Paul L. Caron

Monday, June 13, 2011

Garvey: Promoting Intellect and Virtue in College Through Same-Sex Dorms

Former Boston College Law School Dean and AALS President John Garvey, currently the President of Catholic University, has an interesting op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal, Why We're Going Back to Single-Sex Dorms:  Student Housing Has Became a Hotbed of Reckless Drinking and Hooking Up:

My wife and I have sent five children to college and our youngest just graduated. ... We may have been a little unusual in thinking it was the college's responsibility to worry about that too. But I believe that intellect and virtue are connected. They influence one another. ... Colleges and universities should concern themselves with virtue as well as intellect.

I want to mention two places where schools might direct that concern, and a slightly old-fashioned remedy that will improve the practice of virtue. The two most serious ethical challenges college students face are binge drinking and the culture of hooking up.

Alcohol-related accidents are the leading cause of death for young adults aged 17-24. 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.

Hooking up is getting to be as common as drinking. Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, who heads the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, says that in various studies, 40%-64% of college students report doing it. The effects are not all fun. Rates of depression reach 20% for young women who have had two or more sexual partners in the last year, almost double the rate for women who have had none. Sexually active young men do more poorly than abstainers in their academic work. And as we have always admonished our own children, sex on these terms is destructive of love and marriage.

Here is one simple step colleges can take to reduce both binge drinking and hooking up: Go back to single-sex residences. I know it's countercultural. 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. ...

Next year all freshmen at The Catholic University of America will be assigned to single-sex residence halls. The year after, we will extend the change to the sophomore halls. It will take a few years to complete the transformation.

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Does Mr. Garvey need to be reminded that correlation is not causation or is his agenda too important to be imperiled by mere facts?

Posted by: S | Jun 13, 2011 10:28:56 AM

When I went to college, we had co-ed bathrooms, and amazingly, seeing your opposite sex neighbors brush their teeth did not encourage promiscuity.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Jun 13, 2011 3:39:00 PM

I have mixed feelings about this. I think many colleges offer a choice of same-sex dorms which seems reasonable. Also I wonder a little bit about the statistics. I saw one report that said about one-third of college students were having intercourse; one-third were engaging in some kind of sexual contact short of intercourse; and one-third weren't doing anything. That didn't sound all that different than a generation or two ago: is it really so much worse or is it partly middle-aged fantasy?

Posted by: mike livingston | Jun 14, 2011 2:40:15 AM