Monday, Dec 7, 2009 9:49 PM UTC

Coed cohabitation? Horrors!

News that Columbia plans to institute gender-neutral housing causes traditionalists' brains to explode

Columbia University students of the opposite sex will soon be allowed to share dorm rooms — or, as the New York Post puts it in a 1950s time-warp of an article, “live in sin … on their parents’ dime.” Horrors, kids these days — et cetera!

As of next fall, the school will institute “gender-neutral” housing on campus for all students except for freshmen. This will mean that students can select roommates regardless of their sex, and hetero couples can shack up together. You know what that means: Sexy time. Of course, only the most naive among us would think that young couples aren’t already fooling around — but cohabitation just makes it that much easier for them to do it. The Post explains: “Sharing a room could put an end to the infamous ‘walk of shame’ — the early-morning cross-campus trek back to a separate dorm in the previous night’s clothes.” Only, the tone of the article makes it sound like the only thing that’s disappearing from that scenario is the walking. The shame part? Still there, big time — at least as far as the Post is concerned.

Thankfully, in a response to the news, the silver-haired sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer commends the change for allowing roommates to forgo the awkward negotiation of privacy with romantic visitors. But then she goes on to caution that “those students who do not have steady partners are going to feel bad.” I suppose we should also ban couples from walking around campus holding hands? She doesn’t go that far, instead she suggests setting aside “some rooms with locked doors where students can go to have a couple of hours of privacy.” You know, like an X-rated update on the concept of “date rooms.” It’s unclear, though, how exactly this will make jealousy-prone students feel any better about their singlehood.

There is one rather refreshing aspect of this story: The potential benefit for lesbian, gay and bisexual students has raised nary an eyebrow. They soon will have the option to live on campus with a member of the opposite sex, so as to avoid the awkwardness and sexual tension of same-sex cohabitation. There are plenty of cynical ways to interpret that lack of outrage (as well as the decade-dissonant controversy over coed housing) but I’d rather celebrate the fact that queer students at Columbia will soon have the same choice straight students have always had.

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