Youth Culture Window
Dear Ryan: Congratulations! You’re accepted to Platonic Love U! Enclosed is your first semester’s class schedule and a list of girls who are looking for a male roommate. Have a great summer as you prepare for an “unforgettable” experience at our school!
Currently, about two dozen schools allow boys and girls to be roommates on campus, including the University of Pennsylvania, Oberlin College, and the California Institute of Technology. But when the 2008 fall semester rolls around, there will be even more colleges that offer students this option; Stanford will be one of them.
A quick look back over the last 50 years will show that major shifts have taken place on college campuses, especially in regards to housing. In the Leave it to Beaver days of the 1950’s boys weren’t even allowed in girls’ dorm buildings (and vice versa), let alone their rooms! That changed in the free love days of the 1970’s. Girls and boys could now share dorms, but being roommates was still off limits. But starting in 2005, several colleges began to allow boys and girls to have an even closer proximity to one another: roommates.
Is This Perceived as a Big Deal?
Many college kids seem to like the broader options this new allowance gives them. Now, since no one is “off limits” from being a potential roommate, students are able to be even more specific when it comes to picking them, which can play an important role in a student’s collegiate endeavor. Familiarity, trust, academic similarities, fun, and a whole host of other compatibility-related factors can now include both genders.
Jeffrey Chang, a student in Massachusetts, and co-founder of the National Student Genderblind Campaign, dismissed the idea that coed roommates were simply making a statement to parents or the school. “It’s really for practical reasons,” he said.
Erik Youngdahl agrees. In response to people’s shock over his decision to choose a female roommate, the 20 year old sophomore from Connecticut’s Wesleyan University says, “Once you actually live in it, it doesn't actually turn into a big deal.” (I’m sure his response settles the nerves of parents everywhere….)
The “Good” the Bad and the Undecided
You probably guessed that parents might have their reservations about the idea. After all, their college dorm rooms weren’t coed. They usually have a more mature stance on life that allows them to see the outcomes this new housing option may bring their child’s way.
True, this does open up more living arrangement options for traditional, on-campus students who have to fight for the few dorm rooms available on campus. Plus, their kids will get a preview of a world that isn’t divided into gender spheres. But, will coed rooming have more consequences, or benefits, for students? Will it rob students of having those long, late night, and meaningful chats about life with someone of the same sex? Will it put girls in an unnecessary level of jeopardy? Can students who say it’s not about the sex, actually refrain from the temptation as the semester wears on? Is this a form of co-habitation (which we already know to have damaging effects on couples who later marry)? How might this affect religious ethics?
We don’t know all the answers for these questions yet. But we do know something about kids and their sexual activity right now, in gender split settings.
What The Experts Say
The reality is, high school and college students (and nowadays way too many middle school students) are having sex. Here’s what we know about kids before they go to college:
- 46% of 15-19-year-olds in the U.S. have had sex (at least once)
- Most young people have sex for the first time at about age 17
- By the time students reach age 19, 7 in 10 have engaged in sexual intercourse
Note: These numbers only concern intercourse, not sexual activities like oral sex which have significantly higher occurrences. (Thanks, President Clinton.) It’s safe to say that sexual activity increases throughout the teen years.
But what about kids who are actually in college? This report on casual sex, the conglomerate work of the University of Tennessee and Queens University, found that casual sex occurred more often between “friends” than it did with strangers. (What kind of a friend? Perhaps a roommate-sort-of-friend?) Many of you are familiar with the emergence of the term “hooking up.” Consequently, females who had a history of casual sex more often report “depressive symptoms.”
In an admittedly “unscientific” survey, I polled college campus pastors across the Southeast, who represent several different denominations. Here are some observations and predictions from people who really know college kids. None of them were serving on a campus that offers this option, and most of them thought it could evolve into a problem that would mean more work for them, especially in the realm of counseling. They also reported that RA’s routinely griped about the “coed floors” (coed dorms, gender split rooms) being the rowdiest floors in the dorm.
Understanding the big need for companionship prompted one college pastor to wisely say, “Emotional intimacy wants to be acted out physically. Sharing a room is very intimate. Though they may just be friends, I think temptation would be very great.”
What Are We Gonna Say When Students Ask Us?
We shouldn’t wait to have conversations with our middle and high school students about the typical college life experiences. The negative and highly critical flak they take for their faith is often enough of a burden for them to bear. (Check out this Podcast #12 from TheSource4YM.com for some great ways to change this.) Topping that off with these sorts of temptations may push our students even closer to trouble.
Engage students in open and unassuming conversation. Don’t be surprised if they gravitate to the idea of having a different-sex roommate in college…it sounds appealing at first. But don’t forget to share with them what the Bible calls living “above reproach,” and “fleeing sexual immorality,” to see what they believe.
It’s precisely these kinds of events in life that make raising godly teenagers that much more difficult. Continue to drudge through these kinds of questions that teens face. It really is worth the time and effort. Thanks again for doing all that you do that makes such a difference!
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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