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At George Washington University, coed quarters becoming option for all

Last school year, the student government and some student organizations endorsed the idea. That prompted the university to appoint a committee, which recommended the change. The program will start as a pilot program, and school officials plan to reevaluate over the first three years.

All students will be able to sign up for the program as long as they already know their potential roommates. They then can be placed in nearly any of the school's more than 30 halls, mostly in Washington's Foggy Bottom neighborhood. Students who ask for a randomly assigned roommate will continue to be matched with someone of the same sex.

"We have students saying, 'Can we be matched with someone who will be best for our academic pursuits?' " said Peter Konwerski, the GWU dean of students.

Konwerski said he expects questions from students and their parents about the program, but informal surveys have found that a majority of both groups were comfortable with the idea.

"If what they're doing is giving the students a choice, then I think it's fine. It's just another option," said Dawn Bathras of Severna Park, mother of a GWU freshman. "They're 18. We can't do much about it anyway, if they're away at school."

Mary Beth Cunningham, mother of a GWU junior from Springfield, N.J., said, "The students need to learn to make those decisions based on their own comfort levels."

Cunningham added that she wouldn't be surprised if daughter Erin chooses a male roommate next year: "She says girls are too much work."

Policies about men and women sleeping in the same room vary sharply across the Washington area. Howard University began to ease its policy on overnight guests only this semester, but many other schools dropped such restrictions long ago.

The University of Maryland at College Park has allowed male and female students to share rooms in two campus apartment buildings for the past two years. The University of Maryland Baltimore County does the same and has nine such apartments.

American University has offered coed rooms in apartment buildings since last school year and plans to expand the program. Goucher College in suburban Baltimore offers gender-neutral housing in two dorms, one of them coed by room.

Similar moves are under consideration at Towson University, Washington College and St. Mary's College of Maryland.

This semester, Georgetown University's student senate passed a resolution asking for a discussion about gender-neutral housing, although school officials have said they have no plans to change their policy.

The momentum behind coed roommates might recede as students discover that the reality of rooming with the opposite sex does not always match the vision, said Carl Crowe, director of residence life at Washington College in Chestertown, Md. "I think students like the idea of it," he said, "but after living it day in and day out, they begin to have concerns."

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