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Coed housing: Once radical, now campus norm

STANFORD -- Twenty-five years ago, it was a radical notion: male and female college students living together in the same dormitories - eating, studying and socializing in a home-like atmosphere. Joseph Katz, then a Stanford University professor, predicted that coed housing "would help students to avoid over-idealization of the opposite sex and a good deal of the mutual teasing and destructive behavior characteristic of campus dating." "This college generation, as it matures, may well be pioneers in relationships characterized by mutual care, respect, joint learning and that most elusive and yet most needed emotion, love," he said. The late Katz's predictions about love and marriage may have been too optimistic. Yet in many ways, his vision of the coed way of life has been fulfilled. For most of today's Stanford students, the idea of life in sex- segregated dorms, with strict male-female visiting hours, is as hard to imagine as Life Before Television. At Stanford today, 92 percent of all students live in coed residences, and 75 percent of all incoming freshmen request that they be placed on coed floors, with male and female rooms intermingled. "Students take coed housing for granted," said Nicole Townsend, a resident assistant in Stanford's Branner Hall. "It's a given thing that they should be able to adapt to the situation." The situation was very different 25 years ago winter quarter, when Stanford's Grove House became one of the first coed residences in the nation. "Parietal hours" - though often flouted - were still the official rule of the day: Freshmen women generally had to be in at 10:30 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends; males and females could visit each other's dorms only on certain evenings from 7 to 11 p.m. Members of the 1967 "Grove Experiment," as journalists called it, included 31 men and 12 women, who took an interdisciplinary course on developing nations, taught by a resident faculty member. To reassure parents, efforts were made to keep sleeping quarters of the male and female residents separate. The female students had their own wing on the first floor, and a large one-way door was installed that was supposed to be shut at 11 p.m. Of course, romantic relationships did develop within the house - at least two couples who met there are married today. But for most residents, the important thing was the opportunity to interact with the opposite sex on a normal basis. "It was very refreshing to be around women other than girlfriends or classmates," recalled Jonathan Reider, now associate director of undergraduate admissions. Jane Morton, now a Palo Alto pediatrician, agrees. "Living in Grove that year helped me to feel comfortable concentrating on things with men around - something I needed in medical school, where there were five women and 90 men in my class," she said. Today, male and female students at Stanford and universities around the country pass each other in hallways - wrapped in bathrobes, with morning breath and hair askew - and think nothing of it. The best thing about co-ed housing, Townsend said, is that "it gives people different perspectives on a lot of issues. Students learn a lot from each other about things like affirmative action, abortion, self-defense, safety on campus." -tmj-


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