Modesty Matters

Catholic U. president: it’s time to ditch coed dorms

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 13, 2011 ( - Faced with the devastation wreaked on college youth by the hook-up culture, the president of one of America’s leading Catholic universities has proposed a simple solution: do away with coed dorms.

Catholic University of America president John Garvey announced in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal Monday that he would be changing the school’s dormitories back to segregate the sleeping quarters of men and women in separate buildings.

As a father of college-age offspring, Garvey said he worried about his children’s character. “We may have been a little unusual in thinking it was the college’s responsibility to worry about that too,” he wrote. “But I believe that intellect and virtue are connected.”

Coed dorms, a social experiment that began as early as 1960 before gaining traction in the 70s, have now overtaken over 90 percent of American college campuses, many of them Catholic.

A 2009 study published in the Journal of American College Health found students living in coed dorms 2.5 times more likely to binge drink than their segregated counterparts. Only 44 percent of coed dorm students said they had been chaste in the past year, compared to 63 percent in same-sex dorms, and they were more than twice as likely to have had more than three sexual partners within the same time frame.

Garvey noted that students who engage in binge drinking were 25 times more likely to fall behind in school, and also affected negatively the lives of their sober colleagues. The effects of sexual promiscuity are also burdensome, he notes, with promiscuous women twice as likely to suffer from depression, and promiscuous men performing more poorly in their schoolwork.

Garvey said that if Aristotle was correct that virtue and wisdom were mutually supportive, “then colleges and universities should concern themselves with virtue as well as intellect.”

Patrick Reilly, president of the Catholic university watchdog group, The Cardinal Newman Society, praised Garvey’s words, saying the university president has “set an important example for Catholic educators.” 

“Single-sex dorms are a return to sanity on the path to purity,” Reilly told in an email Monday.

“Too often students’ sexual behavior is blamed on modern culture.  ‘Look what we have to work with,’ they say.  But how can anyone blame students when our own Catholic colleges and universities implicitly invite sexual activity?”

Sociologists Anne Hendershott and Nicholas Dunn agree with Garvey’s concerns about alcohol abuse and sexual activity on Catholic campuses.  In a report to be published this week by The Cardinal Newman Society, the pair warn of serious “psychological, spiritual and physical damages” associated with sexual behavior in college.

“Sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancies and abortions—as well as a long list of psychological costs including poor self-esteem, depression and sadness—have been correlated with the emergence of the hook-up culture on campus,” the authors report in their study, “The Hook-Up Culture on Catholic Campuses.”

Jeanne Clery (1966-1986)

Jeanne Clery was 19 years old when she was raped and murdered in her college dormitory. Her parents, Connie and Howard Clery, could not have known the danger she was in; standards for campus crime reporting simply did not exist in 1986.

So the Clerys put into motion transformative change on two important fronts.

On Capitol Hill, they lobbied for revolutionary policy changes that would eventually take form as the Jeanne Clery Act. Educators, families, and legislators could have an open dialogue about campus safety for the first time in our country’s history.

Connie and Howard also worked with allies and advocates to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that would seek to prevent the kind of violence that had taken Jeanne from them. Today that organization, Clery Center, remains dedicated to guiding institutions of higher education to implement effective campus safety measures.

The next step must be to return to the single gender dormitories!