groups of up to six people, regardless of gender, to be entered into its annual room selection process.

Haverford launched its program in 2000 and limits the option to upperclassmen. Students apply in groups of three by lottery and are placed in two-bedroom apartments with a shared kitchen, living room, and bathroom.

Swarthmore launched its co-ed housing program at the request of the university’s gay and lesbian population. The students claimed that they would feel more comfortable living with a person of the opposite gender, and viewed the campus housing policies as discriminatory to their interests.

All three colleges only place students in co-ed housing arrangements if they specifically request such an arrangement. No one is assigned co-ed housing against his or her wishes, the Post-Gazette stated.

Single-sex housing, once the norm on most campuses, now represents a small minority of housing options. Only two percent of Carnegie Mellon’s dorms are all female and nine percent of dorms are all male, according to university data.
The single-sex dorm has been replaced by the co-ed dorm, which now represents about half of all campus housing. The remaining percentage of campus housing consists of sororities, fraternities, apartments, and specialty housing for disabled students.

Students behind the new proposal are aware of the changes the policy would bring to the campus community.

“[We need] clear communications announcing the pilot study to the campus community, regarding [residential] staff-training adjustments, and related to transgender students,” Sjogren and Hamilton stated on their website.

Although never officially proposed, co-ed housing is not a new consideration at Carnegie Mellon.

“The issue first came up approximately three to four years ago in a discussion with transsexual students,” Sjogren said. “This is the first time there has been a student push for the initiative.”

The final decision regarding whether to proceed with the pilot in time for room draw, which begins March 26, is expected from administrators within the next two weeks.