Free Choice: Co-ed Dorms on College Campuses

I arrived at AARO as an excited, innocent soon-to-be freshman, and everything was going fine. I liked SMU and I especially liked the presentations given to raise awareness about sexual assault. Reading about the rape culture prevalent on college campuses had made me slightly nervous, since I’m a tiny girl with the muscle strength of a chihuahua (and also because my friend had been raped in high school), but I was proud of SMU for having a good handle on the issue.

We had just finished talking in our small groups about the presentation — specifically, the one on sexual assault — when I raised my hand and asked my leader, “So, are the dorms separated into sexes by floor or do you guys do the ‘guys wing’ vs ‘girls wing’ thing?”

My AARO leader smiled mater-of-factly. “Oh, all the dorms at SMU are co-ed.”

At the confusion on my face, she elaborated, “So you could live right next to a guys’ room. Last year I roomed next to some boys and there were guys living, like, all over our floor.”

Nonchalantly, she moved on.

I, however, did not.

Since arriving at SMU, I have discovered that not only is my dorm room sandwiched between two boys’ rooms, but also that a boys’ room is right across from the girls’ community bathroom. The bathrooms don’t have locks on them. The showers don’t have doors, only curtains.

This isn’t meant to be a rant about the bathroom quality itself. I would be a lot more comfortable with the situation if there hadn’t been a boys’ bedroom just across the hall. Which brings us to the question: should schools have co-ed dorms?

My answer is: yes, they should, but they should also offer other options. Many students might not mind the dorm arrangements and might even enjoy the different social aspect of a co-ed dorm. Others, however, feel uncomfortable about sharing floors with members of the opposite sex, especially trying to adjust to college in general.

Move-in plagued me with worries: would I ever feel comfortable walking through the halls in a towel or even pajamas? What if a drunk boy wandered into the girls’ bathroom? Would I run into lots of boys in towels? How would my religious beliefs respond to this? Even after arriving, I still never feel safe in the shower, paranoid about intoxicated boys wandering in, fears heightened by the rampant rape culture on campus and the reported sexual assault last week.

When I asked why SMU would arrange the living situations like this, I was informed that “It’s the direction that most colleges seem to be heading nowadays.” I understand that offering co-ed dorms is progressive and I’m not against that, but offering only co-ed dorms doesn’t seem like the right kind of progress. In fact, in limiting students’ choices about Residential Life, it seems to be a step in the wrong direction.

This isn’t just about girls. No student at SMU should be forced to live in a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened. As a campus, we should strive to meet the needs of each student as best as we can. While this is not always possible, offering the option of a single-sex dorm or at least single-sex floors in a few of the dorms isn’t unrealistic.

I’m not asking for complete campus renovations. I’m simply asking that in the future, scared freshmen will be offered a dorm choice that allows them the most comfortable transition. If this means other options besides entirely co-ed dorms, then I think we should provide that choice.

This article was written by Lorien Melnick. Click here to see more of Lorien’s work.