GW students protest single-sex room policy

Freshmen Clark Harding and Kathy Rooney took their case to the American Civil Liberties Union Friday after the University denied their request to live together on campus.

Crawford Hall residents Harding and Rooney submitted a grievance and the Community Living and Learning Center’s rejection of their request to the ACLU. Rooney said the pair is seeking the ACLU’s advice and help.

An ACLU representative refused to comment on the case, citing client-attorney confidentiality. But he acknowledged it will be reviewed by the ACLU’s litigation team at its monthly meeting.

Harding and Rooney went to CLLC last semester to request a coed room next fall. They filed a grievance justifying their request Jan. 11. CLLC rejected the request, saying in a letter that University regulations prohibit them from living together because they are not of the same sex. Both will discuss their request with Senior Assistant Dean of Students Mike Walker at a Feb. 2 meeting.

“We should be able to make our own decisions as to who we room with,” Rooney said.

Harding said he feels his freedom of individual expression is being violated by the University’s policy. He said he and Rooney are pushing the issue because they feel it is important.

“We are compatible roommates, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be allowed to do that,” Rooney said.

CLLC’s community conduct guidelines and administrative policies address the issue in section 21, which deals with visitors and guests. The section says, “Private and/or intimate behavior is not acceptable in a group living situation, which is necessarily semi-public. Cohabitation is not permitted.”

Walker said although the section does not specifically refer to residents, the University prohibits cohabitation. Walker said CLLC will look into the cohabitation guidelines during its annual policy review this spring.

Rooney said as a college student she should be treated as an adult, and cohabitation is inevitable among college students. She said intimate behavior is not a concern because Harding is homosexual.

“Because of our sexual orientation, that just wouldn’t happen,” Rooney said. “It didn’t have to apply to our situation.”

Rooney and Harding are the first students to challenge the cohabitation policy in the last five years, Walker said. The University will adhere to the policy until more students contest the issue, until it becomes socially acceptable or until it becomes the norm at other universities.

Residential life staff at Washington-area institutions such as American and Georgetown universities prohibit cohabitation.

But some institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, permit cohabitation.

At MIT, where no formal policy promotes cohabitation; residents are assigned rooms by a student chair. Those who request cohabitation consult with an adviser about the potential consequences of living with someone of the opposite sex and are reminded that housing leases are binding, said Phillip Bernard, program director of residential life at MIT.

Bernard said cohabitation has been permitted at MIT during his five years with the institution, speculating the unwritten policy stems from the liberalism of the 1960s and 1970s.

“I realize it’s extremely unique,” Bernard said. “But this is where we are.”

Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., which inspired the film PCU allows its sophomore, junior and senior students to live in coed housing.

Gail Giardina, an administrative assistant in Wesleyan’s housing office, said students questioned the policy a few years ago, provoking a revision of the university’s housing policies.

“I do not see any big problems with it,” Giardina said.

Walker said numerous issues would surface if cohabitation was permitted at GW, calling for policy changes to maintain safe and comfortable living conditions for students.

Students who want to live with a member of the opposite sex should move off campus, Walker said.

Justin Lavella, Residence Hall Association president, said the cohabitation issue has not arisen during his years in RHA. But he said he understands the University wants to avoid such problems as romantically involved couples who live together breaking up.

“Living on campus is a right, not a privilege,” Walker said.

Rooney and Harding intend to enter February’s on-campus housing lottery, and hoping to live in the same residence hall. They said financial and personal reasons prevent them from moving off campus.

“It just isn’t fair,” Rooney said. “I am sure there are other people in our situation. People have been extremely supportive.”

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