Janet Dewar and Matt Danzig met as college freshmen and hit it
off so well they now are roommates. They share two on-campus rooms
with only one doorway into the hall. That they don't share a gender
doesn't give them a second thought.
"At first when I told [my parents] they said, 'We're going to
have to talk to you about this,' " says Ms. Dewar, a sophomore at
Wesleyan University in Connecticut. "I told them that there were two
rooms, that there's nothing sexual going on between us, and that it
wasn't really a big deal."
Some 20 universities and colleges have decided to allow
undergraduates of the opposite sex to share an on-campus room. Most
quietly made the move in the past five years, with Clark University
in Worcester, Mass., deciding this month. It's the final frontier in
the decades-long march away from gender separation in college dorms,
hallways, and even bathrooms.
While sharing a room comes unnervingly close in the minds of many
parents to sharing a bed, advocates for the new arrangements say
sexual intimacy rarely plays a role with those who sign up. Instead,
for a younger generation it is increasingly common for men and women
to just be friends. And some gay and transgendered students welcome
the chance to avoid same-sex roommates whom they may not be
comfortable around, or who may not accept them.
"Men and women are becoming just as good friends as if they were
with their same-sex friends. The dynamics have changed. I think the
opposite sex is no longer really such a mystery as it was before,"
says Jeffrey Chang, a sophomore at Clark University, a school of
about 2,800 students.
Mr. Chang led the effort to lift Clark's ban on opposite gender
roommates for upperclassmen housing after he and his close friend
Allison were barred from living together. As freshmen, the two did
their homework together and ate together. So when it came time to
choose sophomore housing, why shouldn't they live together?
Why schools change rooming policies
After close to a year of research and discussions, Clark
administrators decided to allow it, primarily to accommodate gay and
transgendered students, says Denise Darrigrand, dean of students.
The school already had single-occupancy bathrooms, making it easier
to change policy without paying for renovations.
Many schools changed their policies partly to better accommodate
gay and transgendered students, and most schools make it a choice
available only to upperclassmen.
The schools report few problems and little reaction to the
policy. One parent of a perspective Clark student did call to
express outrage over the decision, calling it immoral, according to
But most parents contacted for the article didn't know their
children's schools had such an option, and few students - no more
than several dozen at most schools - actually avail themselves of
"I think it's just asking for trouble," says Collette Janson-
Sand, whose son goes to the University of Southern Maine, and who
was unaware that the school now allows opposite gender roommates.
"Even if he said it was platonic, I know what young people are like
... [and] I would also worry how much it would take away from his
Not all parents oppose students cohabitating on campus.
"At first, it did shock me a little, but it doesn't bother me
now," says Leslie Duffy, in an e-mail. Her daughter attends
Bennington, a college in Vermont that allows upperclassmen of
opposite genders to room together.
She hears that most of the male-female roommates are strictly