Residence Life committee considers coed housing

Doris Kim

Students recently approached the Residential Life Committee to propose creating coed floors in Sage as soon as the 2006-2007 school year. Before the construction of Hiett two years ago, Sage was the upperclassmen dorm, with room-by-room coed floors. With Hiett as the new upperclassmen dorm, Sage is now reduced to single-sex floors like other dorms, allowing only few students the option of a coed living environment.
LUCC President Pete Snyder and several other students have expressed their support for more housing options, including making coed living available to those without high housing lottery numbers. Sage is the most likely candidate, given its layout: the dorm could comfortably accommodate coed living with separate male and female bathrooms on each floor.
“Students want it. They’re interested. Lawrence is an anomaly in that they have little coed housing options. I’d like to see more besides those in Hiett and small theme houses. Its part of our ‘Lawrence bubble’ – we can shelter ourselves or provide opportunities for more student options like in other colleges” said Snyder.
The main concern is maintaining student comfort, especially for the incoming freshmen making the difficult transition to living in dorms for the first time. For some, living amongst both men and women may pose as an additional obstacle.
Limiting this choice to returning students is not expected. Not only would this contradict the intent of the recent proposal, it would also go against the Board of Trustees’ wish to keep a mixture of class years in the dorms other than Hiett.
“I’ve worked at different colleges that do it differently and typically there are a lot more problems. By having first years exposed to upperclassmen rather than surrounded by other freshmen, it provides them an easier transition living with experienced students,” said Nancy Truesdell, dean of students.
Students maintain that coed living would actually help new students with the transition, by removing the gender gap when meeting neighbors in a natural environment.
“[Students will] have a broader range of neighbors to meet and become friends with especially when it’s rare for people to travel to other floors just to socialize” said junior Stephanie Wille.
Unfortunately, the students who approached the Residential Life Committee with their proposition left the meeting feeling unsatisfied. Stephanie Wille, Emily Saltzman, and Kate Ostler met with the committee but felt their ideas were negatively received.
“The majority of the committee members were unfriendly and defensive. The response we got was surprising,”
said Saltzman.
The Residential Life Committee maintains its concern for freshmen and feels that such a decision cannot be made without asking their opinion. They plan on surveying the incoming class this fall and will be willing to consider coed floors in Sage if there’s sufficient positive feedback from the freshmen.
“Freshmen will be living on these floors. There is a chance either the students or their parents would be uncomfortable with the living situation. We are neither for nor against it. We just need to make sure that enough freshmen will want to live there and fill those rooms instead of unwilling freshmen being stuck there,” said senior Tamika Watson, a member of the Residential Life Committee.
“We want to have the majority understand, it is not realistic for everyone to necessarily agree,” continued Watson. “If anyone is interested they can attend the Residential Life meetings.”
Some students question the committee’s hesitancy. There will only be 36 rooms set aside for freshmen in Sage next year. The current housing occupancy executive summary shows that there are presently 65 unoccupied rooms in underclassmen dorms besides Sage.
“Incoming freshman make up less than one fourth of the school. To not change Sage because of the possibility that they wouldn’t approve would be totally unfair to the other three fourths of the student body that could be in favor of such a change” said Wille.
Varying the housing at Lawrence has been a topic of discussion all year. Students enrolled in a Feminist Theory class even tabled at Downer, gathering support for a gender-neutral living space. They petitioned to allow men and women to live in the same room. While some have maintained that such an arrangement is against the law in Wisconsin, The Lawrentian, in consultation with Paul Shrode, found that no such law currently restricts Lawrence housing. Support for these and other changes to the housing policy is a growing student concern.
“We are changing with the student times,” said Truesdell, “We want to give students options, comfortable options, in housing. Especially for freshmen.