RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
At colleges across the country, some 90 percent of student housing is now coed. Notre Dame and Brigham Young are among the universities that never followed that trend and stuck with single-sex housing. Now the Catholic University of America thinks that's the way to go. The Washington, DC school is turning back the clock and returning to single-sex dorms. As Jacob Fenston reports, the university is fighting back against what it perceives is a culture of drinking and casual sex.
JACOB FENSTON: Catholic University President John Garvey says coed housing fosters a culture of hooking up and binge drinking. In making his decision, he looked to a time before the revolutions of the '60s. Actually, before Christ.
JOHN GARVEY: Aristotle suggests in the Nichomachean ethics that you need to live a virtuous life to point you in the right direction.
FENSTON: Garvey announced the move in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, where he acknowledged it was slightly old-fashioned.
GARVEY: I think it's countercultural for a university like ours to say that it's part of our business to concern ourselves with the development of our students in the practice of virtue as well as in their intellectual faculties.
FENSTON: Garvey also cites a 2009 study that found students in coed dorms are twice as likely to binge drink, and have multiple sexual partners.
BRIAN WILLOUGHBY: A lot of people will ask me, you know, so is your research saying we should just get rid of coed dorms? And I don't think that's what the research is saying.
FENSTON: But so far the research in this field isn't conclusive. David Anderson, a professor at George Mason University, says coed dorms can improve student behavior. He's been studying drugs and alcohol on college campuses since 1979. And he says coed dorm-mates look out for each other, like brothers and sisters.
DAVID ANDERSON: Coed residence halls have a moderating effect on particularly the males' drinking behavior.
FENSTON: He says administrators often attack the symptoms of campus alcohol problems, not the root causes.
ANDERSON: To look at single-sex residence halls as halting behavior, it may simply be halting the location of behavior rather than halting the behavior.
MEGAN DEVER: I honestly don't think it's going to make a difference.
FENSTON: Megan Dever is a grad student at Catholic, but she's lived in both types of dorms.
DEVER: I lived in a single-sex dorm my freshman year, and you have just as much exposure to the situations that he's trying to prevent.
FENSTON: But freshman Germanil Van thinks living with the opposite sex can be a distraction.
GERMANIL VAN: I mean, when we mix the students, they don't really focus on their work. Girls prefer to hang out with their boyfriend, and vise versa.
FENSTON: Bridget Walsh just graduated. She says restrictions like this are par for the course at a Catholic institution.
BRIDGET WALSH: Being a student here for the past four years, you get used to that really quickly. And sometimes it works out really well for the better, and sometimes it's kind of like you have to grin and bear it.
FENSTON: For NPR News, I'm Jacob Fenston.
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