Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Boys and Girls Together?

One of the sure signs that you have reached middle age, or beyond, is that you are worrying about the way college students are behaving.

In principle, young adults who have passed the age of 18 are no longer children. They have the right to vote and the right to serve in the armed forces. They see themselves as adults and demand to be treated as such.

Moreover, they insist that they have the moral sense to make their own decisions. When they leave home to go away to college they are, for all intents and purposes, on their own. Besides, don’t they have the right to make their own mistakes, to learn from experience.

And yet, 18 year olds are barely adults. Their moral sense has just recently developed and, at times, their lack of experience shows. They know a lot more about being children than they do about being responsible adults.

Most, if not all, college students depend on their parents financially, and they still require guidance.

It is one thing to offer guidance that a child ignores; quite another to fail to offer any guidance at all.

The first is largely preferable to the second.

Given that today’s parents have been persuaded that they have no right to try to set standards for college students, the task has been given over, by default, to college administrators.

These same administrators have less invested in the well being of college students, and often have a cultural agenda that differs radically from what parents would choose.

Those who argue that parents should not be setting standards do not often recognize that when administrators decide that everyone must live in a coed dorm, they are setting standards and forming cultural values.

If their grand experiment works out badly, if young people exit college without good values and good character, then they should take some responsibility for what they have wrought.

With precious few exceptions parents want their children to err on the side of sobriety. No parent is stupid enough to imagine that a college aged child is going to refrain entirely from sex and alcohol, but most sensible parents, following Aristotle’s dicta, want their children to refrain from excessive drinking and from meaningless anonymous sexual encounters.

More so if their children are female.

Admittedly, the parental mind entertains a double standard. It protects girls more fiercely than boys. It knows that girls are more prone to suffer from extreme behavior than are boys.

Colleges and universities do not see things this way. If they prescribe coed dorms they are saying that boys and girls are the same and that differentiating between them is invidious.

While most of us would counsel a more temperate expression of the lust for alcohol and sex, there are a few among us who would disagree.

You may not be aware of it but some people actually favor drunken Dionysian revelry. They feel that children can best get in touch with their animal spirits if they indulge to excess. They also believe that young people should explore their sexuality to the fullest.

Of course, no one argues in favor of binge drinking. Some people argue for hookups, but they are mostly teenage boys and wanna-be teenage boys.

Yet, administrators seem to have succeeded in arranging campus life so that binge drinking and hookups flourish. This may not have been their intention, but we are judged by the consequences of our actions not our blind faith.

If you disagree you will be told that you don’t get college students. They are going to do it anyway. Besides, repression is bad; expression is good.

And that’s just the start.

This to introduce a Wall Street Journal op-ed about same-sex housing on college campuses. The author, John Garvey, is president of the Catholic University of America. Link here.

The better to prepare us for his announcement that his university is going to start phasing out co-ed dorms, Garvey offers the facts on the ground:  “More than 90% of college housing is now co-ed. But Christopher Kaczor at Loyola Marymount points to a surprising number of studies showing that students in co-ed dorms (41.5%) report weekly binge drinking more than twice as often as students in single-sex housing (17.6%). Similarly, students in co-ed housing are more likely (55.7%) than students in single-sex dorms (36.8%) to have had a sexual partner in the last year—and more than twice as likely to have had three or more.

Apparently, binge drinking creates problems, for the drinkers and for those who are in the immediate entourage: “Students who engage in binge drinking (about two in five) are 25 times more likely to do things like miss class, fall behind in school work, engage in unplanned sexual activity, and get in trouble with the law. They also cause trouble for other students, who are subjected to physical and sexual assault, suffer property damage and interrupted sleep, and end up babysitting problem drinkers.”

A quick look at the evidence suggests that the great social experiment called co-ed dorms is not working out very well.

Given that these newly minted adults are away from home for the first time, it does not make too much sense to create a situation where they are subjected to excessive temptation.

Nor does it make very much sense to deprive young women of their privacy. You cannot have co-ed dorms without compromising a young woman’s privacy, to say nothing of her security.

Apparently, our administrator class does not care about this right to privacy.

As for her security, the administration is saying that she is basically on her own.

No one is going to say that same-sex dorms are the ultimate solution to the problems of binge drinking and hookups, but if they contribute to a better educational experience for more students, why are there be so few opportunities for students to choose them.

If more than 90% of dorms are co-ed, then there is effectively, very little choice. I know of parents who have tried to find schools where their children would have the option of choosing a same-sex dorm, only to discover that there are practically none left.

We are not talking about free choice; we are talking about a coerced choice.

Having been young ourselves, we all know that college students are not going to stop drinking and or hooking up if they live in same sex dorms. But, if we know that same sex dorms nudge a significant number of children toward more temperate behavior, what is the harm in that?

Forced co-ed dorms encourage male and female students to act as though there is no difference between the sexes.

The ubiquity of co-ed dorms establishes a social norm. It tells girls, in particular, that they should act like boys. And that means that they should drink like boys drink and have sex like boys have sex. It says that they do not need or deserve any of the protections that prevailed when they were allowed to have their own dorms.

In truth, we do not need to know why co-ed dorms are a bad idea. If we observe the behavior patterns that pertain in those dorms and compare them to the behavior patterns that pertain in same sex dorms, and if we find a significant disparity, then there is no reason not to return to same sex dorms.

But what about the argument that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. After you try explaining that to the global warming crowd you should note that the students who live in co-ed dorms are not choosing to do so. They are being forced to do so.

People seem to get all lathered up when anyone suggests that parents should have a say in the way children are housed on college campuses. They foam at the mouth at the idea that parents would be allowed to express their values in the choices colleges are making for their children.

Yet, precious few people complain when ideological zealots to impose their values through such seemingly innocuous practices as co-ed dorms.

It’s about time parents found their voice in this matter. I would recommend that those fortunate few who donate vast sums to universities ask themselves what their contributions have been sustaining and whether they should continue to fund a radical social experiment.


David Foster said...

It is the binge drinking that worries me most. Unwise sex can cause problems, but at least sex is a natural human desire, whereas I'm pretty sure than getting throwing-up-drunk every night of the week, and having drunken sex with people you are too far gone to even remember, is no such thing.

Hypothesis: There are a lot of people who are in college who have not the slightest interest in learning anything, and are there only because someone has told them they HAVE to attend, or have failed lives. The analogy is with draftees, in peacetime, in a unit officered by uncaring incompetents. They'd probably stay as drunk as possible, too.

Susan Walsh said...

And yet, 18 year olds are barely adults. Their moral sense has just recently developed and, at times, their lack of experience shows. They know a lot more about being children than they do about being responsible adults.

This is key. We keep lowering the age of responsible adulthood. And our "adults" respond by prolonging adolescence.

I've read that brain development continues into the 20s. Perhaps universities should not have rejected "in loco parentis" so readily in the 90s.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I agree with David that binge drinking is potentially the most damaging problem. It would be nice if colleges would dedicate themselves to the task of educating students-- perhaps that might have some effect on the way students spend their free time.

Would they have less free time if they had more homework? Would they have less free time if they knew that they might not pass their courses?

How much does grade inflation contribute to this problem.

Happy to hear from Susan Walsh on this topic, because, through her site, HookingUpSmart, she has tried to be what a parent should be to college students.

As always, I recommend her site wholeheartedly.