June 13, 2011 8:43 AM

Catholic University returning to single-sex dorms

garvey cua.jpgAbsolutely brilliant! Please check my comments below. From today's Wall Street Journal:

Why We're Going Back to Single-Sex Dorms

Student housing has became a hotbed of reckless drinking and hooking up.


My wife and I have sent five children to college and our youngest just graduated. Like many parents, we encouraged them to study hard and spend time in a country where people don't speak English. Like all parents, we worried about the kind of people they would grow up to be.

We may have been a little unusual in thinking it was the college's responsibility to worry about that too. But I believe that intellect and virtue are connected. They influence one another. Some say the intellect is primary. If we know what is good, we will pursue it. Aristotle suggests in the "Nicomachean Ethics" that the influence runs the other way. He says that if you want to listen intelligently to lectures on ethics you "must have been brought up in good habits." The goals we set for ourselves are brought into focus by our moral vision.

"Virtue," Aristotle concludes, "makes us aim at the right mark, and practical wisdom makes us take the right means." If he is right, then colleges and universities should concern themselves with virtue as well as intellect.

I want to mention two places where schools might direct that concern, and a slightly old-fashioned remedy that will improve the practice of virtue. The two most serious ethical challenges college students face are binge drinking and the culture of hooking up.

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.

Here is one simple step colleges can take to reduce both binge drinking and hooking up: Go back to single-sex residences.

I know it's countercultural. More than 90% of college housing is now co-ed. But 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.

The point about sex is no surprise. The point about drinking is. I would have thought that young women would have a civilizing influence on young men. Yet the causal arrow seems to run the other way. Young women are trying to keep up--and young men are encouraging them (maybe because it facilitates hooking up).

Next year all freshmen at The Catholic University of America will be assigned to single-sex residence halls. The year after, we will extend the change to the sophomore halls. It will take a few years to complete the transformation.

The change will probably cost more money. There are a few architectural adjustments. We won't be able to let the ratio of men and women we admit into the freshman class vary from year to year with the size and quality of the pools. But our students will be better off.

Mr. Garvey is president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

While Catholic University is national university of the Catholic Church in the United States with direct ties to Rome, it has pretty much followed the lead of America's secular colleges many areas of campus life. This year looks like a turning point.

 As one of his first acts as president elect, John Garvey rallied with CUA students then marched with his wife beside him in the 2011 March for Life. The next day he was inaugurated.

Today he revealed the kind of leadership we can expect from him.  In a bold move, President Garvey not only made a sweeping change in campus policy, but also rather than waiting for the onslaught of media backlash he's sure to receive, he carefully laid out his reasons in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

What strikes me about this brilliant but reader-friendly piece is the amount and range of persuasion in 660 words, the confident manner in which it is written, as though it will be received by reasonable people.

Of course nowadays, that's not so certain. . . .

President Garvey offers his experience/hope as a parent,  the philosophical underpinnings of the knowledge/virtue relationship (a big theme at CUA), and cold hard statistics to show why mixed sex dorms have failed our children.

When you think about it, it has been a ludicrous situation.  Thank you, President Garvey for your common sense and caring about the students entrusted to your care.

Our confidence in Maddy's future at Catholic University has just increased exponentially.

Posted in Catholicism, Good news | Permalink


About time. How can philosophers, psychologists, educators -- all those PhDs -- not understand that living with the opposite sex is a temptation? Absurd. Insane. Inane. Self-willed blindness.

Sanity dawns again in American and the church. Thank you Mr. Garvey.

Posted by: Mike | June 13, 2011 12:19 PM

Thank you Barbara for informing us of President Garvey's courageous, very counter-cultural action. We've got to keep him and other good Catholic college administrators in our prayers. I graduated in 1987 from a Catholic college. Looking back, I can tell you that the Thur - Sat night campus "scene" didn't differ one iota from that of non-Catholic schools that my friends attended. Hopefully, other Catholic colleges will reflect upon how they can better promote authentic Catholic values on campus. As Fr. Z says, "Brick by Brick". Deo Gratia! Sincerely, Michael

Posted by: Michael | June 13, 2011 12:54 PM

Congratulations! I do wish President Garvey had quoted Aquinas rather than The Philosopher. But definitely a fine first step. Gonzalo T. Palacios, Ph.D., CUA 1970

Posted by: GONZALO PALACIOS,Ph.D., cua '70 | June 13, 2011 1:14 PM

I applaud Pres. Garvey's decision. The sad part is that he had to explain the obvious.

(due to, of course, our libertine and secular society).

Posted by: Darrell | June 13, 2011 8:07 PM

I don't know that much about this school, but my school, that one Catholics seem to love to hate and call not Catholic because the President once spoke there, has always had single sex residence halls.

Posted by: Megan | June 13, 2011 9:25 PM

Interesting. Same-sex dorms vs. having a president who supports infanticide speak. What a tough choice.

Posted by: Barbara | June 13, 2011 9:35 PM

Glad you found this Barbara-I attended a Catholic college, which had recently gone co-ed, with co-ed dorms and I tell you, it was the beginning of the end there.
My daughter attended the only Catholic college in Maine (won't say the name here) and was exposed to constant drinking, partying and was date-raped. It messed her up so badly that she tried to take her own life, and the college didn't even notify us!
She is married now, lives next door and is gradually recovering from the trauma she's experienced.
I applaud Pres. Garvey's courage in changing the policy.

Posted by: Mary Eckstein | June 14, 2011 6:50 AM

I'd be careful relying on statistics like those quoted in the story to assess efficacy of single-sex dorms, or anything else for that matter. If today 90% of students are in coed dorms, then the very small minority that is not is far from a random sampling; they are likely to be different than the mainstream population before ever stepping foot in the dorms.

Posted by: Jim | June 14, 2011 8:51 AM


I am reminded of Matthew 23:24: "You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."

The statistics are used to bear out what anyone with common sense already knows.

I have to ask myself what the naysayers are trying to accomplish? How many kids spend five years undergrad rather than 4 because of lower expectations set by even their parents about their behavior?

Posted by: Barbara | June 14, 2011 9:15 AM

This is one of the first times in my life I've seen something that could actually be a sign of change in American Catholics. (I would give anything to go back and have the wisdom to go to an authentically Catholic university. I agree, intelligence doesn't get you far without virtue!)

I pray that this is a sign of things to come!

Posted by: Jacob Ford | June 14, 2011 9:33 AM

Thank you for posting this. This is great news. And, as you mentioned, his brilliantly written article is a great model for future cultural agitators.

In Christ,

Posted by: Charles Atkinson | June 18, 2011 11:12 PM

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