During the hectic college application process last fall, I forgot to research whether my dream school would use a co-ed housing system. Right before starting school at Pomona College in Claremont, California, I discovered that that boys and girls in my university would be housed in great proximity.
What would that mean? Immediately, I could not help but to picture embarrassing scenes where a teenage girl, covered in a single, thin layer of towel, and carrying her shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, and body lotion, would rush back and forth from her bedroom and the communal bathroom. Meanwhile, her next-door neighbor, a teenage boy, would half raise his eyebrows, and then cover his eyes in despair - when the towel accidentally drops...
You see the beautiful, and you see the ugly.
One of my friends told me this when she shared her experience with co-ed housing. As you could probably imagine, I was rather terrified.
Soon enough, move-in day arrived, and sure enough, I spotted the welcoming sign "gender-neutral bathrooms" in my residence hall. As far as the geography goes, my room is sandwiched in between two boys' bedrooms, and directly faces a bathroom.
Initially, I remained dressed in my day clothes at any and all time until going to bed. I also found it awkward to converse with boys right next to the bathroom. The process of adjusting to my life living in a co-ed housing system has drastically changed my behavior and mindset. I gradually got used to treating our co-ed hall as my new home, and my peers as new brothers and sisters. The past two months confirmed my anticipation that we would share bathrooms, showers and the corridor space, but it has extended way beyond the tangible to include the intangible: infinite laughter, midnight snacks, and more importantly, less gender-related barriers.
Having lived in a co-ed dorm for three months now, I would whole-heartedly say that I have been loving this brand-new experience. Just after a couple of weeks since move-in day, I would gladly join a midnight study break in my pajamas. There have been so many fun moments when I laughed at how simultaneously as I got dressed and undressed each day, my male neighbors, separated just by two walls (too thin to even block the gentle sound of classical music that one of my neighbor likes to play at night) respectively, could be working on a research project on gender and sexuality, reading a book, or simply doing other things that I do every day.
The co-ed residential experience has offered me much insight into the mundane lives of my peers. Significantly, there is no longer a sense of mystery about people of the opposite gender that has previously limited my interaction with them to a certain degree.
As a co-ed dorm resident, I would personally thank my college for this housing arrangement, believing that it was intentionally thought-through to offer a holistic educational experience through the residential life. It is interesting to observe how much co-ed housing arrangements reflect the core values and goals of America's higher education. For instance, as one of the nation's premier liberal arts colleges, Pomona College strives to educate students with "daring minds" who are "eager, thoughtful, and reverent" in an environment for "intellectual development and personal growth". As part of "personal growth" and as a complement to "intellectual development", a personal experience with co-ed housing encourages students to be thoughtful and reverent in considering gender not as a barrier in between us, our friendship, and our daily interactions. While men and women should be respectful towards each other, we are all equal human beings and would not need to behave differently when members of the opposite sex are present.
Think of this as an important life lesson if you are about to start applying to schools and find yourselves concerned about the co-ed residential aspect of college life. Why not step outside our comfort zone, and explore a little?