Here’s a happy little piece of news: At a time when several large universities — including George Washington University here in DC — have begun to embrace not just coed, but gender-neutral housing, the Catholic University of America this year initiates a plan to convert its coed dorms into single-sex residences once again. This fall, entering CUA freshmen will be assigned to residence halls in which they won’t have to worry quite so much about meeting a member of the opposite sex in the hallway walking back from the bathroom. The following year, the change will extend to both freshman and sophomore dorms.

Why is this happy? Writing yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, CUA president John Garvey explains his decision, and it’s hard to ignore the factual basis and wisdom of his reasoning:

Alcohol-related accidents are the leading cause of death for young adults aged 17-24. Students who engage in binge drinking (about two in five) are 25 times more likely to do things like miss class, fall behind in school work, engage in unplanned sexual activity, and get in trouble with the law. They also cause trouble for other students, who are subjected to physical and sexual assault, suffer property damage and interrupted sleep, and end up babysitting problem drinkers.

Hooking up is getting to be as common as drinking. Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, who heads the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, says that in various studies, 40%-64% of college students report doing it. The effects are not all fun. Rates of depression reach 20% for young women who have had two or more sexual partners in the last year, almost double the rate for women who have had none. Sexually active young men do more poorly than abstainers in their academic work. And as we have always admonished our own children, sex on these terms is destructive of love and marriage. …

Christopher Kaczor at Loyola Marymount points to a surprising number of studies showing that students in co-ed dorms (41.5%) report weekly binge drinking more than twice as often as students in single-sex housing (17.6%). Similarly, students in co-ed housing are more likely (55.7%) than students in single-sex dorms (36.8%) to have had a sexual partner in the last year—and more than twice as likely to have had three or more.

By this reckoning, Garvey’s decision means CUA students will eventually be more likely to go to class, keep up with — and even excel at — schoolwork, avoid unplanned sexual activity and stay out of trouble with the law than they once were. They’ll be less likely to face alcohol-related accidents and they’ll be less likely to be depressed. Those sound like joyful results to me.

Best of all, the decision only increases the choices available to college-bound kids, offering one more option to students who might like to attend a university with gender-specific housing. Students who want the coed experience have plenty of options to choose from: More than 90 percent of college housing is coed.

My guess is, CUA administrators might be surprised at just how appealing this countercultural decision will be. Discipline and restraint might not sound as immediately glamorous to high school seniors as “the high life” of binge drinking and sex, but, when students recognize that what they want most is a sustainable happiness, they might take a second look at the statistics Garvey cites and submit to a little delayed gratification for the sake of greater satisfaction down the road.

Tags: college