At George Washington University, coed quarters becoming option for all

By Jenna Johnson and Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 4, 2010; 12:00 AM

The long-eroding boundaries that once kept men and women apart on America's college campuses soon will disappear at George Washington University, which this week announced that students can share dorm rooms with anyone they want - regardless of gender.

The decision puts GWU at the forefront of the movement toward gender-neutral housing policies at many of the nation's top schools. But where most have limited coed rooms to some upper-class housing, GWU is opening the option to all students, including incoming freshmen.

The change marks a retreat in the parental authority college officials at many schools once routinely wielded over their undergraduates dating to the days when dorm mothers stopped opposite-gender guests at the front doors of residence halls.

But the policy also signals the rising clout of gay, lesbian and transgendered students, who successfully argued that assigning students by gender was inherently unfair when many of them might be more comfortable with a roommate of the opposite sex. University officials considered opening the gender-neutral option to only some students before deciding to lift the restriction for all.

"Ivy League schools have it. A lot of progressive schools have it. It was time for us to try it," said Michael R. Komo, a senior political science major who is president of the GWU student group Allied in Pride, which lobbied for the change. "I really think it's a win-win for everyone, even for the straight folks who just want to live with their friends."

The proposal, first aired last winter, prompted concerns from some conservative students who argued it could create additional housing costs, especially if many couples became roommates, then later requested room transfers. Some also suggested that the new housing policy might erode morality and trouble some parents.

"This is the liberal administration at the university imposing something on students," said Travis Korson, a senior international affairs major and president of the campus chapter of Young America's Foundation. "None of these systems have been around for more than five years. There's no way to prove they will be successful."

But most students appeared to accept the looming change, scheduled to take effect next fall.

"I feel like gender is irrelevant," said Michelle Marshall, 19, a sophomore international affairs major from California. "I think a lot of people jump to 'Oh my God, people are going to have a relationship,' but that's not the way it is."

Katie McCutcheon, a freshman from Florida, said she and her roommates live across the hall from a group of male students. "We're already living on the same floors. I've fallen asleep in the guys' room. I guess they are making them 'official roommates' now," said McCutcheon.

"It's a nice option to have," she added, "but I don't know how many people will use it. I personally would want to live with my girlfriends."

The push for liberalizing housing policies at GWU began after a small group of male and female students moved in together at an on-campus town house they called Escaping Gender. When that proved successful, the students began lobbying to expand the concept across campus.

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