Coed dorms at Columbia create media stir

Posted on 10. Dec, 2009 by in General, Rebecca Leung

Any time my alma mater’s name is in a news headline, I get nervous. There’s usually some major controversy that makes friends and relatives furrow their brows and launch into uncomfortable discussions about politics.

This time was no different.

Columbia University is considering a student proposal that would allow sophomores, juniors and seniors to have opposite-sex roommates. The idea seeks to alleviate uncomfortable living situations for transgender and gay students with same-sex roommates. But the change would have clear implications for straight students as well.

Local and national media pounced on the story this week with all the sensationalism you would expect. Fox News called it an “experiment in sexual chemistry.” The Post led with “students will soon be able to live in sin.”

But here’s something that none of the reports mentioned. Columbia has long had coed floors and coed bathrooms in its dormitories. When I visited the campus as a high school senior, I almost had a heart attack when a guy walked out of the shower in a towel while I was washing my hands in the bathroom. I promptly made a special request to live on the campus’ only all-girl floor my freshman year, and was one of only a few heterosexual students who did (or at least admitted to it).

The other important point is that most upper classman live in singles, meaning they don’t have roommates anyway.

This story was ripe for sensationalizing and got overblown. As one blogger at the Columbia Daily Spectator noted, the much more interesting issue is what the change would mean for transgender and gay students on campus.

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