Road to Change: From Coed Dorms to Coed Dorm Rooms

Colleges over the years have made many changes that to younger generations are seen as ‘keeping with the times’ while older generations looking back are finding themselves in a situation of slight culture shock. One of the newest decisions being made about the dormitories in the past few years have been that more and more colleges are allowing – believe it or not – coed dorm rooms.

If you asked someone living in the fifties about dormitories, people of different genders were restricted from even entering one another’s buildings. A change in this decision was made during the seventies when many colleges began allowing students to live in coed dorms. Now the decision for many colleges has become an allowance for students if they choose to room with persons of the opposite sex.

Some parents are having a difficult time believing that the rooming choices are not about sex as often as they are about simply finding a friend that you’re close with and feel you’d be compatible as roommates. The number of students living in coed dorm rooms that are couples actually are outweighed by the number of students simply wishing to live with a friend that happens to be of a different gender. As some students have explained, it’s really not about trying to prove a point to anyone or some type of a rebellion against parents to try and upset them. It’s honestly about what’s most functional.

Some of the parents questioned about the decision at schools where their children attend classes made comments about the lack of rational thought about living with a member of a different gender and not having a level of sexual tension present. Student responses turned up the fact that trust, compatibility and practicality all lent to this decision being one that if chosen can prove to work well. While some deans are more willing to side with students in this decision, others fight the decision that rather than being practical it raises some concerns about both what is practical and what is moral.

Where should the line be drawn? Well that answer honestly depends upon who you talk to. Many in the younger generations (whether they personally choose to room with a member of the opposite sex or not) tend to agree that it should be an option. Can some of the problems with roommate be solved if students were able to pick their closest friend of a different gender rather than rooming with their closest friends of the same gender? Many college students today believe that it very well could be the solution that’s been hiding all along. I tend to agree that it should be a decision made by the students that will be living in the dorms. College is a time of experience and learning, and learning happens best in an environment that one is comfortable in.


This is interesting- I've lived at home during all my college years thus far, but I think I'd definately do better rooming with a guy rather than a girl. I tend to be a bit intimidated by other women, and feel far more at ease with guys- all my good friends are male.

Certainly the potential for awkward or risky situations is there with co-ed rooms, but really, dorms always have a bit of that risk if you're not careful to watch out for yourself. a queer person to notice how often people dismiss the fact that you can't prevent sex simply by just keeping opposite-sex people apart. In fact, quite a lot of us bisexual, gay and lesbian folks have been provided plenty of opportunities with cover by virtue of same-sex being seen as always sexless and safe. As well, plenty of opposite-sex couples do just fine finding opportunities for sex in same-sex dorms. One might even posit that opposite-sex couples who do use the dorms as a way to cohabitate will be less likely to be sexually active in spaces which aren't as private or safe.

My college "dorms" -- they were really more apartments than dorms -- were co-ed. It all seemed very normal, and we had just as many friends as couples living together, plenty without any sexual tension at all. We also had same-sex pairs living together who experienced sexual tension, even if they didn't come into school thinking that was something they'd experience with someone same-sex. It strikes me as a pretty weird assumption about sexuality to presume that if rooming with someone of a gender or sex we're attracted to, we'll automatically have chemistry, and if we do, be somehow more distracted by it in a living situation than we are anywhere else. All the same, trying to police the sex lives of legal adults strikes me as parents wanting to continue control over children that...well, are not children anymore. They've moved into their adult lives.

It also seems like a fine way to support and encourage men and women to learn to be friends: I think a lot of the far-older adult response from this comes from a very personal place of feeling unable to have those friendships, or not being able to see that that's both possible and common.

Nice one, Steph!

Editor & Founder, Scarleteen: Sex Ed for the Real World
Author, S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and Col

I'm in college (heterosexual female), and I've lived
-sharing a room with a girl
-sharing a room with a guy*
-sharing an apartment (own room) with a guy
and, starting next week,
-sharing an apartment (own room) with a girl

*This isn't actually technically allowed on my campus. There was nothing sexual about it, though, and couples change rooms and move in together all the time on practically every campus I know.

The people I've lived best with are the people that I've lived best with. It's really that simple. It had nothing to do with sex or gender.

My college calls such rooms "gender neutral rooms," and I do know some people who've taken advantage of them. In most cases I know of, at least one of the roommates has been queer, which I find to be interesting. I won't really speculate too much about why that is, but it's interesting to note.
Also, the college has in all caps on the website something to the effect of "we think is a really, really, really bad idea for you to room with a significant other unless you're married/engaged. If you experience a break up, you are not guaranteed a room change!!" I think that's a pretty reasonable thing to ask. Though the only couple I've ever known to choose to room together was a same sex couple, and so far as I know, things have worked out alright. But it could be really unpleasant to be stuck in a 12 foot by 12 foot little room with someone you just broke up with...
All of that said, because all juniors and seniors at my college can have single rooms if they want them, there are a lot of couples where one person pretty much moves into their significant other's room. While I did that, it was always nice to have my own space if I wanted it. Oh, and on Heather's comment about opposite sex couples finding places in single sex dorms--my boyfriend lived on an all male hall and I lived on an all female hall. There were quite a few girlfriends who effectively lived on his hall...
So I guess the point of what I'm saying is that in general, I can't see how having these gender neutral rooms changes much other than allowing a few more people to find a good roommate match, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that!

I think it makes sense for some... I am a mildly fastidious guy, and I hope I have this option in college.I would prefer a female roommate, because of the (stereotype?) that they actually understand the meaning of the word "clean". It would be worth possible perpetual sexual tension.